Kapalua, Hawaii — Kevin Tway first played Kapalua as a 15-year-old a week before his father competed in the Sentry Tournament of Champions for the first time, an experience memorable for Bob Tway getting stung by a centipede and having to only watch.
Tway is a lot older, much taller and a lot better now. The Safeway Open champion made his debut in winners-only field Thursday with a 7-under 66 on the Plantation course to build a one-shot lead over Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Gary Woodland.
The first round of the new year delivered a little bit of everything.
Bryson DeChambeau illustrated the new Rules of Golf by leaving the pin in the hole, including his 15-foot par putt on the 17th.
Patton Kizzire made the first hole-in-one of the year with a 7-iron on the par-3 eighth. Kevin Na was the first player to withdraw in 2019, ending his week in paradise because of an injury to his pinky finger. Cameron Champion hit one of two drives that went 400 yards on a course that yielded 175 shots of 300 yards or more.
Not so new? Johnson in the hunt again.
Johnson, the defending champion and two-time winner at Kapalua, has never shot over par in 32 rounds since coming here for the first time 10 years ago. He showed his experience on the par-5 18th, when he missed the green to the right and faced an extremely fast putt with the grain and wind. Instead, he used a wedge to get some spin and remove some of the break in the putt, and it left him a short birdie putt for a 67.
“First round of the year, I’m pretty pleased with it,” Johnson said.
Rory McIlroy birdied three of his last four holes for a 69 in his first competitive round on the Plantation course.
“I think anything in the 60s today was a good start,” he said.
Brooks Koepka would have taken that. Instead, the PGA Tour player of the year had five bogeys and a double bogey on his way to a 76, two shots better than his start last year when he had a wrist injury that wound up keeping him out of golf for four months.
Tway, the 30-year-old son of the former PGA champion, is among nine newcomers to Kapalua in the 34-man field. He hit his tee shot on the par-3 second hole to 2 feet, followed that with a wedge to 10 feet for birdie on the next hole and really never came close to a bogey.
His only trouble was the day before, when an ear and sinus infection caused him to withdraw after five holes of the pro-am because of dizziness that made him feel “like I was walking on a water bed.”
There were no issues on Thursday. The Oklahoma State alum has seen this tournament only on TV, though he still had good memories of that week with his father in 2004. It wasn’t much fun for his dad.
“On one hole, Dad took a huge divot and a centipede had come up from the ground,” Tway said. “And he went to flick it away and it stung him, and his finger swelled up to the size of a golf club grip, so he couldn’t play that entire week. He just watched me play the course.”
Tway went back to school in Edmond, Oklahoma, and his dad recovered in time to play the tournament.
He was 5-foot-7 and barely 120 pounds back then. Now at 6-foot-3, the same frame as his father, Tway is hopeful that is good start might allow him to become only the fourth player to win Kapalua in his debut since the Tournament of Champions moved here in 1999. The others were David Duval, Sergio Garcia and most recently Daniel Chopra in 2008.
But it’s very early, and there’s some prominent names right behind him.
Johnson and Thomas are the last two winners at Kapalua. Both dropped a shot on the par-4 sixth, and both made plenty of birdies to atone for it. Woodland had eight birdies to account for a few of his mistakes.
Marc Leishman was at 68 after being hopeful of sharing the lead. Coming off a birdie on the 16th, Leishman shoved his drive so far right on the 17th that it ran into the bushes. He tried to whack it out and reached only the rough and wound up with a double bogey.
DeChambeau had said he would take advantage of the new rule that allows the pin to be left in for putts on the green. He didn’t do on every hole, but he gave scientific thought to when he did.
“I feel like I maximized my potential on that,” DeChambeau said, and he pointed to the 16th as an example.
“It’s kind of blowing downwind, 5 percent slope, straight down hill, you want that pin to help,” he said. “So that’s what I did and utilized it to my advantage. So I felt like for the most part I needed the pin to be in and it went in and it was a very nice help.”
He shot a 69, but that there was even better evidence in his corner. He led the field in putting on Thursday.