Matt Kuchar tends to believe his schedule won’t allow for any paddle boarding, snorkeling or even surfing in the still-chilly Santa Monica Bay during his weekend stay in L.A.
Just as well. He’s already been there and done that in the warmer waters of Hawaii during a recent three-week family vacation.
It’s tough enough trying to keep your balance atop the leader board at the Northern Trust Open.
After having a blast doing “just anything in the water you can think of,” Kutcher said he came back to the PGA Tour thorougly refreshed – which likely explains how he started his first round at Riviera Country Club with three straight birdies en route to a 7-under 64 during cool but otherwise ideal sunshine conditions today.
Among those who found success teeing off in the afternoon, when the temperatures warmed up to the low 70s according to tour officials and more spectator sightings of shorts and T-shirts, Sergio Garcia made a bold move up the leaderboard as the ocean winds started to kick in.
Garcia, like Kuchar, started with three birdies, but these were on the 10th, 11th and 12th holes. He climbed to five under with a birdie at No. 7, tying him for second with Brandt Jobe.
Tied for fourth at 4-under 67 are David Lynn and James Hahn.
England’s Luke Donald, who carried the highest world golf ranking of anyone in the field at No. 3 and playing in his first U.S. event of the year, made perhaps the shot of the day with a chip-in off the 10th green. He is 1-under after 15.
Kuchar’s bogey-free round that tallied seven birdies in total allowed him to hold a two-shot edge for most of the afternoon over UCLA grad Jobe.
Kuchar has played three events so far in the first two months of the season – both Hawaii tournaments, and then in Palm Springs, with nearly three top 10 finishes in each. Then he took the family back to Kikaua, on the big island of Hawaii, for all the water sports they could handle.
Stand-up paddleboarding was one of the things that the 34-year-old said he finally got to try for the first time.
“The boards are big, and on a calm day, I think it’s a pretty easy thing,” he said. “I think when it gets a little rough, it starts to get exciting. When you get better, you try to start trying to challenge yourself by catching waves.”
The wave of three birdie putts, all within four feet, carried Kuchar to an exciting place he’s never experienced at the classic layout of the par-71 Riviera.
Kuchar’s 64 is only one off the all-time tournament record for best opening round. Five others have had a 63, the last time accomplished by Phil Mickelson in 2009.
Kuchar birdied the depth-defying 10th hole as well as the par 3 16h and par 5 17th . With a chance to hit 63, he settled for a par on the 18th.
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, who hit eight of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens, said he recently had a couple of days off to work with his instructor, Chris O’Connell, at the L.A. Country Club’s north course.
“I was excited about how the things we 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’,” said Kuchar. “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.”
Jobe, who started with the first group on the first tee at 6:40 a.m. in 44-degree temperatures, finished his round at 5-under 66, sparked by four straight birdies from the 14th to 17 holes. He is playing with a major medical exemption as he recovers from nerve damage in his back.
Those who came out early to watch defending champion Bill Haas were underwhelmed with his one-under 70, while the partners in his threesome — Keegan Bradley and Mickelson — were even 71. This was the trio that finished in a tie for the lead a year ago after 72 holes and had to slug it out in overtime.
With a 7 a.m. start Thursday, Mickelson said it was “freezing cold” as he started at No. 10, which he none-the-less birdied. He bogeyed the next two.
Riviera veteran Fred Couples, teamed up with Bubba Watson and Lee Westwood, finished with a 3-under 68.
Couples’ round included five birdies and two bogeys, going two under on his front nine (starting at the 10th) that included a crowd-roaring birdie putt on the 18th green. That followed a birdie on 17 that included shades of his past with a long drive up the par-5 fairway.
“I smoked that,” said the 53-year-old. “I knocked it up pin-high in two and got it up-and-down. Today I just felt a little rhythm and started driving it a little firmer and more solid, and the ball was going well.”
Another long-time Riviera competitor, Corey Pavin, was at four-over 75, also playing in the early morning pairings.
Lynn, a veteran of the European Tour who said he’d never been to L.A. before this week, found himself tied for third with alternate-added James Hahn after a four-under 67. That shouldn’t be much of a surprise – he was the runner-up at last year’s PGA Championship.
His only hiccup in the round was a bogey at No. 7.
“The greens are fast and especially downhill,” Lynn said. “There are a lot of spike marks and footprints, so you’ve got to be careful. Even with my bogey, I hit a nice shot and came up really short, and I three-putted from just off the green.”
Vijay Singh, playing despite admitting to recently taking a deer antler spray substance banned by the PGA, shot a four-over 75 in the morning groupings.