Thomas off to shaky start

Justin Thomas

KUALA LUMPUR — Two-time defending champion Justin Thomas got off to a shaky start at the CIMB Classic Thursday with a two-under-par 70, which left him languishing at the back of the pack.

Australian Cameron Smith, ranked number 151 in the world, took the lead with a sparkling eight-under-par 64.

Thomas was in tied 23rd place and other favourites also fared badly at the PGA Tour event in Malaysia, with both Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and India’s Anirban Lahiri trailing the leaders.

Thomas is coming off the back of a breakthrough season during which he racked up five wins including a maiden major victory and was named the 2017 PGA Tour Player of the Year.

The world No. 4 is hoping for a third consecutive win at the CIMB Classic, and opened his campaign with three birdies in the first nine holes at TPC Kuala Lumpur.

But the American, who started on the 10th, faltered after his promising start and hit three bogeys, leaving him to play catch-up against Smith.

It was his second-worst round in his CIMB Classic career.

Smith scored eight birdies to become the solo overnight leader.

“It was pretty simple really, hit a lot of good shots today and made a lot of good putts,” he said.

“Same plan tomorrow. Really smart off the tee and just try and get in the fairway and then really aggressive into the greens and obviously hole some putts.”

One shot behind Smith are Thailand’s Poom Saksansin, American Keegan Bradley and freshly crowned Tour Championship winner Xander Schauffele, also from the US.

Schauffele, who hit a course low of 65, said he had “hit a lot of fairways and kind of made an easy day out of it”.

India’s Lahiri, tied eighth with a five-under 67, said he was “a little disappointed”.

The golfers could be in for a tough day Friday, with thunderstorms set to descend on Kuala Lumpur.

The $7 million CIMB Classic is jointly sanctioned by the Asian Tour and PGA Tour.

Park shares lead

World No. 2 Park Sung-hyun fired six birdies to share the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship first-round lead with her fellow South Korean Kim Min-sun and Australia’s Minjee Lee Thursday.

Park, playing in a mouth-watering grouping that featured the game’s top three players, carded six-under-par 66 to grab the joint overnight lead in Incheon.

“I feel great having finished the first round pretty well,” said Park, 24, after her round with top-ranked Ryu So-yeon and world No. 3 Lexi Thompson at the SKY72 Golf & Resort.

Kim went on a streak of five birdies in a row to close out her front nine, before finishing with seven birdies against one bogey.

Thompson opened with a four-birdie 69 for a share of 13th, while Ryu, the front-runner for this season’s Player of the Year award, scored a three-birdie 72 to lie 40th.

LPGA veteran Cristie Kerr, who just four days ago won the Lacoste Ladies Open de France for her first victory on the Ladies European Tour, scored 67 to lie one shot off the lead. — Agencies