Matt Kuchar drilled seven birdies — including three to start the round — and went bogey-free to grab the lead after the morning group at the Northern Trust Open, taming the Riviera Country Club. His a 7-under 64 was a two-shot edge over UCLA grad Brandt Jobe.
Kuchar nailed his first birdie putts all within four feet to start the surge at four-under at the turn. He registered birdies at the 16th and 17th before a par at No. 18.
The 64 is one off the all-time tournament record for best round to open the event. Five others have had a 63, the last time accomplished by Phil Mickelson in 2009. Kuchar’s best previous round at Riviera was a 66 on the last day of the 2010 event, which vaulted him into a tie for 20th. His best finish at Riviera was a tie for 14th in 2008.
He’s opened with a 69 in his last three appearances at the Northern Trust Open.
Kuchar said a recent trip to Hawaii with his family helped him relax and get his mind at ease before returning to the tour. He tied for fifth at the Sony Open among the three events he’s played in 2013.
Kuchar birdied the difficult No. 10 en route to his 33 on the back nine.
Jobe, who started with the first group at 6:40 a.m., finished his round at five-under 71 and is tied with David Lynn at the moment for second. Lynn, who started at the 10th hole, made three birdies on his back nine out of his first six holes.
Jobe said it was so dark on the practice range before his round he couldn’t see what he was hitting. His first drive on No. 1 was something he couldn’t even follow.
“I didn’t even know if it was in the fairway,” he said, adding that it wasn’t. “The sun wasn’t even up when we teed off. I don’t know that I saw a putt from 15 feet.
“It’s so wet and cold and the ball isn’t going anywhere at that time. I don’t think I’ve ever played a round so early.”
Defending champion Bill Haas finished with a one-under 70, while his threesome partners of Keegan Bradely and Mickelson were even 71.
Mickelson started at 7 a.m., saying it was “freezing cold” as he started at No. 10, which he none-the-less birdied. He bogeyed the next two.
Rob Streb, who made the field after an open qualifying round on Monday, is at four-under, which included an eagle at No. 1. He is through 15 sitting alone in fourth place.
Fred Couples finished with a three-under 68 to put himself among a group that includes Pat Perez, Jim Furyk and Lee Westwood in the fourth position.
Expect scores to get even lower as the afternoon warms up. Many spectators in the crowd were comfortable in T-shirts and shorts as the sun came out strong at about 10 a.m. Sergia Garcia, for example, had a noon tee off at No. 10 and birdied his first three holes to immediately go three under.