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Matt Kuchar is early to rise at Riviera

Kuchar shoots a bogey-free 64 for the lead in the first round of the Northern Trust Open, one shot better than a late-starting Sergio Garcia.

February 14, 2013|By Chris Dufresne
  • Matt Kuchar follows through on his tee shot at No. 11 on Thursday during the first round of the Northern Trust Open golf tournament at Riviera Country Club.
Matt Kuchar follows through on his tee shot at No. 11 on Thursday during the… (Reed Saxon / Associated…)

The key to Thursday's first round of the Northern Trust Open was getting off to a fast start.

That didn't necessarily mean an early start — or even a start from the same tee box at Riviera Country Club.

The leaderboard eventually, if not clumsily, came together at the end of the day. It came together from completely different directions.

Matt Kuchar teed off at 7:22 in the morning from No. 1 and made three straight birdies on his way to a bogey-free, seven-under-par round of 64.

Kuchar's score held up all day to give him an almost certainly sanctioned one-shot lead heading into the second round.

It's not quite official because play was suspended at 5:43 p.m. with 18 visually impaired players left on a darkened course. They'll finish up Friday morning, and this should not complicate play the way fog messed with the Farmers Insurance Open last month at Torrey Pines.

And now the opposite spectrum:

Sergio Garcia teed off at 12:01 p.m. from the 10th tee and also made three straight birdies on his way to a six-under 65, which left him one shot behind Kuchar.

They might as well have been playing different courses in different cities.

Kuchar pushed off during a morning bathed in sunshine with nary a wisp of wind. Garcia started in the same conditions but almost needed a lighthouse operator to get him to shore after a fog bank enveloped Riviera in the late afternoon.

"Must have been my fault," Garcia quipped.

Brandt Jobe shot 66 in the morning and stands two shots back of Kuchar.

Jobe's short story: He's a 47-year-old physical wreck from UCLA who has battled back from numerous injuries.

Charlie Beljan, who teed off almost an hour after Garcia on No. 1, was among three players standing at four-under 67.

Beljan shot 33 on the front and started the back with two birdies. But he followed that with a double bogey at the par-four 12th hole.

After a par at No. 13, he ran off three more birdies as the dusk and the marine layer chased him to the 18th fairway. He was five under when play was suspended.

Beljan had the option to finish the hole, so he proceeded to three-putt for a bogey five. Beljan joked that he might have been influenced to play out by playing partners Retief Goosen and Bo Van Pelt.

"Didn't really have much pull compared to those guys," Beljan said, "so I just went ahead and went with the flow. That was fine. It wasn't anybody's fault other than mine."

Not the leaderboard you expected? Don't fret, because the tournament doesn't end on Valentine's Day.

David Lynn and James Hahn joined Beljan at four under par.

A few names you might recognize — Jim Furyk, Lee Westwood and Fred Couples — shot three-under rounds of 68.

Couples is a two-time winner of this event, but that was decades ago. He is 53 now and playing on a sponsor's exemption.

"I can figure my way around this course," Couples said.

Couples and Westwood, relative old-timers, skunked the third player in their group. It was some guy named Bubba Watson, who won something last year called the Masters. Watson shot six-over 77 on his way to the weekend off.

How long Couples can hold up is the big question, but having one of Riviera's most popular players make the cut would definitely be good for ticket sales.

Kuchar clearly had the sunniest and cleanest day with his bogey-free round. He shot a front-nine 31 and finished with seven birdies. "I got off to a hot start today and was playing solid golf," he said.

He has played well this year, with top-20 finishes at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Sony Open and Humana Challenge.

He then went back to Hawaii for some vacation time. "Paddle boarding, outrigger canoeing, snorkeling, did some surfing," Kuchar said. "Just anything in the water you can think of."

Things didn't go as swimmingly for the morning marquee threesome of Phil Mickelson, Bill Haas and Keegan Bradley. The power brokers combined for one under par.

Haas, the defending champion, finished with a one-under 70, and Mickelson and Bradley both had 71.

Last year, the trio was an aggregate 21 under and ended up in a playoff won by Haas.

"Had to fight to make pars and pretty fortunate to shoot even par," Mickelson said after his round.

Mickelson's group returns Friday with a 12:01 p.m. tee time on the first hole.

The fog should be lifted by then — just in time for the Santa Ana winds.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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