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HONOLULU — Fresh of his victory on Maui, Justin Thomas became the seventh player to join the "59 Club" on the PGA Tour when he made a 15-foot eagle putt on his last hole Thursday at the Sony Open for an 11-under 59.
Thomas thought his hopes at a 59 were over when his drive on the par-5 ninth hole at Waialae Country Club was a foot from clearing a fairway bunker on the left and rolled back into the sand. He figured he couldn't reach the green until realizing Daniel Berger hit 4-iron from the bunker onto the green.
Thomas figured "this wasn't a time to lay up."
He hit 5-iron clean and pure, and it settled 15 feet below the cup. Wasting little time over the putt, he poured it in for 59 and lightly pumped his fist. The excitement came from Berger and Jordan Spieth, and only when Thomas looked at their reaction did it begin to sink in.
Jim Furyk was the last player with a sub-60 round when he closed with a record 58 at the Travelers Championship last summer. Furyk also had a 59 in 2013 at the BMW Championship, joining the exclusive group that includes Al Geiberger (1977 Memphis Classic), Chip Beck (1991 Las Vegas Invitational), David Duval (1999 Bob Hope Classic), Paul Goydos (2010 John Deere Classic) and Stuart Appleby (2010 Greenbrier Classic). This was special because he made it look so easy.
Thomas, a 23-year-old with enormous power for his 145-pound frame, never hit more than a 7-iron into the par 4s at Waialae on a perfect day for scoring. That 7-iron was chipped under the trees and into a bunker on No. 8 when he was trying to save par. His only bogey came on his second hole, the par-3 11th, when his tee shot went into a bunker and he missed an 18-foot par putt.
Duval was the only other player to shoot 59 with an eagle on the last hole. Furyk at Conway Farms is the only other player to shoot 59 with a bogey.
Just four days ago, Thomas won the SBS Tournament of Champions at Kapalua. He started his round Thursday at Waialae by pitching in from 35 yards for an eagle on the short 10th hole.
Spieth and Berger were along for the ride. They all graduated high school in 2011 and grew up in junior golf. They were together a few weekends ago at a resort in Maui ahead of the Tournament of Champions. And they put on quite a show, with Spieth and Berger each shooting 65.
Hudson Swafford was second after a 62.
JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Rory McIlroy made an impressive start to the year with a new set of clubs, shooting a 5-under 67 in the first round of the SA Open.
Making his first appearance at the tournament since 2008, McIlroy was a stroke behind South African leaders Trevor Fisher Jr. and Keith Horne. The Northern Irishman rolled in seven birdies — including four straight from Nos. 14-17 after starting at the 10th at Glendower Golf Club.
With Nike no longer making golf clubs and balls, the second-ranked McIlroy has been testing new woods, irons and a putter from other manufacturers.
South Africans Thomas Aiken, Dean Burmester and Jbe Kruger matched McIlroy and England's Jordan Smith at 67.
LATIN AMERICA AMATEUR
PANAMA CITY (AP) — Peruvian teen Julian Perico shot a tournament-record 6-under 64 to take the first-round lead in the Latin America Amateur Championship.
The winner Sunday at at Panama Golf Club will receive an exemption to the Masters and spots in the final stage of qualifying for the U.S. Open and British Open.
The 17-year-old Perico, the youngest player in the field, attends Bishops Gate Golf Academy in Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida.
Alejandro Villavicencio, a reinstated amateur from Guatemala, was a stroke back. Panama's Miguel Ordonez was tied for third at 67 with Colombia's Nicolas Echavarria and Bolivia's Jose Luis Montano.