The 2017 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele has come out swinging against the “Sophomore Jinx.”
Schauffele and two others trail Cameron Smith by a shot after Smith fired an 8-under 64 in the opening round of the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur Thursday.
Smith fired eight birdies – gaining three shots over the last five holes – to stand a stroke clear of Schauffele, Keegan Bradley and Poom Saksansin.
Smith gained his first PGA Tour victory at the Zurich Classic team event in May. A native of Australia, Smith said he plays comfortable in Malaysia.
“Course is great, it’s really hot here. Just tried to keep the hydration up, drunk as much water as I possibly could,” said Smith, according to the Australian Associated Press.
“The plan from there was really simple: just hit some fairways and (be) really aggressive into the greens and yeah, my ball-striking was really good today.
“I’ve obviously played quite a bit in Asia so I feel like it’s just back to what it was a few years ago.”
PGA Tour Player of the Year Justin Thomas put himself behind a tall wall in his quest for a “three-peat” here after posting a 2-under 70. He won in 2016 and 2015 with a combined score of 49 under,
Schauffele, 23, beat Thomas by a stroke to win the Tour Championship in Atlanta last month. Schauffele opened with a birdie Thursday, chipped-in from off the green for another at his third hole and rolled on from there.
“It was boring, which I guess is a good thing out here,” he said.
“I hit a lot of fairways, kind of made an easy day out of it. I tried to copy everything (Justin) did as I figured he’s a good guy to imitate out here.”