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Henley’s great finish gives him a 3-stroke lead at Sony

HONOLULU (AP) — Russell Henley set a solid goal Friday at the Sony Open as he was 6 under over his final six holes and closed with a 30-foot eagle putt for a 7 under 63 and a three-stroke lead among early starters at Waialae.

Much of the morning was up for grabs after 18-hole leader Kevin Na began to fade, with up to five players having at least a share of the lead.

Henley made the turn by landing a greenside bunker shot for the eagle on the par-5 18th hole, only to miss the green long and into a back bunker for bogey on the more difficult first hole.

And then he couldn’t miss. He birdied both par 3s on the front nine from 10 feet, made a pair of birdie putts from 12 feet and finished with his eagle.

That puts him 15-under 125, three strokes ahead of Haotong Li (65) and four without Matt Kuchar, who has been in Hawaii for four days before Christmas and appears to be in no rush to leave.

Waialae is where it all started for Henley. He started his rookie season in 2013 at the Sony Open by setting a 36-hole record at the time at 126 and beating Scott Langley in a weekend duel to win. Henley had previously won the Nationwide Tour while still in Georgia.

Easy game, right?

“It didn’t take me very long to realize it was really tough,” said Henley, who has three career wins as he enters his 10th year on the tour. “I had a lot of ups and downs my first year, my second year, I mean, every year. After that first one, I remember thinking maybe it would be easier than I thought.

He laughed before adding, “But it’s not.”

It was easy at times on another gorgeous day along the Pacific with minimal wind and plenty of tropical heat and pure greens. The flatstick may be his best club in the bag, and Henley was just as adept with the 6-foot putts as some of his birdies.

Li has had some great moments in his career, including at Harding Park in 2020 when he became the first Chinese player to take the lead after any round in a major tournament. He was two ahead in this PGA Championship until he disappeared on the weekend.

He was also in the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne at the end of 2019, although it didn’t go so well, starting on the practice lap when his replacement caddy got lost and decided to drive to the clubhouse to have a coffee while Li played. on another player’s bag. He lost his two matches.

Ditching contact lenses for designer eyewear, he was steady in his round of 65, leaving him in contention for the weekend while playing on a sponsor exemption.

Another exemption was just as impressive, if not more so. Keita Nakajima, the No. 1 amateur in the world, had an early bogey that left him around the cut line. He answered with a 6-iron at 12 feet for a birdie on the par-3 17, and he shot 30 on the back nine for a 64.

Nakajima was in the big group six shots behind Henley, a group that included Stewart Cink (63), Seamus Power of Ireland (68) and Chris Kirk (65).

Na opened with a 61 and was 10 shots worse the next day. He didn’t birdie until his ninth hole and continued to burn edges on putts. On Thursday, some of those putts he narrowly missed were for a birdie in his bid for a sub-60 round. On Friday, they were tied, and that took him from a one-stroke lead after the first round seven strokes behind Henley.

Cameron Smith, who won in Kapalua at 34 under par, had a 71 and was heading for a missed cut.

Kuchar has been on the Big Island since Dec. 21 and plans to take the next two weeks off before heading to the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Even though he missed the cut the past two years in Waialae, it’s a tournament he doesn’t like to miss. Moreover, he won the Sony Open three years ago.

He has completed five of his last 10 holes.

“Love the golf course. Love the environment,” Kuchar said. “You add the state of Hawaii as well. To me, it’s paradise and always excited to come here.”


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