It was the pairing that drew the most fan interest as the Shriners Children’s Open began Thursday morning. Max Homa, the hottest player in golf, and Tom Kim, the 20-year-old emerging superstar, would play together and renew a rivalry that began two weeks ago at the Presidents Cup.
And while Homa and Kim were good Thursday, it was the third member of their group who outplayed them both.
Si Woo Kim had eight birdies and a bogey on his way to a 7-under 64 at TPC Summerlin, besting Tom Kim by a stroke and Homa by three as the trio combined to go 17 under in perfect scoring conditions.
All three are chasing Tom Hoge, whose 63 put him atop the leaderboard after the first round. It’s a position that shouldn’t be a surprise to those who follow the sport closely. Since 2014, Hoge has the sixth most first-round leads on the PGA Tour with eight, trailing only five future Hall of Famers on the list.
But even Hoge was a little shocked to fire his lowest round on tour since February.
“I guess it’s a little bit unexpected because I had a few weeks off and took a little time away from golf, so I didn’t know where things would stand coming out today,” said Hoge, who spent the last two weeks in Mexico, fishing and relaxing in Cabo San Lucas.
He brought that mellow approach to the course Thursday, making four birdies and two eagles — including a hole-out from 110 yards on No. 7 — on an error-free scorecard.
Las Vegas resident Maverick McNealy was also blemish-free, shooting 7-under 64 to match Si Woo Kim one stroke back.
Kim birdied the first three holes, made the turn in 5-under 30, and added three more on the back to put himself in the mix. He credited his high-profile partners for making it a relaxing day on the course.
“I always like to play with Max. He’s such a nice guy and a great player. I always learn from him something,” Kim said. “Tom Kim as well, and we’re good friends. We always hang out together. It’s just more comfortable to play with them.”
McNealy started slowly, making eight pars and a lone birdie on the front nine. But he caught fire after the turn, running off three straight birdies and six total on the back for his low round at a tournament played on one of his home courses.
“The other PGA Tour players out here that live in Vegas, we call 13 through 16 Birdies Alley,” McNealy said. “You know you’re going to have a lot of opportunities at the end of the round. So when I got through the first eight under par, I figured gas is on the right and hit it at the flag, and I got some putts to go.”
He wasn’t alone.
Defending champion Sungjae Im, Tom Kim, Sam Ryder, Keith Mitchell, Will Gordon, Tyler Duncan, Thomas Detry and Seonghyeon Kim all shot 65, and two-time champion Martin Laird was among a group another shot back. Lucas Herbert also made some noise, climbing to the top of the leaderboard with his eighth birdie on No. 15 before dumping consecutive shots into the pond in front of the 16th green and walking away with a triple-bogey 8.
It was typical low scoring overall at TPC Summerlin, with 98 players under par in the first round.
Veterans like Hoge know that is to be expected, and he understands he’ll need to back up his opening 63 with another low round Friday to stay in the hunt.
“The biggest thing is just keeping that momentum the whole way. You’ve got to keep making birdies,” Hoge said. “You’ve got to keep going every day. Like I said, it’s a good start, but I know I’ve got a lot of work left.”
Greg Robertson covers golf for the Review-Journal. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.