Golf-Hot putter helps Korean Bae seize Waialae lead


* Bae takes charge with a seven-birdie display

* American Kirk sits second after carding a 64

* Masters champion Scott shoots a 67 (Updates at end of round)

Jan 9 (Reuters) - South Korea's Bae Sang-moon delivered a putting master class as he charged into a 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 early 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.

"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."

Americans Brian Stuard and 2010 champion Ryan Palmer fired 65s while South African Retief Goosen, a double U.S. Open winner who is continuing his comeback from back surgery in 2012, was among a group of seven players tied on 66.

Masters champion Adam Scott of Australia birdied his last two holes for a 67 and American world number seven Zach Johnson, who clinched his 11th PGA Tour title at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Kapalua on Monday, carded a 68.

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.


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 substitute 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," world number two 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 this week for an auto race competition.

Defending champion Russell Henley, who birdied the last five holes to win last year's Sony Open by three shots for his maiden PGA Tour victory, ran up two double-bogeys as he battled to a 73 on Thursday. (Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

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