LOS ANGELES – Tiger Woods began with an unknowing tribute to Kobe Bryant by making an eagle putt that optical cameras measured at 24 feet, 8 inches. He ended his opening round with a reminder that getting around Riviera unscathed is no small task.
That's what made Matt Kuchar's day all the more remarkable.
Kuchar drove to the edge of the 10th green and two-putted for birdie and kept right on rolling until he had a 7-under 64 on Thursday, matching his best score at Riviera and giving him a three-shot lead in the Genesis Invitational.
So clean was Kuchar's round that he only once had to stress over a par putt, and he made the 10-footer at the par-3 fourth.
“I think it's one of the few courses that has truly stood the test of time,” Kuchar said. “It was a great test of golf 50 years ago when Ben Hogan was playing, it's a great test today with Tiger Woods and all the young boys playing.”
The conditions were ideal once the morning chill ceased, and Kuchar took advantage in the morning. As much as Kuchar loves the course, he has only one top 10 in his last 13 appearances.
Woods was 4 under through eight holes and had to settle for a 69.
His record at Riviera is under far greater scrutiny, especially this week as he tries for his 83rd PGA Tour victory to set the career mark he now shares with Sam Snead. Woods has not won in 10 appearances as a pro, two others as a teenage amateur.
This one held promise, especially after he drilled an 8-iron into the par-5 opening hole and made the eagle putt. The death of Bryant on Jan. 26 is still raw in Los Angeles, and the tour dedicated No. 8 – Bryant wore Nos. 8 and 24 during his 20 years with the Lakers – with a purple-and-gold tee sign. Woods made birdie there, his last one of the round.
“Ironic having those two numbers,” Woods said of the length of his eagle putt. “And then No. 8, happened to hit one in there close and had a nice little kick-in there for birdie.”
Brooks Koepka had Nike design some purple-and-gold Mamba golf shoes last October – months before the tragic accident – because Bryant inspired him during his return from injury. He opened with a 69.
Justin Thomas, who auctioned off Kobe-themed sand wedges he used in the Phoenix Open, had FootJoys of purple-and-gold. They didn't help him much on this day. He opened with a 74 and was in danger of missing the cut.
Woods seemed bent on having his say at Riviera with the eagle and two more birdies through eight holes, leaving him three off the lead and the back nine to play. But he couldn't keep his swing together.
“Just didn't hit many good shots on the back nine,” Woods said. “Made a couple loose swings and made a couple good saves on the back nine for par, but just wasn't able to get any birdies on the back nine.”