PACIFIC PALISADES, California (Reuters) - Combine a fast start to the season with a favored venue and you have a near-perfect recipe for Dustin Johnson, who charged into an early one-shot lead at the Northern Trust Open on Thursday.
The long-hitting American, who has relished playing at Riviera Country Club since his rookie PGA Tour campaign in 2008, took advantage of ideal scoring conditions to fire a five-under-par 66 in the opening round.
Johnson, who tied for second at last week’s Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, mixed six birdies with a lone bogey to finish one ahead of compatriots Robert Garrigus, Scott Stallings and Charley Hoffman, Italy’s Francesco Molinari and Australian Matt Jones.
PGA Tour veteran Jim Furyk opened with a 68 while U.S. Open champion Justin Rose of England, playing his first tournament of the year after recovering from tendinitis in his right shoulder, carded a 70.
Among other big names competing in this week’s PGA Tour event, 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa and English former world number one Lee Westwood returned matching 69s.
None of the early starters, however, went lower than Johnson who reveled in a glorious morning of unbroken sunshine at Riviera where there was hardly a breath of wind.
The 29-year-old American birdied four of his first nine holes and picked up two more shots after the turn, along with a bogey at the tricky par-three fourth, to surge to the top of the leaderboard.
“I just got off to a good start and continued to play really solid all day,” Johnson, who has recorded top-10s in his first three starts on the 2013-14 PGA Tour, including victory at the WGC-HSBC Champions in November.
“I kept it in play and hit a lot of greens, had a lot of looks at birdie. I’ve been playing pretty good all year, so the game’s right where I want it to be. Coming off a good week last week, I’m definitely feeling good coming in this week.
“Any score under par out here is a pretty solid round. It’s a tough course ... but it’s just a golf course that I really like. Right now it’s in perfect condition and I have zero complaints about the course.”
Johnson, an eight-times winner on the PGA Tour, has an impressive record at Riviera where he has posted three top-10s in six starts, including a tie for third in 2010 and a share of fourth in 2012.
“Ever since the first time I came here, I’ve just really liked this golf course,” he said. “It’s a great, great golf course, it’s always in good condition and it’s just a fun course to play.
“It’s tough but, you know, it’s fair. It’s in great shape right now, too. The weather couldn’t be any better.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Larry Fine