Max Homa and Keith Michell are on top of the leaderboard, but everybody was more interested in tournament host Tiger Woods.
Homa and Mitchell carded a 7-under-par 64s to tie for the lead after the first round of the 96th version of what is now the Genesis Invitational, formerly known as the Los Angeles Open, at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades.
Woods, who has been nursing an ankle injury for two years since a rollover SUV accident not that far from Riviera, thrilled the crow with birdies on the last three holes to shoot 69 and is tied for 27th in his first official event since the 150th Open Championship last July at St. Andrews in Scotland.
“I was just trying to get in around even par, so it was just great to finish with three straight birdies,” said Woods, who has never won his hometown event in 14 attempts after first playing it when he was 15. “There were some ebbs and flows, but it was nice to hit some good shots and make some putts.”
Homa, from nearby Valencia and Cal, was coming off disappointing tie for 39th last week in the WM Phoenix Open, but started on the back nine and holed a 39-foot bunker shot for the first of his eight birdies on the 10th hole before finishing off his round with three straight birdies.
“Everything feels good; we don’t need to freak out here,” said Homa, who won the Genesis two years ago for one of his six PGA Tour victories. “There are days where you shoot two-under and you feel like you got everything out of it. Today I felt like I had it.
“I was very proud to go around this place and show that, because I did feel very good out there. I felt good on the range, I felt good yesterday. I’m swinging it awesome and I’m putting it well, so why not trust my golf swing?
“That was probably the coolest way I’ve ever started a round.
Mitchell, like Homa, made only one bogey in his 65 and collected five of his eight birdies on the back nine, including two to finish on Nos. 17 and 18.
On the 14th hole, Mitchell holed a 32-foot bunker shot for a birdie.
“That was a big highlight, to make that bunker shot for birdie,” said Mitchell, whose only PGA Tour victory came in the 2019 Honda Classic. “I’ve been working a lot on my short game and it’s so much better than it was even a year ago. It’s catching up with the rest of my game.
“It hit the ball better on the front nine, but was able to get up-and-down a few times on the back. This is one of the better golf courses we play on tour. I liked it the first time I played it and it just seems to fit my game. To shoot seven-under at Riviera any day is a big plus.”
Third-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain, who has won four of his last eight events, is solo third after making four birdies on each nine in a 65, while ninth-ranked Collin Morikawa of La Canada Flintridge and Cal birdied the last two holes for a bogey-free 66 and is tied for fourth with Matt Kuchar, who made a 17-foot eagle putt on the first hole to kick-start his round, and Harris English, who birdied the first three holes on each nine.
Second-ranked Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, who has won three times including the Tour Championship since October, carded a bogey-free 67 and is tied for seventh with Tom Hoge, who birdied the last hole; Adam Svensson of Canada, who birdied three holes on each nine; Lee Hodges, who had two birdies on each nine in a bogey-free round; Adam Hadwin of Canada, who birdied the first three holes while finishing on the front nine, and Doug Ghim, who sank an 11-foot eagle putt at No. 17 but closed with his lone bogey.
Fifth-ranked Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos and nearby UCLA totaled 68 and is in a tie for 13th that includes seventh-ranked Justin Thomas, who birdied the last two holes, while sixth-ranked Xander Schauffele of La Jolla and San Diego State had two late birdies for a 69 and is in a tie for 27th that includes Woods.
“There’s nothing like game-time, when you the butterflies going and have to get the ball rolling,” said Woods, who claimed his 82nd PGA Tour victory in the 2019 Zozo Championship to tie Sam Snead for the PGA Tour record. “I haven’t played in a tournament for so long and the crowd seemed so loud, but I appreciate them for their support.
“Because of the adrenaline, I had to figure out the distances because the ball was flying a lot farther that it does when I am just practicing, but fortunately I was able to work that out pretty quickly and get the feel for the distances. It was just so much fun to be out there again in a tournament.”
Top-ranked Scottie Scheffler birdied the last two holes for a 70 and is tied for 44th, while 10th-ranked Matt Fitzpatrick of England struggled to a 73 with only one bogey and is tied for 92nd.
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