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Honolulu, HI (SportsNetwork.com) - Justin Thomas exploded up the leaderboard with a second-round, 9-under 61 on Friday, while Matt Kuchar carded a 7-under 63 and they both joined Webb Simpson in the lead at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Simpson, who finished round one tied for first with Paul Casey, carded a 4- under 66. Thomas and Kuchar joined Simpson at 12-under-par 128 and they hold a 2-shot lead heading into the weekend at Waialae Country Club. Kuchar has seven career victories on the PGA Tour, while Simpson has four wins, including the 2012 U.S. Open title. Thomas, a rookie, has never won on tour. Troy Merritt (64) and Tim Clark (65) are both tied for third at 10-under 130. Right behind them are Russell Knox (65) and Rory Sabbatini (67) at minus-9. Casey managed to shoot an even-par 70 and he is tied for eighth with defending champion Jimmy Walker (66), Marc Leishman (62), Ryan Palmer (63), J.J. Henry (67) and Robert Streb (69) at 8-under 132. Thomas, already playing in his sixth event of the season, made the biggest jump up the leaderboard Friday, a round that featured a spectacular finish. Playing the back nine first, Thomas started off with six straight pars before the birdies started to fall. The 21-year-old then rattled off three straight gains from No. 16 and he made the turn at minus-3. Thomas drained two more birdies on two and five, putting him at 5-under for the day and 8-under for the week heading to the par-3 seventh. Still four shots behind the leaders, Thomas finished on fire. After rolling in a 12-foot birdie putt on seven, Thomas poured in another gain on eight, getting him to within two of Kuchar and Simpson. Thomas then hit the green in two on the par-5 ninth and made a 17-foot eagle putt to complete an incredible round and vault him into a tie for the lead. Im excited. Its a position I havent been in before and I think that kind of comes with the territory being a rookie, said Thomas. Im going to hopefully find myself in a lot of positions this year ... Im just really excited about the opportunity. Kuchar, playing alongside Simpson for the second straight day, was very consistent on Friday. The No. 11 player in the world made three birdies on the front nine at two, five and nine, making the turn at minus-3. Kuchar then rolled in three more birdies on 10, 12 and 13. The 36-year-old then sandwiched a birdie on 16 in between four pars to finish up his round. I drove it really well and when you drive it well the course becomes much more attackable, said Kuchar. It was a much better ball-striking round for me and Ive continued two days of really good putting. Simpson, who ditched the belly putter and is using a conventional putter for the first time as a professional this week, had another good day on the greens. Following four straight pars to start the day, Simpson tripped to his only bogey on No. 5. He responded with birdies on six and nine, putting Simpson at minus-1 as he made the turn. Like the start of the front nine, Simpson made four straight pars from No. 10 to begin the back side. The U.S. Open champion finished strong with three birdies over his final five holes on 14, 15 and 18. Its felt good, Simpson said about using the new putter. Ive been nervous to get started this season using a short putter, but just thankful ... Thankfully Im 12-under and have had a good start. NOTES: Thomas finished one shot off the course record of 60, which was set by Davis Love III in 1994. Love went on to finish runner-up that year ... Thomas won the Nationwide Childrens Hospital Championship in the Web.com Tour Finals Series last season ... Kuchars last win came at the RBC Heritage last season ... Simpson last won at last seasons Shriners Hospitals for Children Open ... Matt Every was disqualified for using a non-conforming club ... 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The 57-year-old with greying hair couldnt box out or grab a rebound, but owner Ted Leonsis waved his red towel and egged on a cheering crowd that chanted "Free Nene!" The Wizards did just fine without the suspended Brazilian forward.Canadas mens hockey team is still six days away from their opening match against Norway and with the NHLs pre-Olympic schedule winding down, the talk and the focus of those chosen to don the Maple Leaf has shifted to how well the 25 players selected for Sochi will come together. The latest to be added into that mix, of course, is 38-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning forward Martin St. Louis. The scoring winger was an easy choice to replace his linemate Steven Stamkos on the roster, according to Canadas head coach. "We didnt have to vote at all; everyone just thought St. Louis was the guy," Mike Babcock told TSN on Friday. "Prior to that, we all voted and if you got consensus you were in and if you didnt get consensus you werent." St. Louis may have been a unanimous choice, according to Babcock, but that had nothing to do with Canadian general manager Steve Yzerman also being the Lightning GM. "It would have been easy for Steve to say Martys on the team [because] I said hes on the team but that to me is not how you manage," Babcock said Friday. "You just do the best thing and I think we have an opportunity and thats all you can ask for." St. Louis has upped his game since being left off the initial 25-man roster on Jan. 7, netting 17 points in 15 games including a two-goal game the night after the announcement and a four-goal game in San Jose on Jan. 18. Babcock understands St. Louis being frustrated with the initial decision, but believes he will now shift his mentality to help Canada in its quest for gold. "I think everyones allowed to be bitter, but I think you get up and get on with it. You know what I mean? Thats life," Babcock said. "If you go through his career, hes been called out loots of times for the fact that oh youre too small, youre too this and hes just been determined.ddddddddddddThats all over with that stuff. Youre on the team – now youve got to find a way to be part of it." St. Louis career is one that has been marked by determination, including being cut adrift by the Calgary Flames after the 1999-2000 season, finding success with the likes of Vincent LeCavalier and Brad Richards and winning a Stanley Cup with the Lightning. He survived a rebuild that saw the Bolts miss the playoffs in five of the last six years and then re-emerged as a scoring threat alongside the younger Stamkos. As for whether hell get a chance to play or is merely along for the ride as the 13th or 14th forward on the team, Babcock believes St. Louis has to be ready for any eventuality. "Be a good pro, be a real good teammate and battle your butt off in a competitive environment to get as much as you can to help the team and its not going to be about any one player." Babcock addressed another positional battle on Friday, too, speaking out about the recent struggles of Vancouver Canucks netminder Roberto Luongo. Chosen alongside fellow goalies Carey Price and Mike Smith to represent Canada, Luongo has lost four straight games, posting a sub-.900 save percentage over those starts. However, Babcock expressed a confidence in Luongo that suggests the 34-year-old will be given a chance at very least to compete for the lions share of crease time in Sochi. "Im not concerned," Babcock said of the man who back-stopped Canada to gold in Vancouver. "I just think hes a really good goalie. Ive been with him a number of times and hes always found a way to deliver. So Im not concerned, no." ' ' '

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