Woods' eagle tribute to Bryant

American host, chasing 83rd title, blames lack of practice for fading after bright start

LOS ANGELES • On the first hole, a 491-yard par five, in Los Angeles and weeks after the death of basketball legend and friend Kobe Bryant, 24 feet and eight inches stood between Tiger Woods and an eagle.

Woods would open a tournament with a two-under score for just the second time since 2003.

"Ironic having those two numbers," the 44-year-old said at the Genesis Invitational of Bryant's jersey numbers from his playing days with the LA Lakers.

"You know, no matter what we do, I think for a while we're going to always remember Kobe and what he meant, and especially here in SoCal (southern California) and the entire sports world."

Bryant, 41, died in a helicopter crash in California on Jan 26, and the PGA Tour dedicated the eighth hole at the Riviera Country Club with a purple-and-gold tee sign.

Woods made birdie there and picked his ball out of the hole before flicking it to his caddie like he was taking a basketball shot.

He was delighted with the quality of his play on the front nine but was a little untidy coming home, dropping two shots for a two-under 69 that saw him trail leader Matt Kuchar by five.

The 15-time Major champion found just one of seven fairways and four of nine greens on the back nine and said he had spent limited time on the practice range because of his commitments as tournament host.

"Got off to a nice start on the front nine. Just didn't hit any good shots on the back nine," said the American, who is seeking a record 83rd PGA Tour victory.

"I haven't had a whole lot of time to practise this week. I've been a little busy. First time I saw the range was yesterday for about 10 minutes warming up for the Pro-Am."

In a field that includes nine of the world's top 10, Rory McIlroy had a pair of eagles in a 68 that was one shot better than the man he has just replaced at the top of the rankings,

Brooks Koepka.

 REUTERS Austin Johnson, who carries the bag for his older brother Dustin Johnson, w
Austin Johnson, who carries the bag for his older brother Dustin Johnson, with the pin flag on the eighth hole dedicated to the late Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant at the Riviera Country Club in LA. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Kuchar wielded his putter with precision to open a three-shot lead over a group of five players - South Korea's Lee Kyoung-hoon and Americans Russell Henley, Wyndham Clark, Adam Schenk and Harold Varner.

The American owed much of his lead to two unlikely putts that he holed from the 30-foot range.

"You can't count on that every day, but it sure is fun when they do go in," said the world No. 20, who is making his third appearance since winning the Singapore Open last month.

The nine-time PGA Tour winner opened by picking up shots at the 10th and 11th and finished with seven birdies.

"To shoot a number like this, you kind of do most things well," added Kuchar, after hitting 14 of 18 greens in regulation.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2020, with the headline 'Woods' eagle tribute to Bryant'. Print Edition | Subscribe