Patrick Cantlay in his comfort zone as early leader at Genesis Invitational

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Even for a Southern California kid, Patrick Cantlay appeared pretty laid back.

The ability to keep his cool and his familiarity with the course allowed him to navigate unusually fast greens Thursday at Riviera Country Club on his way to a seven-under-par 64 in the first round of the Genesis Invitational.

“I’ll take rounds like that every time and I hope I can string more of them together,” he said after taking the clubhouse lead and watching the remainder of the 70-player field try to catch him. “I’m comfortable around this place. The greens are the best I’ve seen them. I made every putt I should’ve and a couple long ones. It’s a great start.”

When told his total was only three off the tournament 18-hole record of 61 ( set by George Archer in the third round at Rancho Park in 1983 and matched by Ted Tryba in the third round at Riviera in 1999), Cantlay had no clue. Nor did he give a thought to breaking the 72-hole standard of 264 set by Lanny Wadkins at Riviera in 1985.

Cantlay seemed satisfied with the day’s work that earned him a one-shot lead over Cam Davis, Luke List and Jason Day, who each shot 65. Jordan Spieth had a front-row seat to Cantlay’s mastery, playing alongside him and shooting a 66, leaving him tied for third with Will Zalatoris and Tom Hoge with 54 holes to play.

“Records aren’t in my mind,” said Cantlay, who hit seven of 14 fairways and needed 25 putts to post the lowest score. “There’s way too much golf left, but I can see why that record has held up so long. It’s a testament to this course design, plus they’ve added length.”

Noting the “Tiger Effect” that has renergized the sport the last two decades, Cantlay theorized that today’s players have more information — and use it to their advantage.

“You see all the kids emulating Tiger, the game’s growing and more rounds are being played than ever before in this country,” Cantlay said. “The 10th hole here is the best case study. In the past it was 50-50 whether to lay up. Now, stats show going for the green is worth it. Players are more aggressive today and you almost have to be.”

Cantlay shot five under on the front nine and two under on the back. His only slip-up was at 16 when he hit a tree but managed to get up and down for bogey. He caught a break at the 18th when his second shot hit a spectator to the right of the fairway and bounced back onto the playing surface, just off the green. His 30-foot birdie putt was on line but rolled dead nine inches short of the cup and he tapped in to save his lead.

Low scores at Riviera are nothing new for Cantlay. Currently No. 7 in the World Golf Rankings, he carded four rounds in the 60s to finish third at Riviera last year, tied for fourth in his first Genesis appearance in 2018 and hopes this is the year he hits the jackpot. The last of his eight PGA Tour wins came at the BMW Championship in 2022.

“Hopefully I can keep it going,” he said. “You have to be smart on this golf course.”

Playing in the second group, Charley Hoffman was four under on the front nine with birdies at the second, third, seventh and eighth holes. In the threesome right behind was Lucas Glover, who pulled even with a birdie at 10 before a double bogey at the 11th. Cantlay and Spieth rolled in birdie putts moments apart at No. 6 to vault to the lead while Hoffman was making bogey six holes ahead. Over the next six holes the 2023 Ryder Cup teammates matched each other shot for shot, but Cantlay edged in front with a birdie on the 13th and another on the 14th while Spieth bogeyed to drop three shots back.

Meanwhile, Zalatoris kept plugging along on the back nine after a sizzling start that included birdies on six of the first eight holes including four in a row. However, two bogeys on the back nine stopped his momentum.

A huge crowd followed tournament host and 15-time major champion Tiger Woods, playing in his first official tournament in 10 months. While the rust showed, he also produced some of his vintage shotmaking, especially after shanking his approach on 18. He recovered by blasting through the woods to minimize the damage to a bogey and finished one over par.

“I struggled with the speed, it caught me off guard how fast the greens are,” the 48-year-old said. “I need to do a better job making adjustments on the fly. Yes, it’s been awhile since I shanked one like that. I had a really tough shot after that but I pulled it off.”

Dressed all in white, Woods birdied the first, bogeyed the second and third and got back to even par by curling in a 15-footer for birdie at No. 6. He wound up with five birdies but six bogeys.

“I was definitely nervous because I care about how I play,” said Woods, who has a later tee time Friday, which will give him extra hours to rest his sore back, which he said “spasmed” the last couple of holes. “It was one of those rounds where I never really had any consistency, but there was a lot of good.”

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