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Montgomery takes early lead in Sony Open with 64

Taylor Montgomery Taylor Montgomery - Getty Images

HONOLULU (AP) — Taylor Montgomery did better than he expected in his first competition in seven weeks, making birdie on half of his holes Thursday for a 6-under 64 and the early lead on a blustery day at the Sony Open.

Montgomery and Gary Woodland each had low expectations, for various reasons.

Montgomery, who had the 36-hole lead at Waialae last year as a rookie, last played in the RSM Classic a week before Thanksgiving. It helped Thursday that he was in the first group and got in six holes before wind from the toughest direction kicked in.

Woodland had far more reason to be anxious. The former U.S. Open champion had brain surgery on Sept. 18 to remove a tumor that had been causing bizarre and frightening spells of fear and anxiety centered around death.

He only decided in the last week or so that he was ready to play. And then he found himself getting emotional when his name was announced on the tee.

“Hearing Topeka, Kansas, hearing my name called, there was a time when I didn’t know if that was going to be called again, so it got me a little more than I thought it was going to,” Woodland said.

The score was a 71, and in some respects, it was irrelevant.

“Probably the happiest I’ve ever been shooting over par, tell you that,” Woodland said. “The goal this week was to see how I was mentally, and I was really, really good. This was one of the hardest rounds I’ve ever had here. And got off to a rough start. I was excited and was doing a lot of breathing trying to slow everything down because I was moving fast.

“I settled in, especially the last nine holes, and played really, really well. A lot to build on.”

Montgomery had a one-shot lead over Aaron Rai, Austin Eckroat and Stephan Jaeger. One shot behind was a group that included Chris Kirk, who won The Sentry last week on Maui and is trying to join Justin Thomas (2017) and Ernie Els (2003) to sweep Hawaii.

Canadians Ben Silverman and Adam Hadwin are tied for 16th at three under. Taylor Pendrith was tied for 47th.

Kirk never gets too high or too low on the golf course, though he said winning made it hard to sleep for the first few nights on Oahu. The feeling of winning can linger, as can the crush of a tough loss in a playoff. There is one difference.

“You don't mind lying awake after you win,” Kirk said with a grin.

Waialae could not be any more different from the mountainous Plantation course at Kapalua. The greens are smaller, and the classic Seth Raynor design is flat along the shores just around the bend from Diamond Head.

It felt tougher because of the wind, which was largely missing last week. Making it more difficult was the direction. It made the par-5 ninth feel like a breeze — Kirk was between wedge and 9-iron for his second shot and settled on a chip 9-iron.

But it made a few of the par 4s, such as the 490-yard first and the 465-yard fifth, play like brutes. Kirk recalls hitting a short iron into the first hole instead of the mid-iron he needed Thursday. The baby wedge he usually hits on No. 5 turned into a 4-iron.

Brendon Todd, who also opened with 66, hit 5-wood off the tee and to the green on the 18th last year. Into the wind, he smashed a drive, hammered a 3-wood and still had a 50-yard wedge to the green. He still made birdie, but it was hard work.

“But it's three good shots,” he said.

Montgomery had nearly two months away from the PGA Tour, but not from work. He wasn't happy with the contact he made last year and worked hard in December — with a few what he described as “wine nights” — and felt it paid off.

Woodland hasn't played since August. Medication wasn't working, doctors feared the tumor might be growing and surgery was the only option. He brought his family to the Big Island and played some golf, but only after walking 18 holes with no big issues did he feel ready to play.

He was in the rough far too often. The speed of his putts was off. But he felt his levels of energy and focus were fine. It took 12 holes to record a birdie, but he played bogey-free over the last 10 holes.

“I tried to eliminate expectations,” Woodland said. “It’s hard to do, especially when you play in a result-oriented world. I tried to eliminate expectations and focus on what I can control, focus on slowing everything down, having the energy stay up, which it did.”


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