Tom Kim of South Korea (Photo by Tracy Wilcox/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

Korea’s rising star Tom Kim rode on two brilliant eagles en route to an opening 8-under 65 to give himself the perfect start to the New Year at the Sentry Tournament of Champions on Thursday.

The 20-year-old Kim, who is already a two-time PGA TOUR winner, trails first round co-leaders Collin Morikawa, Jon Rahm and J.J. Spaun by a single stroke at the Plantation Course at Kapalua in Maui. Compatriots Sungjae Im and K.H. Lee also started strongly with rounds of 66 and 68 respectively while Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama fired a 67 to ensure a strong Asian presence in the TOUR’s first leaderboard of 2023.

After securing two victories last year, the Tom Kim express train appears like it will not slow down any time soon. He holed out a stunning 116-yard wedge shot for his first eagle on the sixth hole before adding a second following a radar-guided 3 wood approach from 252 yards which landed inside six feet of the hole. He added five more birdies against a lone bogey on Hole No. 4.

“It was nice. Started a little slow but I turned it around and definitely a good way to start the year,” said Kim, whose English name is derived from the fact he adored Thomas the Tank Engine – a children’s book and TV character – when he was child.

Kim was delighted with the hole-out eagle on the sixth which got his engine running on full throttle. “I hit a 53 (degree wedge). It was just a really good number. Joe (Skovron, his caddie) said just slightly left of the hole. I wanted to go right at it. It was like literally an inch away from the hole left. So it was a good call from Joe,” said Kim, who also starred in the Presidents Cup by delivering two points for the International Team last September.

Playing alongside Jordan Spieth whom Kim outscored by two strokes, the young Korean phenom shared how he has developed a close friendship with the 13-time PGA TOUR winner after setting up base in Dallas, which is where the American star lives as well.

“The more time I spent with Jordan just we kind of became closer friends. I think we shared a plane back from Hero back to Dallas, so I took the Jordan air,” Kim laughed.

“But yeah, he was really nice enough to invite me for Christmas. My family wasn’t home and I was kind of by myself. So I got to spend some time with the Spieths and kind of babysit Sammy, which was really cool. It’s been amazing to kind of build a friendship and it was really cool to play with him today.”

Im, who finished tied second in the 2022 FedExCup points list, enjoyed a blemish-free card with seven birdies, including four over his closing five holes as he seeks a third PGA TOUR victory. He nailed putts of nearly 19 feet on the 14th and 17th holes for his strong finish.

“I had a good start. I’m happy to play well from the first event and Hawaii always brings me good luck,” said the 24-year-old, who holds two top-10s at the event. “The course has wide fairways and it is pretty windy out here. If I make a good tee shot and find the fairway, I will have a good chance. The back nine is the key so I hope to continue to play well for rest of the week.”

Matsuyama, who defends his Sony Open in Hawaii title next week, made five birdies over his last seven holes to give himself a chance of completing a famous Hawaiian double. He endured some discomfort during his round with an old neck injury.

“I wouldn’t say I’m satisfied, but I am happy I was able to get through today without any pain. Given the circumstances, I’m happy with the score I posted. I left a few shots and putts out there, but I’m overall happy that I was able to get into somewhat of a rhythm,” said the eight-time TOUR winner. “I’m going to get treatment now so I can be ready for tomorrow and hopefully continue to play with no pain.”

Weather: Partly cloudy. High of 77. Wind NE 10-15 mph.

First-Round Leaderboard

Collin Morikawa                64 (-9)

J.J. Spaun                           64 (-9)

Jon Rahm                           64 (-9)

Tom Kim                             65 (-8)

Other Scores

Adam Scott                           70 (-3, T26)

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