Recap of the day
Matt Kuchar took advantage of the calm morning conditions at Riviera Country Club to cruise home in just 64 blows, establishing a three-shot lead that held up. His bogey-free lap put him clear of Kyoung-Hoon Lee, Russell Henley, Wyndham Clark, Adam Schenk and Harold Varner III, the latter two shooting their 67s in the afternoon.
Despite the lack of wind, only 41 players in the 120-man invitational field shot in red figures. Those shooting over the par of 71 included previous winners Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson while Justin Thomas ended tied 97th after a 3-over 74.
Notables: -3 Rory McIlroy, Patrick Cantlay, Jason Day, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, -2 Brooks Koepka, Tiger Woods, J.B. Holmes DC), Justin Rose, -1 Jon Rahm, +1 Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth, +3 Justin Thomas.
Revised outright betting
11/2 McIlroy, 15/2 Kuchar, 14/1 Cantlay, Woods, 16/1 Rahm, 20/1 Koepka, 22/1 Reed, 25/1 Day, 28/1 DeChambeau, Rose, 50/1 DJ.
Friday weather forecast
It's another calm day at Pacific Palisades. The sun may take a while to beak through (around midday) and temperatures will be in the high 60s from that point. The early starters will again find it a little chilly and Rory noted how that can affect distance. Talking about his approach to 11, he said: "So my 3-wood usually goes like 285 in the air. That was 248. I mean, it went 40 yards shorter than what it usually does. Then I get to 17 and I had like 290 in there and I got it pin high. So it just shows you what temperature, what it does."
Leaders at 18 holes
Matt Kuchar (64) - A high-class balanced attack from Kooch, who gained 4.109 strokes with the putter and 3.299 strokes Tee To Green. Barely put himself in trouble all day.
Kyoung-Hoon Lee (67) - A bogey-free lap built on strong putting (2nd SGP) as he found just five fairways and half the greens.
Russell Henley (67) - Did all his scoring in an eagle-birdie-birdie burst from Nos. 1-3. 15 pars the rest of the way. Solid stats across the board.
Wyndham Clark (67) - Three deuces on his card. Ranked 5th in SG: Putting, hit just 11 greens.
Adam Schenk (67) - Another who did his best work with the putter (6th SGP). Lost strokes Off The Tee and Around The Green.
Harold Varner III (67) - Like Schenk, had to deal with the slightly more breezy afternoon conditions. Ranked T1st in Driving Accuracy after piping 11 (of 14) fairways.
Fate of the favorites
Rory McIlroy missed two short putts early before hitting the gas with two eagles in three holes (17 and 1). Drove it well but hit just 50% of the greens in his 68. Jon Rahm threatened something better than 1-under 70 but bogeyed two of his final four holes and had negative SG: Approach numbers. Dustin Johnson had five bogeys (three-in-a-row at 4-6) in a sloppy 1-over 72 (6 fairway, 9 greens) while Justin Thomas swallowed four bogeys and a double on the way to 75, recording minus figures in all the main strokes gained categories. Between them, the four favorites shot a combined even-par.
Matt Kuchar (64): "This is the best I've ever seen this place. Weather was just perfect, hardly a breath of wind. Course is in great shape. It was a fun, fun day out there playing Riviera. To shoot a number like this, you kind of do most things well. I didn't find myself in much trouble today. I felt like it was just steady golf, a lot of opportunities and I was able to convert on a good number of the opportunities."
Rory McIlroy (68) (on the plan for round two) "A few more greens I think more than anything else. I thought I drove the ball pretty well. Yeah, just a few more greens. Hitting it in the right spots maybe when you do give yourself chances here, especially with how firm and fast the greens are getting, just leaving your ball on the right side of the hole. There's a couple times today I hit good shots but was on the wrong side. You're being very defensive with your putt."
Patrick Cantlay (68): "Obviously I love it this week. I think it's the best golf course on Tour and it's in perfect shape and we've got a perfect southern California day, which is what I'm used to, growing up here. It was a good start and played really solid tee to green. Hit a lot of good putts. I rolled the ball really good and my speed was really good today. Usually that's a marker of good things to come. I like when they're fast like this and I'm used to poa annua growing up here in southern California. So yeah, I putted well today even though I didn't make much, which can happen around here."
Tiger Woods (69): "I got off to a nice start on the front nine and just didn't hit many good shots on the back nine. 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."
Road to victory at Riviera
2019 J.B. Holmes – R1: 1st, R2: 3rd, R3: 2nd
2018 Bubba Watson – R1: 6th, R2: 6th, R3: 1st
2017 Dustin Johnson – R1: 2nd, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
2016 Bubba Watson – R1: 2nd, R2: 3rd, R3: 1st
2015 James Hahn – R1: 1st, R2: 11th, R3: 7th
Notes: Riviera and Augusta National boast plenty of correlating course form and that extends to needing to start fast at both. Ten of the last 12 winners at Riviera were inside the top seven after 18 holes. The two recent exceptions were Bubba in his first win (T35) and Bill Haas (T36) in 2012. The latter was six back.
Fate of the 18-hole leaders at Riviera – where did they finish?
2019 J.B. Holmes 1st
2018 Tony Finau 2nd, Patrick Cantlay 4th
2017 Sam Saunders 49th
2016 Camilo Villegas 37th
2015 James Hahn 1st, Retief Goosen 8th, Vijay Singh 12th, Nick Watney 22nd, Daniel Summerhays 30th, Derek Fathauer 30th.
Notes: In two of the last five years, a first-round leader has gone on to win. Aaron Baddeley also converted in 2011 although, along with Holmes and Hahn, he lost his lead along the way before getting it back again on the final day. Strangely, the last two players to lead with 64 (Kuchar today) went on to finish 49th and 38th. One of those was Kuchar himself in 2013!
Focus on - Matt Kuchar
Kuchar has a strong 12-for-13 slate at Riviera but he's managed just a single top ten (2016). As noted earlier, he also shot an opening 64 once before (2013) but slid to T38. However, a run of 8-22-26-28 the last four years here suggests he's comfortable at the course and a big week could arrive soon. Kuchar is already a winner in 2020 having landed the Asian Tour's Singapore Open last month while he was a two-time winner on the PGA TOUR last season. Trophies are starting to come his way on a more regular basis so is this the year he finally wins a major? Mike Weir (2003) and Bubba Watson (2014) won at Riviera and Augusta National in the same season and there's plenty of other strong correlating form between the two tournaments. Kuchar's record at The Masters is strong with four top eights in his last eight appearances and T12 last year.
Focus on - Brooks Koepka
Having lost his World No. 1 crown to Rory last week, could Koepka come out and make a statement that he wants it back? Well, a 2-under 70 for T17 was decent although he was far from satisfied in a round that featured just a single bogey. "I thought I hit it pretty poorly today. Putting it really well ever since made some changes with the grip and changed the putter and changed a lot of the stroke. Feel very confident with it, feel very good. Short game wasn't very good and didn't strike the ball well, everything's high and to the right, and when I feel like I release it, it's left. So go figure this out real quick." Didn't strike the ball well? Hmmm. The stats show that no-one hit more GIR than Koepka's 15 so presumably he meant tee shots (6 fairways). There's still a sense that this is just a week to build confidence rather than launch a big title challenge but after T34 in Abu Dhabi and T17 in Saudi, a top ten here would continue his progression towards the first big goal of the season - and we all know what that is.