While Justin Thomas may call Kentucky home, he's among a large group of PGA Tour pros that reside in Jupiter, Fla., where much of his practice time takes place. In other words, he knows the area well, and that home-field advantage paid off in the form of a three-under 67 at PGA National in nearby Palm Beach Gardens, placing him one stroke back of Alex Noren and Webb Simpson after 18 holes at the Honda Classic.
Thomas, 24, began his round on the Champion Course's difficult back nine, going out in one-under 34 with two birdies and just one bogey, which came at the par-3 17th. After following with four straight birdies, the reigning PGA Championship winner played his final six holes in one over, demonstrating just how hard it is to go low on the Jack Nicklaus design.
"It's very difficult. This course presents such a challenge in itself with just the amount of hazards out there, the amount of difficult holes," said Thomas, the 67 behind his career low in nine rounds at the tournament. "It's a place for a handful of holes, if you drive it well, you have some birdie opportunities. Some of those holes, you're just kind of holding on for dear life."
Meanwhile, Noren and Simpson, who combined for 10 birdies and two bogeys, shared the lead with matching four-under 66s. For Noren, he continues his strong start to a season that's included a T-2 at the Farmers Insurance Open and a T-16 last week at the Genesis Open. The nine-time European Tour winner from Sweden is still in the process of playing more on American soil, but it's obvious he's getting used to it.
"I spend the winters like 15 minutes down the road from this place and it's got the same grass at The Bear's Club," Noren said. "So I'm used to the bermuda. We play a lot more in Europe and the Middle East and Asia where they have bermuda, but we're used to this. I almost like these greens more. They are very true, but it's very tough when it's this windy, and they are very firm."
Simpson's strong round comes seven years since he last appeared at the Honda Classic, making it all the more impressive. That was just his third appearance in the event in 2011, and the only time he made the cut, finishing T-24.
"Definitely excited to get a good round under my belt. I came here a couple years ago but had to withdraw for an injury. So it's nice to be healthy. Anything under par any day out here is really good," said Simpson.
Also one back at three under are Morgan Hoffmann and Daniel Berger, who, like Thomas, live in Jupiter.
Tiger Woods is four back after an even par 70 that he was "very pleased" with, considering it could have been an under par round if not for an ugly double-bogey 7 at the par-5 third hole. The 14-time major champion remains in the mix in an event he's had some past success in but has never won.