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Clark, Merritt share early lead at Sony Open

January 17, 2015

HONOLULU (AP) — Webb Simpson was so determined to switch to a conventional putter that he snapped his old belly putter over his knee ahead of the Sony Open, and any anxiety he had about the change should be at an end after moving to the top of Friday’s leaderboard.

With belly putters being phased out of the sport, Simpson has made the switch to a regular putter in Hawaii, and did so to surprising effect.

He ran off three birdies over the last five holes on Friday for a 4-under 66 to share the lead with Matt Kuchar and PGA Tour rookie Justin Thomas at 12-under 128.

“The broken belly putter is in my trophy case at home. It’s on top,” Simpson said. “I can’t use it. I could use it — it would be a short putter.”

Kuchar, playing alongside Simpson, had a 63.

Thomas, the 21-year-old son of a club pro in Kentucky, had a 61 — one of the course record set by Davis Love III in 1994, before Thomas was born.

The highlight came on the par-5 ninth when he pounded his tee shot, leaving him with a 9-iron to the green. He hit that to 18 feet and made the putt for eagle.

“It was probably the best zone and best focus I’ve ever been in,” Thomas said. “I knew I was playing well, but I really didn’t know how many under I was for the day, and I just kind of kept playing. It doesn’t happen very often in golf, and it’s really fun to happen.”

The leading trio was two shots clear of Tim Clark (65) and Troy Merritt (64). Defending champion Jimmy Walker had a 66 for his 15th consecutive round in the 60s in Hawaii. That put him in a group four shots behind, very much in the picture on a course where the leaders tend to be bunched until the back nine on Sunday.

Former U.S. Open champion Simpson has been using a belly putter since 2004. It’s another year until the long wands are banned but he didn’t want to be told to change by a deadline. He played the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan late last year with a conventional putter, and decided to change.

“I’m a big believer in not changing something that’s not broken,” Simpson said. “So I felt myself kind of backing out. ... In front of my wife, I snapped it over my knee, and I was going to throw it away, but she said, ‘No, no, we’ve got to keep it. You’ve done a lot of good stuff with that.’”

Kuchar, one of the most consistent players in golf, wasn’t even aware that Simpson had made the switch until the opening hole Thursday.

“He made about a 6- or 7-footer for birdie and I said, ‘Holy cow, mark the time and date. Webb Simpson used a short putter and actually made it look pretty good,’” Kuchar said. “Yesterday was a beautiful day of putting, and I joked with him that the USGA might have to rethink banning the long putter because he’s putting even better with a short putter.”

The 85 players who made the cut included 16-year-old local Kyle Suppa. He had another 69 and made the cut on the number. More than 78 players made the cut, there will be another cut for the top 70 professionals and ties on Saturday.

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