Honolulu — Webb Simpson made his debut with a conventional putter Thursday at the Sony Open and might have wished he had used one sooner.
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 lead with Paul Casey.
On a day that made the 144 players feel they were in paradise with sunshine and barely a breeze, Simpson and Casey led the low scoring at Waialae.
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. Robert Streb also had a 63, the low score from the afternoon.
Rory Sabbatini had a 64, while Jason Day, Matt Kuchar were in the group at 65. Defending champion Jimmy Walker played in the afternoon and was in the large group at 66.
Tom Gillis (Lake Orion) and Justin Hicks (Grosse Ile) shot par 70s and Brian Stuard (Jackson) was at 2-over 72.
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.
"For as long as I've been professional I've been a member of the European Tour," Casey said. "For a long, long time now, I've been trying to play both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, and some years I've done it brilliantly, and other years I've failed miserably, and I just didn't want to keep putting myself in kind of a position where I'm struggling to fly around the world."
Abu Dhabi Championship
Martin Kaymer rekindled his fondness for the Abu Dhabi Championship by rolling in 10 birdies to shoot an 8-under 64 in the first round, giving the German a one-stroke lead in an event he has won three times.
Living up to his tag of the "King of Abu Dhabi," Kaymer showed the form on the greens that brought him titles in the desert in 2008, '10 and '11, and looked energized after time away from golf over Christmas.
"I putted very well," Kaymer said. "Ten birdies? I'm not sure I have done that in my golf career."
Top-ranked Rory McIlroy and American star Rickie Fowler were also playing their first tournaments of 2015, and fed off each other's brilliant putting on their back nines to shoot 67s.