PGATOUR.COM wire reports
LOS ANGELES -- Matt Kuchar finished just as strongly as he started at the Northern Trust Open on Thursday, taking a one-shot lead over Sergio Garcia after the first round.
Kuchar opened with three straight birdies, all of them putts inside 3 feet, and finished with back-to-back birdies at Riviera Country Club for a 7-under 64.
Garcia, making his first PGA TOUR appearance of the year, 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 green.
It didn't matter, as he closed with an 8-iron to 6 feet on an elevated green at No. 9 for his seventh birdie.
Brandt Jobe, returning from a serious neck injury last year, put his experience to use. Jobe played college golf at UCLA and has lost track of the times he has played Riviera. He ran off four straight birdies late in his round before a bogey on the 18th forced him to settle for a 66.
Fred Couples, the 53-year-old who feels rejuvenated on this golf course, had a 68.
Coming off a week-long Hawaii vacation, Kuchar did some work with his swing coach and picked up right where he left off, having started the year with a couple of top-10 finishes.
"I was excited about the things we were working on and excited how I was hitting the ball. ... the hot start was certainly a great way to get the round going," Kuchar said.
James Hahn, the 31-year-old rookie who shared the 54-hole lead last week at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, and David Lynn of England were at 67. The group at 68 included Lee Westwood and Couples, a two-time winner of this event.
Couples played the final Champions Tour event last year and the season opener this year, along with a two-day exhibition. He hasn't practiced much in between.
"It's surprising, but I can figure my way out around this course," Couples said.
He made clean, powerful contact for so much of the day, even producing the longest drive of his group on the par-5 17th over Westwood and Bubba Watson. Couples was pin-high on the hole for a simple up-and-down, the start of three straight birdies.
Watson wasn't so fortunate.
For the first time in nearly three years, the Masters champion failed to make a single birdie. He had a 76.
Phil Mickelson also is trying to regain some form just two weeks after his record performance to win the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He had said it was imperative to be in the fairway to approach the small greens of Riviera, and three fairways was not the blueprint he had in mind.
Mickelson didn't hit a fairway until his 11th hole. Even so, he scratched out a 71 and felt he was only a round away from getting back into the mix.
"A mini-victory," he said of his round at even par.
The surprise 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 the Farmers Insurance Open 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 my situation, every round counts," he said. "So this is a good start to the week."
Four players withdrew, including Sean O'Hair, who had an 83, and Cameron Beckman, who had an 80. Steve Marino was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. He had a 78. Ben Crane checked in with an 80. Geoff Ogilvy, who ended last year at No. 51 in the world, had a 76 for his eighth straight round without breaking par.
|About the leader: Matt Kuchar|