Sam Saunders is atop the leaderboard in the Genesis Open on the 50th anniversary of his grandfather, Arnold Palmer, winning the tournament then known as the Los Angeles Open for the third and final time.
The 29-year-old Saunders carded a bogey-free 7-under-par 64 in the first round to take a two-stroke lead over third-ranked Dustin Johnson and four others when darkness halted play at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades.
“I’m still looking for my first win out here, so I’m not going to get ahead of myself,” said Saunders, whose best finish on the PGA Tour came when he lost to Alex Cjeka of Germany in a playoff at the 2015 Puerto Rico Open. “This would be a nice place to get my first win.
“I left Pebble Beach feeling positive even though I missed the cut (last week) by one stroke. … I actually was relaxed out there (at Riviera), felt comfortable, and I’m usually a little uptight to start. The putts started going in early and I got a good round going. I really like this course.”
Palmer, who died at the age of 87 last September, won the L.A. Open in 1963, 1966 and 1967, all at Rancho Park Golf Course.
Saunders started on the back nine and birdied four of the first eight holes, and added three birdies on the front nine on a day when fog caused an hour and a half delay before the start of play.
Johnson, the U.S. Open champion, birdied six of the first 12 holes before carding his only bogey at No. 13 in a 66 that was equaled by rookie J.T. Poston, who sank a four-foot eagle putt on the first hole, Daniel Summerhays and Cameron Percy of Australia.
Phil Mickelson, who won at Riviera in 2008 and 2009, chipped in for eagle on the 17th hole and shot 67 to tie for seventh with Marc Leishman of Australia, Padraig Harrington of Ireland, Billy Hurley III, Pat Perez of San Diego, Branden Grace of South Africa, Kevin Na of Diamond Bar and Byeong Hun An of South Korea.
Jhonattan Vegas of Venezuela was 4-under after 14 holes and also was tied for seventh when darkness came, along with Jason Kokrak and John Huh of Los Angeles and Cal, who both finished 12 holes.
Sixth-ranked Jordan Spieth, who won last week at Pebble Beach, was 2-under and tied for 30th after 16 holes, fifth-ranked Hideki Matsuyama of Japan was 1-under and tied for 51st after 16 holes and top-ranked Jason Day of Australia was at even par and tied for 74th after 16 holes.
Bubba Watson, who has won two of the last three years at Riviera, was 2-over after 17 holes and in a tie for 106th.