Coming off a three-week break, Matt Kuchar might not remember golf feeling this easy.
He opened with three straight birdies, all of the putts inside 3 feet. He made back-to-back birdies late in his first round at Riviera. He made seven birdies, the longest putt from 8 feet, on his way to a 7-under 64 for a one-shot lead over Sergio Garcia on Thursday in the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles.
“I think the hot start was certainly a great way to get the round going,” Kuchar said.
Garcia, making his PGA Tour debut after two tournaments in the Middle East, finished with two birdies over the last three holes even though he could barely see. Fog dropped in at Riviera over the final two hours after a day of warm sunshine, and Garcia could barely see the landing area in the fairway or the flags on the greens.
No matter. He closed with an 8-iron to 6 feet at No. 9’s elevated green for his seventh birdie.
Brandt Jobe, returning from a serious neck injury last summer, put his experience to use on the course he played more times than he can remember while at UCLA. He ran off four straight birdies late in his round, only to close with a bogey on the 18th to finish at 66.
It was a great day for scoring, and Kuchar had plenty of company.
James Hahn, the 31-year-old rookie who shared the 54-hole lead last week at Pebble Beach, and David Lynn of England were at 67. The group at 68 included Lee Westwood and 53-year-old Seattle native Fred Couples, a two-time winner of this event.
The surprise, though, might have been Jobe, who discovered nerve blockage in his neck that became so bad he couldn’t close his hands around the club after playing the AT&T National last summer at Congressional. What followed was six months of rest and therapy, and after missing the cut at Torrey Pines, Jobe ran off six birdies at Riviera.
Jobe is on a major medical exemption, and he has to earn $303,178 in 10 events to keep full status the rest of the year.
“I’ve still got a lot of work to do to get to where I want to be, but in my situation, every round counts,” he said. “So this is a good start to the week.”
TEENAGER KO ON TOP
Teen star Lydia Ko shot a 10-under 63 to take a one-shot lead over Colombia’s Mariajo Uribe after the first round of the LPGA Tour’s season-opening Women’s Australian Open in Canberra.
Ko, a 15-year-old New Zealand amateur, opened with a bogey on the 10th hole, then birdied the next four holes and eagled the par-5 15th to jolt her round.
South Korea’s Jiyai Shin was two behind after a 65, and Canada’s Rebecca Lee-Bentham, Japan’s Ayako Uehara and South Korea’s Lee Mi-hyang all shot 66 and are tied for fourth.