Cantlay leads at Riviera with a 64. Tiger Woods ends his return to golf with a shank

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Patrick Cantlay hits from the 11th tee during the first round of the Genesis Invitational golf tournament at Riviera Country Club, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Kang)

LOS ANGELES – Thousands of fans watching Tiger Woods in his 2024 debut missed out on the best golf Thursday at the Genesis Invitational. In the group ahead of Woods was Patrick Cantlay, looking as though he wants to be the next Southern California native to win at Riviera.

Cantlay opened with three birdies in four holes and never really slowed until a sycamore tree halted his great run. He still managed a 7-under 64, giving him a one-shot lead.

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Jason Day and Luke List played bogey-free for a 65, and they were joined by Cam Davis of Australia, who birdied three of his last five holes.

Jordan Spieth started as strongly as Cantlay and had to settle for a 66.

The smallest field at Riviera — 70 players as a signature event — left no shortage of entertainment. The most memorable was Woods hitting a shank from the middle of the 18th fairway and then the same club — 8-iron — to squeeze a shot through a small opening in the eucalyptus trees and onto the green. He made bogey and shot 72.

Justin Thomas had to play a shot off the concrete boundary wall of the driving range for it to ricochet back toward the rough. Sam Burns was headed toward a big number when he left a shot in the bunker behind the 10th green, only to hole out for a par so unlikely he flung his putter toward his bag.

Not to be overlooked was Rory McIlroy, who was poised to be closer to the top until he went double bogey-triple bogey on the back nine, the latter on the par-3 16th when he left one in the bunker and then three-putted from 8 feet.

Cantlay — and for most of the day, Spieth, who played alongside him — made it look simple. Both went out in 30 to set the pace.

“Our group had good momentum,” Cantlay said. “Jordan and I were a bunch under on the front nine and a day where I putted really, really well. Made every putt I should have and a couple longer ones. It was a good start.”

Cantlay's tee shot on the par-3 16th clipped a tree and came down short of the bunkers, even short of the temporary green, leaving him some 50 yards from an impossible spot. He didn't bother getting the yardage, instead hitting into a front bunker and dropping no more than a shot.

“A spot I've never been,” Cantlay said with a grin. “I've been on most places on his golf course. But eight birdies and one bogey, great start.”

Max Homa grew up in the LA area and won in 2021. John Merrick, another Virginia Country Club product who went to UCLA, won in 2012.

Woods showed the kind of competitive rust he expected having not played an official PGA Tour event since the Masters, after which he had surgery to fuse his right ankle. That shank was a shocker, and perhaps more concerning was Woods saying his back was acting up int the final hour, leading to the shank.

“My back was spasming the last couple holes and it was locking up,” Woods said. “I came down and it didn’t move and I presented hosel first and shanked it.”

McIlroy took three shots from 25 feet just off the back of the 18th green for a bogey and a 74, leaving him in jeopardy of a missed cut.

Woods, the tournament host, favors a cut and now the player-hosted tournaments (Riviera, Bay Hill and Memorial) have 36-hole cuts for the top 50 and ties and anyone within 10 shots of the lead. McIlroy was in a tie for 64th at 10 shots behind. He should get more favorable conditions Friday morning.

McIlroy had a mathematical chance to return to No. 1 in the world, but only by winning. Scottie Scheffler, who has held that spot since May, again was in the mix. He shot 68, despite missing six birdies putts inside 10 feet (he started by making a 40-foot eagle).

Scheffler looked ready to break his putter when he three-putted from just inside 10 feet on the 16th hole, but he steadied himself at the end.


AP golf:

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