Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Kuchar top birdie man to lead by 1 at Riviera

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LOS ANGELES -- Coming off a three-week break, Matt Kuchar might not remember golf feeling this easy.

He opened with three straight birdies, all of the putts inside three feet. He made back-to-back birdies late in his first round at Riviera. He made seven birdies, the longest putt from eight feet, on his way to a 7-under 64 for a one-shot lead over Sergio Garcia Thursday in the Northern Trust Open.

Garcia, making his PGA Tour season debut after two tournaments in the Middle East, 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.

No matter. He closed with an 8-iron to six feet on an elevated green at No. 9 for his seventh birdie.

Brandt Jobe, returning from a serious neck injury last summer, put his experience to use on the course he played more times than he can remember while at UCLA. He ran off four straight birdies late in his round, only to close with a bogey on the 18th to finish at 66.

It was a great day for scoring, and Kuchar had plenty of company.

James Hahn, the 31-year-old rookie who shared the 54-hole lead last week at Pebble Beach, and David Lynn of England were at 67. Disney winner Charlie Beljan chose to finish in the fog after play was suspended. He closed with a bogey and had a 67. He had seven birdies.

Eighteen players failed to finish the round, not unusual for this tournament. They were to return this morning to finish, then immediately start the second round.

The group at 68 included Lee Westwood and 53-year-old Fred Couples, a two-time winner of this event, who feels rejuvenated when he plays at Riviera.

Also at 68 was Fredrik Jacobson, the last man in the 64-man field at the Match Play Championship. With a good week, he won't have to face Rory McIlroy in the first round next week.

Couples played the final Champions Tour event last year and the season opener this year, plus a two-day exhibition. He hasn't practised much in between. He made clean, powerful contact for much of the day, even producing the longest drive of his group on the par-5 17th over Westwood and Bubba Watson.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 15, 2013 C6

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