The 21-year-old American vaulted up the leaderboard with a nine-under 61 but it was his final three holes – where he hit birdie, birdie, eagle – that had the Waialae Country Club buzzing on Friday.
“I’m excited,” he said. “It’s a position I haven’t been in before and I think that kind of comes with the territory of being a rookie. I’m going to hopefully find myself in a lot of positions this year.”
First round co-leader Webb Simpson shot a four-under 66 and Matt Kuchar carded a seven-under 63 to join Thomas at the top of the leaderboard on 12-under 128.
They have a two-stroke lead on Troy Merritt (64) and Tim Clark (65) who are both tied for third at 10-under 130. Scotland’s Russell Knox (65) and Rory Sabbatini of South Africa (67) are at nine-under.
England’s Paul Casey, who was joint leader with Simpson after round one, shot an even-par 70 and is tied for eighth with defending champion Jimmy Walker (66), Marc Leishman (62), Ryan Palmer (63), JJ Henry (67) and Robert Streb (69) at eight-under 132.
By the time Thomas reached the seventh hole on his back nine, a string of pars had put him at eight-under for the tournament.
He drained a 12-foot birdie putt on that hole, followed it up with another birdie and on the final hole reached the green in two. Then came the long eagle putt which pulled him even with playing partners Simpson and Kuchar.
World number 11 Kuchar sandwiched a birdie on the 16th inbetween 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 36-year-old Kuchar. “It was a much better ball-striking round for me and I’ve continued two days of really good putting.”
US Open champion Simpson, who had three birdies over his final five holes and??is using a conventional putter for the first time as a Tour professional after ditching his belly putter, said: “It felt good.
“I’ve been nervous to get started this season using a short putter, but just thankful. Thankfully I’m 12-under and have had a good start.”