Daily Wrap-up: Northern Trust Open, Round 1

February 14, 2013

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
• Matt Kuchar went bogey-free in the first round, starting his day with three straight “kick-in” birdies. He holed putts of 2 feet, 7 inches on No. 1; 2 feet, 1 inch on No. 2; and 2 feet, 5 inches on No. 3.
• Kuchar has four PGA TOUR wins, with only one coming in the first four months of the season (The Honda Classic – March 2002, his first win). His other TOUR wins: Turning Stone Resort Championship (October 2009); The Barclays (August 2010); and THE PLAYERS Championship (May 2012).
• But Kuchar’s good start this week, and this early in the season, should be no surprise based on his first three events of 2013. He was the only player to finish in the top 10 at both events in Hawaii (T9-Hyundai Tournament of Champions; T5-Sony Open in Hawaii), and he finished T16 at the Humana Challenge before taking three weeks off to rest up for the Northern Trust Open.
• Kuchar is looking to break a recent streak by THE PLAYERS champions; Phil Mickelson (2007) is the last winner of the event to record another victory within a year of THE PLAYERS (Mickelson won later that season at the Deutsche Bank Championship). Since then, Sergio Garcia (2008) didn’t win again until the 2012 Wyndham Championship; and Henrik Stenson (2009), Tim Clark (2010) and K.J. Choi (2011) have yet to capture another PGA TOUR title.
• Kuchar has held or shared a first-round lead only four previous times in his PGA TOUR career and did not convert any of those leads into an eventual win. His best finish after leading through 18 holes came at The Barclays in 2011, where he finished second (54-hole event).