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Hot putter helps Korean Bae take early Waialae lead

Sang-Moon Bae of South Korea hits off the 15th tee during the first round at the Sony Open golf tournament at Waialae Country Club in Honolu
Sang-Moon Bae of South Korea hits off the 15th tee during the first round at the Sony Open golf tournament at Waialae Country Club in Honolu

(Reuters) - South Korea's Bae Sang-moon put on a putting master class as he charged into an early one-shot lead with a flawless seven-under-par 63 in Thursday's opening round of the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Bae took advantage of benign conditions on a glorious morning of dazzling sunshine at Waialae Country Club, piling up five birdies before the turn and two more over the closing stretch to take control of the PGA Tour event.

The 27-year-old from Daegu sank several lengthy putts, including 25-footers at the third and sixth, to end the day a stroke in front of playing partner Chris Kirk, who said later he had been inspired by the Korean's sizzling form on the greens.

South African Retief Goosen, a double U.S. Open winner, was among a group of five players tied on 66 while Masters champion Adam Scott of Australia opened with a 67.

"I felt really good today," Korean Bae, who won his maiden PGA Tour title at last year's Byron Nelson Championship, told Golf Channel.

"If I hit a good driver, then I've got a wedge or low-iron (into the green). I had a lot of chances, a tap-in at 15 (for par), but I made a bunch of good putts today."

Bae, who topped the 2011 Japan Golf Tour order of merit after winning three times, birdied the first, third, fourth, sixth and ninth to race to the turn in five-under 30.

He also picked up shots at the 10th and 14th on the tight, tree-lined layout at Waialae to surge to the top of the leaderboard.

SPURRED ON

American Kirk, who won his second PGA Tour title at the McGladrey Classic in November, readily admitted that Bae's fast start on Thursday had spurred him on.

"It definitely helps a little bit just to see the ball going in and see somebody that's rolling putts with good speed," said Kirk, who was two over after six holes before rocketing into contention with six birdies and an eagle.

"Being a couple over early and him being four or five under early, it was kind one of those of those deals where you're like, 'I had better get in gear here.'

"So I put my head down and got playing good, made a few birdies and by the time I looked up after I had finished 17, I was in second place."

Scott, who became the first Australian to win the Masters with an emotional playoff victory last April, carded a three-birdie 67 with a surfing buddy, Benji Weatherley, working as his part-time caddie.

"His (Benji's) record is pretty good, he hasn't made a bogey as a caddie on the PGA Tour, so I think he might be taking the number one (caddie) spot at the moment," Scott grinned before laughing loudly.

"He likes golf and he's a guy who doesn't mind putting himself out there in different situations, and his life experience is unbelievable. This is another experience he's going to have."

Scott's regular caddie, Steve Williams, is back in his native New Zealand for an auto race competition.

Defending champion Russell Henley, who birdied the last five holes to win last year's title by three shots for his maiden victory on the circuit, was among the day's late starters.

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

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