Harold Varner III hits a tee shot on the 9th hole in the first round of the Northern… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )
Each year, the Northern Trust Open awards an exemption to a player in the name of Charlie Sifford, who broke the PGA Tour's color barrier in the early 1960s and won the 1969 Los Angeles Open at Rancho Park.
Harold Varner III, a regular on the Web.com minor league tour, was the recipient this year, and the 23-year-old played well Thursday in only his second PGA Tour start. He shot a two-under 69 and is three shots off the lead.
He also showed a sense of humor, if not a gift for gab.
During a post-round media session, he was asked what he could say about himself.
"I'm 5-8 and I have a flat-top," he said, laughing, "and that's about it."
Francesco Molinari is an accomplished veteran, a two-time champion on the European Tour who has played 43 PGA Tour events. But this is his first Northern Trust Open.
So far, so good.
His first-round 67 was the best round he has ever carded at a PGA Tour tournament. He had five birdies and one bogey.
"I like the way the golf course is playing," the Italian said. "I'm pretty good usually at keeping the ball in position and made a few nice putts."
J.B. Holmes has a history of playing well at Riviera and he's at it again.
Holmes was one of 15 players who did not finish the first round because of darkness. Through 16 holes, he is four under.
The long-hitting Holmes has played in the Northern Trust seven times, and has four top-10 finishes.
Two tour veterans — Darren Clarke and Scott Verplank — withdrew from the tournament because of injuries.
Clarke has a strained chest muscle, Verplank a strained back.