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Henley opens the year with a 65 to lead at Kapalua

January 10, 2015

KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — Russell Henley ran off eight birdies for an 8-under 65 on Friday to take a one-shot lead over South Korea’s Bae Sang-Moon after the opening round of the PGA Tour’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

Henley made his debut last year in the winners-only event that starts the year and never broke 70. The Plantation Course at Kapalua offered up far better scores without the typical wind off the west coast of Maui.

And anytime that Henley feels good with the putter, the two-time PGA winner can be dangerous.

“I kept the ball in front of me pretty decent today, and didn’t scare too many chances at bogey,” the American said. “But my main thing was obviously I putted great and was seeing the lines today. If I can putt like that every day, I would probably have a few more wins.”

Bae kept his focus despite distractions off the course regarding his ability to travel to future tournaments.

He was in Honolulu practicing last week when he learned the South Korean government had denied an extension of his overseas travel permit. Bae has deferred his mandatory Korean military service, and there are questions over how much time he spent at home during this deferral.

He has hired a legal firm to sort out the problems, but caused a stir back home when he was quoted as saying he would not being going back to South Korea. What he meant was that he was not required to be there while the law firm worked on it.

Inside the ropes, Bae looked as if nothing could bother him.

He opened with six birdies in eight holes, was slowed by a bogey on the 11th hole and picked up two more birdies for a 66.

“A little bit hard to focus on my game because I got a little trouble,” Bae said. “But I try to split things. But I don’t want to think about it, the other things on the course. So yeah, I think I did really good today. I really want to the next three days, also.”

Kapalua still feels like the first tournament of the season, even though the 2014-15 U.S. PGA Tour season began in October at the Frys.com Open, which Bae won at Silverado.

Most players have not competed in nearly two months, except those who were at the Hero World Challenge the first week of December or played overseas. Masters champion Bubba Watson played in Thailand to close out his best year ever, and he has been at Kapalua for the last week.

He had a 70, a reasonable start, though he has yet to break 69 in 12 rounds on the Plantation Course.

Bringing up the rear on Friday were Ben Crane and Kevin Stadler at 74, a nine-shot differential from first to worst in the 34-man field.

Jimmy Walker and Patrick Reed, who join Watson as the only multiple winners on tour last year playing at Kapalua, led a group at 67 that included Scott Stallings, Robert Streb and Ben Martin.

Matt Kuchar was among those at 68.

Henley’s first win was in Hawaii at the Sony Open two years ago, and he qualified this year by winning a four-man playoff at the Honda Classic that included Rory McIlroy. He is regarded as one of the best putters on tour, though Henley was more concerned with how he was hitting the ball. So he went to swing coach Scott Hamilton after the U.S. Open, tried to work on changes as in late summer and is now starting to trust what he’s doing.

He was a runner-up at the Deutsche Bank Championship and tied for 12th at the Tour Championship during the FedEx Cup playoffs..

“I always putted pretty well,” he said. “Since I started hitting the ball better ... I’ve been playing better golf. And definitely, I think as the swing has gotten better, it has made me play more consistently.”

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