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Peter Malnati, Jason Kokrak, Joaquin Niemann share lead at Sony Open

ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Peter Malnati follows his shot from the 10th tee box during the first round of the Sony Open golf tournament at Waialae Country Club.
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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Peter Malnati follows his shot from the 10th tee box during the first round of the Sony Open golf tournament at Waialae Country Club.

Three one-time PGA Tour winners sat tied atop the Sony Open in Hawaii leaderboard after today’s first round.

Peter Malnati, Jason Kokrak and Joaquin Niemann shot 8-under-par 62 on a mostly wind-free day at Waialae Country Club.

COVID-19 rules meant no fans and a lot fewer volunteers on the course. But while social distancing was in full effect, score distancing was not. Six players were crowded two shots behind the top three and 13 more were just three strokes off the pace at 5-under.

Malnati played in the morning and held the lead alone all afternoon until Kokrak birdied his final two holes of the day and Niemann eagled the par-5 No. 18 moments later.

Niemann’s eagle came on a 50-foot chip shot that went into the hole. Niemann, who was second at the Sentry Tournament Champions on Maui last week, had made four consecutive birdies from Nos. 7 through 10. He cooled off with a bogey on 12 before completing the last six holes in 4 under par.

“It was a good way to finish,” Niemann said. “Just happy the way I played. Nice chip-in to finish and will help me sleep for tomorrow.

Kokrak was flawless in the afternoon with eight birdies. Malnati carded nine birdies and one bogey.

Cameron Smith, the 2020 winner here, was tied for 40th after shooting 3-under 67.

Malnati is a 33-year-old pro whose lone PGA Tour victory came at the 2016 Sanderson Farms Championship.

“I just really, really enjoy it,” Malnati said of playing at Waialae. “You have to control the ball a little bit more off the tee, which hitting fairways hasn’t necessarily been my strong suit lately, but control off the tee has always been, so I think it really does suit me well.”

Kokrak won at the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek in late 2020, and Niemann won at A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier, also last year. Kokrak also shot bogey-free to win from behind in the final round at the CJ Cup.

“I definitely think I hit it a little more solid (at the) CJ Cup than I did today but I think things are winding right into shape like they were at the CJ Cup,” Kokrak said. “I think I’m playing well and if I can drive it like I did on the last like five or six holes, I think we’ll be right there.”

Parker McLachlin of Hawaii, also a one-time tour winner, was among a large group of players who shot even-par 70 in the morning and finished the day tied for 98th.

“I played pretty decent,” said McLachlin, a fixture at Waialae since childhood. “Made a bunch of birdies but also made some sort of silly, rusty mistakes. You know, kind of gave away a couple shots on the last two holes by missing a 4- or 5-footer for birdie on 17 and not making birdie on 18.”

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