Justin Thomas lived up to his billing as pre-tournament favourite with a superb first round of 63 – he was out in 29 – in the inaugural CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges in Korea.
The 78-man event features a prize purse of £7 million and a first prize of £1.2million, with US PGA champion and world No 4 Thomas the highest ranked player in the field on Jeju Island.
Despite starting with a bogey on the 10th – his opening hole – Thomas recovered to finish nine under par and hold a three-shot lead over Ryder Cup team-mate Patrick Reed, Marc Leishman, Chez Reavie, Scott Brown and Malaysia’s Gavin Green.
“It was kind of a weird day,” Thomas told the Golf Channel. “It started off with a really, really bad bogey and I had a seven-hole stretch there where I basically kind of went unconscious.”
That stretch featured an eagle from 12 feet on the 12th, four straight birdies from the 14th and another eagle from close range on the 18th, taking the 24-year-old to the turn in just 29 shots.
Former world No 1 Jason Day is five shots off the lead after an opening 68 which included eight birdies and a double-bogey seven on the 18th, with Tour Championship winner Xander Schauffele a shot further back.
Ian Poulter birdied the last two holes to finish one under par, with compatriot Paul Casey carding a 72 and Graeme McDowell shooting 73.
Elsewhere, Korea’s Eun-Hee Ji opened with a six-under-par 66 to take a three-shot lead after the opening round of the LPGA Tour’s Swinging Skirts LPGA Taiwan Championship.
Her closest challengers are fellow Korean Sei Young Kim, American Megan Khang and Ariya Jutanugarn from Thailand. Kiwi Lydia Ko and Azahara Munoz of Spain were among five players to open with 70s.