Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm opened with matching 63s on Thursday at Liberty National and will enter the second round of The Northern Trust with a share of the lead on 8-under par.
Thomas signed for a scorecard featuring just one bogey against nine birdies, including three in a row to close (Nos. 16-18) en route to the co-marquee position.
JT cited improved putting for the key to his low round.
“Really the first couple holes,” said Thomas, after being asked when he felt more confident with the flatstick.
“When I’m able to change my speed based off of what I want to do, I mean, as John calls it, kind of hit shots with it, the first two holes were putts that don’t really break very much and they’re uphill, which is sometimes the hardest to make because, if you start them offline, they’re going to miss.
“Especially with the wind, I’m like these are putts that are inside the hole if I can hit them with some pace. The harder you hit it, sometimes the harder it is to keep online, and I just kind of gutted both of those putts, and just any time I’m changing my speed out there like that with putting and making putts, I’m usually feeling pretty good.”
Rahm’s 63 was immaculate which included eight birdies, highlighted two hat tricks (Nos. 6-9 and 15-17) to join Thomas atop the leaderboard.
“It’s extremely difficult,” said Rahm, when asked about the course conditions. “The fact that me and Justin shot a low score like that, it shows it’s possible, but we both play really, really good golf. I’m assuming he did as well. I felt like I played great.
“If it ever looked easy, it is, again, due to ball striking. I can put it in the fairway. From the fairway, you can be aggressive. You can hit it as low as you want into the wind, and that ball is going to stop on the green. I think that’s, again, the advantage of using the wind to your advantage.
“If the wind stays up like this, let’s not expect everybody or all of us to be shooting 8-under every single day because that’s just not going to happen. Scores are out there. I think we just showed it. That’s mainly due to the fact of the softness of the greens.
“It probably felt a lot tougher within us than it appeared outside, but at the end of the day, when you’re striking it well, it’s going to seem easier.”
Harold Varner III was three shots off the pace, and alone in third following a 5-under 66.
“Any time you’re leading a golf tournament you probably played pretty well, especially out here,” said Varner, who hit 8 of 14 fairways and 11 of 18 greens.
“It’s windy. The biggest thing for me was last week I just had a terrible attitude and those are things I just — having a bad attitude probably makes me more mad than I guess playing bad golf. That’s the only thing you control. You don’t really control what you’re going to shoot or where your golf ball is going to end up, but you control how you approach each shot.”
Adam Scott, Kevin Na and Tony Finau were among a group of six players tied for fourth at 4-under 67, one clear of five more at T10, headlined by Viktor Hovland and Patrick Cantlay, among others.
Hideki Matsuyama (69) headlined a logjam of 19 more players tied for 15th, while another 18 players were one further back on 1 under, which included defending champion Dustin Johnson, Olympic gold medalist Xander Schauffele and four-time major winner Brooks Koepka.
Matt Wallace withdrew after shooting 8-over 79.
The 2021 Northern Trust
Pos-Player-To Par-(Rd 1)
1. Justin Thomas -8 (63)
1. Jon Rahm -8 (63)
3. Harold Varner III -5 (66)
4. Adam Scott -4 (67)
4. Tony Finau -4 (67)
4. Kevin Na -4 (67)
4. Cameron Tringale -4 (67)
4. Robert Streb -4 (67)
4. Mackenzie Hughes -4 (67)
10. Patrick Cantlay -3 (68)
10. Keith Mitchell -3 (68)
10. Sebastian Munoz -3 (68)
10. Cameron Champ -3 (68)
10. Viktor Hovland -3 (68)
Pos-Player-To Par-(Rd 1)
15. Hideki Matsuyama -2 (69)
34. Dustin Johnson -1 (70)
34. Xander Schauffele -1 (70)
34. Brooks Koepka -1 (70)
34. Scottie Scheffler -1 (70)
52. Sam Burns E (71)
52. Bryson DeChambeau E (71)
52. Rory McIlroy E (71)
72. Ian Poulter +1 (72)
72. Webb Simpson +1 (72)
72. Jordan Spieth +1 (72)
89. Phil Mickelson +2 (73)
102. Collin Morikawa +3 (74)
108. Sergio Garcia +4 (75)
113. Kevin Kisner +5 (76)
Material from PGA Tour Media & Communications was used to compile report.