By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- A Hawaiian vacation filled with snorkeling, outrigger canoeing, surfing and paddleboarding sent Matt Kuchar back to California this week to resume his PGA TOUR campaign in a relaxed frame of mind.
And it looks like he handles the paddleboard with the same kind of steady strokes that keep him on the leaderboard nearly everywhere he plays.
"On a calm day I think it's a pretty easy thing," Kuchar said. "I think when it gets a little rough, it starts getting exciting. When you get better, you start trying to challenge yourself by trying to catch waves. I prefer some calmer conditions and going out and have a nice, relaxing paddle."
Kuchar's first round in the Northern Trust Open on Thursday was the equivalent of that kind of ride. The bogey-free 64 was the best of Kuchar's career at Riviera and left him with a two-stroke advantage over Brandt Jobe when the morning wave completed their rounds.
Kuchar opened with a string of three birdies -- two-putting the par-5 first hole from 29 feet, then kicking in putts of 25 and 29 inches at his next two holes. He added another from 4 feet at the seventh hole, then drove the 10th and two-putted from 58 feet to get to 5 under. He closed out the round with two more easy putts of 8 feet at No. 16 and 3 feet at the 17th.
"Always fun to have bogey free days, especially around this golf course," Kuchar said. "... Just drove it well today which is a big key around here. The greens are pretty tricky and pretty firm this year, so coming out of the rough, it's difficult to get a ball to stop close to the hole.
"Coming out of the fairway is a key thing to play some good golf, so we are driving it well and played some nice golf today."
Truth be told, Kuchar wasn't totally surprised to have played so well -- even though his record at Riviera isn't that impressive. He's played seven times previously and has never had a top-10 finish; his best is a tie for 14th in 2008.
The Hawaiian vacation was a "blast," of course, and came on the heels of three straight weeks of competition that produced a pair of top-10s and a tie for 16th in Palm Springs, where Kuchar bases the family early in the year.
"I came back refreshed and energized and ready to get back playing again," he said.
Toward that end Kuchar spent Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday working with his coach, Chris O'Connell. Kuchar liked the early results so much, the two headed over to Los Angeles Country Club to get in a round at the North Course and put things into play.
The time -- on the course and in the ocean -- was obviously well-spent.
"I was excited about the things were working on and excited how I was hitting the ball, and said let's get out on the golf course and see if it works on the golf course," Kuchar said. "Things were going well early in the week and still continuing, but I think the hot start was certainly a great way to get the round going."