Former No. 1 struggles in return

NAPA, Calif. — Justin Thomas scuffled through an uneven afternoon with a 3-under 69 in his return to the PGA Tour following a lengthy layoff, leaving him six shots off the lead Thursday in the first round of the Fortinet Championship.

Thomas, the former No. 1 player in the world who was a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup, had hoped to clean up his game in a final tune-up, but wasn’t nearly as sharp at Silverado Resort as he hoped.

Playing for the first time since finishing 12th at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C., on Aug. 6, Thomas made four birdies and worked around a bogey on the par-4 ninth. He was tied for 20th, chasing Lucas Herbert, the leader after a 6-under 63.

“Sometimes after some time off it’s hard for me to get back into it but I didn’t feel very competitively rusty,” said Thomas, who hit three of 14 fairways. “I was very engaged and focused on what I was doing. I just wasn’t exactly doing it how I wanted to.

“I was managing my game. It’s exactly what I did at the Wyndham. Today wasn’t a day with how I hit it I was going to shoot 6- or 7-under. Three under with how I feel I hit it was a great thing.” Former University of Arkansas and Jonesboro golfer Austin Cook turned in a 3-under 69. Andrew Landry (Razorbacks) shot an even-par 72 and Nico Echavarria (Razorbacks) posted a 2-over 74.

Herbert, who took a seven-week mental break from playing, came back looking much stronger and crisper than Thomas. Herbert had 10 birdies — seven over his final nine holes — to overcome an early bogey.

S.H. Kim was second at 65, He holed out for eagle from 106 yards on the par-4 14th. Kelly Kraft was at 66 with Jason Dufner, Harry Hall, Sung Kang, Zac Blair and Mark Hubbard.

Max Homa, the two-time defending Fortinet champion and U.S. Ryder Cup team member, endured a rough morning with a double bogey and bogey on his way to joining Thomas at 69. Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson also shot 69.Co-captain Stewart Cink, a winner here in 2020, had a 71.