Tough start for Juvic Pagunsan in PGA Tour's Malaysia stop

Justin Thomas Pat Perez know first-hand the rich rewards of Malaysia			Getty Images

Justin Thomas Pat Perez know first-hand the rich rewards of Malaysia Getty Images

Justin Thomas made a rocky start in his bid to win a third successive CIMB Classic when he managed only a 2-under-par 70 to sit six strokes behind leader Cameron Smith on Thursday. It's the first time that the Australian has ever held either a share or the outright lead in a tour event after the opening 18 holes.

Cameron Smith of Australia set the pace with a bogey-free eight-under 64, while Keegan Bradley, Xander Schauffele and Poom Saksansin of Thailand stood a stroke off. "The rough has been up apparently compared to a year ago, that's what Justin told me at least".

Thomas has barely had time to catch his breath after winning the FedEx Cup and playing in the Presidents Cup.

Only weeks after capping his brilliant season with the $10 million bonus as FedExCup champion, Justin Thomas heads back to his happy hunting ground at the CIMB Classic, seeking a "threepeat" of titles in Malaysia.

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Schauffele, the USA tour rookie of the year, said he was taking plenty of notice of how Thomas approaches this course and is trying to keep it simple. "I hope that this momentum will last until the end", she said.

"I have to keep the game-plan pretty much the same really: just be smart off the tee, try to hit the fairways and then really aggressive into the greens".

Twenty-five-year-old Matsuyama, another sparkling young talent, was runner-up behind Thomas in Malaysia last year in a breakout season boasting three wins and two top-five finishes at the majors.

Smith, 24, victor along with Jonas Blixt at last April's Zurich Classic of New Orleans, made eight birdies in his first start of the new tour season.

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"The putting was easy actually", Smith said.

Thomas clinched his maiden PGA Tour title at the 2015 CIMB Classic with a 26-under-par 262, and triumphed against a tough challenge from Japan's Hideki Matsuyama to win in 2016.

Lahiri, third previous year at the same event, is coming of a tied-9th finish in the last start on the PGA Tour in the BMW Champion- ships, the third leg of the FedExCup play-offs.

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