Matt Kuchar hits his second shot on the 13th hole during the first round of the Genesis Invitational golf tournament at Riviera Country Club, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Kang)
golf

Kuchar shoots 64 to lead Riviera; Tiger off to strong start

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By DOUG FERGUSON

Matt Kuchar had the game to match the ideal conditions Thursday at Riviera, opening with two straight birdies and never letting up until he had a 7-under 64 and a three-shot lead among early starters in the Genesis Invitational.

Tiger Woods, the tournament host, played in afternoon as he tries to set the PGA Tour record with his 83rd victory. He has never won in 10 previous tries at Riviera as a pro, but couldn't ask for a better start.

Woods made eagle on the par-5 opening hole and and two short birdie putts to reach 4 under through eight holes.

The course off Sunset Boulevard is in mint condition this year, and after the sun climbed high and thawed the morning chill, scoring was better than usual.

Kuchar began on the reachable par-4 10th and hit just off the green, lagging a long putt to tap-in range for birdie. He took advantage of the par 5s, made two birdie putts of 30 feet or longer and rare was in trouble.

Outside of a 10-foot par putt on the par-3 fourth hole, Kuchar had little stress.

“To shoot a number like this, you kid of do most things well,” Kuchar said. "I didn't find myself in much trouble today. ... I felt like it was just steady golf, a lot of opportunities and I was able to convert on a good number of opportunities today”

K.H. Lee and Russell Henley also played bogey-free and were at 67, along with Wyndham Clark.

Rory McIlroy opened with a 68 in his return to No. 1 in the world, and it took him time to get going. McIlroy's opening tee shot was pure enough, but it bounced over the 10th green and rolled up near the lip of a back bunker. He left his first shot in the sand and did well to escape with par, only to miss 3-foot putts on the next two holes — one for birdie, one for par.

He had to scramble his way along the back until blasting a 3-wood to about 30 feet on the par-5 17th and making eagle, and then adding an eagle on par-5 opening hole.

Seventeen players from the morning groups broke 70, which included Brooks Koepka at 69.

The biggest challenge was the cold air in the morning.

McIlroy ripped a drive -- he did that a lot in the opening round -- into the par-5 11th and then came up 30 yards short with a flush 3-wood. About two hours later, he had 289 yards for his second into the par-5 17th and hit 3-wood to pin-high.

"It just shows you what temperature does," McIlroy said.

He played with Patrick Cantlay, who played at UCLA and opened with a 68, and Dustin Johnson, who struggled. Johnson closed with a 78 at Pebble Beach on Sunday, and then finished poorly on Thursday. He made three straight bogeys over his last six holes, and twice had to make 15-foot putts to save par. He shot 72 and was eight shots behind Kuchar.

Phil Mickelson was off to a decent start until he hit a tee shot so wildly to the right on No. 3 that a search party of players, caddies and three dozen fans couldn't find it. He had to settle for a 72.

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