One year away from the new rule that outlaws anchored strokes, Simpson ditched his belly putter for a regular one for his 2015 debut and ran off eight birdies over his last 10 holes for an 8-under 62 that gave him a share of the early lead with Paul Casey.
On a day that made the 144 players feel they were in paradise, Simpson and Casey led a morning of low scoring.
|Korea’s Bae Sang-moon hits out of a bunker on the eighth hole at the Sony Open on Thursday. (AP-Yonhap)|
What set them apart is how they got there ― Simpson with his conventional putter, Casey with his return to Honolulu for the first time in a decade.
“Today was a big day for me,” Simpson said. “I was extremely nervous ― first round on the PGA Tour with a short putter. But I just had a couple (Bible) verses in my yardage book today that I kept reading, and I stayed calm. All thanks to God for giving me strength to just get through today.
“Today was a hurdle I felt like I needed to get over, and just real thankful.”
Camilo Villegas would have joined them at 62 except for failing to make birdie on the par-5 18th hole. He shot 29 on the front at Waialae before cooling slightly for a 63. Rory Sabbatini had a 64, while Jason Day and Matt Kuchar were in the group at 65.
Casey says he gave up his European Tour membership to concentrate on playing the PGA Tour, spending time with his newborn son and getting his game back into the top 50 in the world. He hasn’t played in a Ryder Cup since 2008. He hasn’t been in the top 50 in nearly three years.
And that’s why it has been 10 years since he has been at the Sony Open. He typically is starting his season in the Middle East.