(Reuters) – Jimmy Walker, who notched his second career PGA Tour win in Hawaii, could be on track for another success in the island state after taking a two-shot, first-round lead at the SBS Tournament of Champions on Thursday.
The reigning PGA Championship titleholder plundered an eagle and six birdies in benign conditions for an eight-under-par 65 on the Kapalua Plantation course on the island of Maui.
Fellow Americans Ryan Moore, Justin Thomas and Jim Herman carded 67, with world number one Jason Day equal 12th on 70.
Defending champion Jordan Spieth struggled at times en route to a 72 that left him joint 22nd in the elite 32-man, winners-only field.
Walker was a late bloomer who did not win on tour until three years ago, the same season as he clinched the Sony Open in Honolulu.
He also lost a playoff at Kapalua two years ago, and says he always feels relaxed in Hawaii.
“I get off the plane here, breath the air and it just puts you in a solid good mood,” the 37-year-old told Golf Channel. “There’s umbrellas in your drinks. I don’t know what else you need.”
Walker cranked up his round with a 40-foot eagle at the par-five fifth, and ended it in style by nearly holing out from 70 yards at the par-five 18th before tapping in for birdie.
“I drove it well, made a bunch of good putts,” said the six-times PGA Tour winner.
“A (40-footer) for eagle puts a little spring in your step. (I had) nice control of the ball all day.”
Second-placed Herman made a tidy return to a course he played with rented clubs on his honeymoon 12 years ago.
The journeyman was encouraged by Donald Trump to pursue a professional career, and like the United States President-elect aimed high.
Herman was formerly an assistant pro at Trump Bedminster in New Jersey, and a frequent playing companion of Trump.
Herman plans to take a break from his playing schedule to be at Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
“We have tickets,” he said. “I think we’re going to be there.”
Day, meanwhile, admitted to a few nerves in his first event since pulling out of the Tour Championship with a back injury in September.
“Longevity is obviously key,” he said. “I had to do the right thing and take some time off. But standing on the (first) tee I was a little nervous. I haven’t stood on a tee for three months.”
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Larry Fine)