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 3 feet. He finished with back-to-back birdies at Riviera, holing a 25-foot putt on the 18th hole for a 7-under 64 that gave him a one-shot lead over Sergio Garcia on Thursday in the Northern Trust Open.
Garcia, making his PGA Tour 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 6 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.
Conditions have rarely looked this good at Riviera, from the firm grass below the feet and the magnificent, sun-filled sky above them — at least until the last couple of hours.
It felt like a working vacation, and it’s the latter Kuchar knows so well.
After opening with three straight weeks on the PGA Tour, which featured a pair of top 10s, he spent a week in Palm Springs and then took his family to Hawaii for paddle boarding, snorkeling, just about everything where an ocean is involved.
Getting back to golf, he worked with swing coach Chris O’Connell and felt just as good as he did before his break.
“I think it was Monday we put in a good day of work and I said, ‘I need to get out and play.’ We went over to L.A. Country Club, played the North Course. I was excited about the things we were working on and excited how I was hitting the ball. ... I think the hot start was certainly a great way to get the round going.”