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Saturday, February 22, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Collin Morikawa handles the wind, takes first-round lead at Sony Open

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 9, 2020

Collin Morikawa chips onto the 16th green during the first round of the Sony Open PGA Tour golf event, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020, at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu. (Matt York / Associated Press)
Collin Morikawa chips onto the 16th green during the first round of the Sony Open PGA Tour golf event, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020, at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu. (Matt York / Associated Press)
By Doug Ferguson Associated Press

HONOLULU – Collin Morikawa learned enough about the wind on Maui to cope with it Thursday on Oahu. He managed to get through relentless 30 mph wind without a bogey for a 5-under 65 and the early lead in the Sony Open.

The wind was so strong that even with the tee moved forward on the par-3 fourth hole at Waialae so that it played 162 yards, Morikawa still hit 4-iron. It was one of his better shots, 7 feet right of the flag, for birdie.

The best was his finish on the par-5 ninth, 504 yards and typically the easiest scoring hole. His drive peeled to the right into a hurting, left-to-right wind and found a bunker. His next shot caught the top of the lip, leaving him 189 yards away.

“At that point, I was trying to get out with par,” Morikawa said.

He went with a 4-iron – the next longest club in his bag is a 2-iron – and hit it so well the wind didn’t move it. The ball came down about 6 feet from the cup for his final birdie.

Among the early starts on a soft course, Marc Leishman, Rory Sabbatini and Patrick Rodgers were at 68. Only eight other players broke par.

Defending champion Matt Kuchar and Justin Thomas, who won last week at Kapalua, played in the afternoon. The weather hardly made this feel like a week in paradise.

Rain pounded the course about an hour before the first tee time, making the greens even softer. The wind never stopped, and even in sunshine, showers popped up out of nowhere. It was not much different from last week on Maui, except it was a much easier walk on a relatively flat surface.

The challenge from the wind was just as strong on an exposed course.

“If you have a 20-foot birdie putt, you’ve got to factor in the wind, the rain, everything,” Morikawa said. “So playing last week got me prepared for today in the wind, and I look forward to the next few days.”

Patrick Reed, who lost in a playoff to Thomas last week in the Sentry Tournament of Champions, was at 3 under midway through his back before dropping shots from the water (No. 2) and the sand (No. 4) and having to settle for a 69.

Those who know Waialae well from playing so many years could not remember this much wind for so much of the day.

“We’ve all probably experienced wind like this at some point, but it’s rare,” Zach Johnson said after a 69. “I’ve not experienced it here.”

Morikawa can’t claim to feel at home, even with so much family living on Oahu. He had never played Waialae until a practice round on Tuesday, but he had enough recent experience in the tropical gusts to get the job done.

He didn’t make everything, but he made the right putts – two birdies on par 3s, both par 5s and a wedge to 8 feet on No. 5. He also holed a 10-foot par putt after finding a bunker left of the green on No. 14.

“I think the harder conditions, the better for me,” Morikawa said. “Ball-strikers just want to control everything – control the ball – and I had complete control today. That’s what you want to do.”

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