LOS ANGELES – Matt Kuchar made a mess of the easiest hole at Riviera. He couldn't find the fairway and felt he was on the defensive all afternoon Friday in the Genesis Invitational.
Kuchar was good enough with the short irons to shoot a 2-under 69 and build a two-shot lead over Rory McIlroy and two others going into the weekend at Riviera.
“It definitely wasn't my best stuff today,” Kuchar said. “Two under was an awfully good score for the way I drove it.”
Tiger Woods happily would have taken a score like that. Instead, he made his bid for a first victory at Riviera and a record 83rd title on the PGA Tour a lot tougher. Two swings with a wedge wound up costing Woods three shots, and his 73 left him nine shots behind.
“I made some pretty bad mistakes out there,” Woods said.
He can't afford any more, not with 44 players ahead of him, including past champions Adam Scott and Dustin Johnson. McIlroy, in his return to No. 1 in the world, handled the par 5s and kept mistakes to a minimum in his round of 67, which puts him in the final group today with Kuchar and Harold Varner III, who had a 68 in the morning.
Kuchar was at 9-under 135. He began with a bogey on the par-5 opening hole, one of only two players in the 121-man field to not make par or better. Kuchar went long of the green, took two chips to get on the green and missed a 15-foot par putt.
“You feel like you've already given up two shots on the day. Never a fun way to start,” Kuchar said. “But knowing there's 17 holes to go, there's still room to figure it out.”
Wyndham Clark had a 68 and joined McIlroy and Varner in the group two shots behind.
“I'm managing my game well,” McIlroy said. “I've hit a couple loose shots here and there, but I'm thinking my way around the golf course and that's what this place is all about. You can hit a few squirrelly shots and get away with it as long as you miss it in the right places, and for the first couple days I've done that. I'm feeling pretty good about my game.”
Woods didn't have to search long to figure out his errors.
After two birdies on the par 5s around the turn – Nos. 17 and 1 – Woods gave away another shot with sand wedge from light rough into the front bunker on No. 3 for bogey. He bogeyed the par-3 fourth, and then he three-putted from about 50 feet up the slope on the par-3 sixth.
Johnson, who won big at Riviera three years ago, bounced back from his opening 72 with a 66 and was among those five shots behind. Brooks Koepka had a 73 and was nine shots behind.
At least they're still playing.
Justin Thomas opened with a 74 and never got anything going in the morning. He didn't make a birdie until his 16th hole and shot 71 to miss the cut for the second time in his last three starts. Phil Mickelson shot 74 and missed the cut for the third time this year.