News & Opinion

Sam Burns blots out stars at Riviera to lead Genesis

Sam Burns leads 1st round of 2021 Genesis Invitational
American Sam Burns seeks his 1st PGA Tour victory in his 70th start, opening the Genesis Invitational with a 7-under 64 on Thursday at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif.

Eagle on 1st hole jump-starts American, who birdies last 3 holes for 7-under 64 and 2-stroke lead in PGA Tour’s West Coast finale

For all the pre-tournament chatter about how eight of the world’s top 10 players would inject plenty of star power into the PGA Tour’s Genesis Invitational, the man ranked No. 149 supplied the fireworks Thursday.

Sam Burns eagled his first hole and shot 7-under 64 at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., to open a two-stroke lead in the final stop on the five-event West Coast Swing (scores).

“Just being patient out here,” Burns said of his strategy. “This golf course at times doesn't offer you a lot of opportunities, so I think just with that mindset going in, we were just going to kind of take what we could get.”

After sinking a 19-foot putt at the downhill, 503-yard opening hole, Burns offset bogeys via missed greens at the par-3 seventh and par-4 12th with seven birdies, including three in a row to finish his round.

England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick and American Max Homa, a Southern Californian who played college golf at Cal, shared second at 5-under 66. Another Southern California native, UCLA alumnus Patrick Cantlay, was among eight players tied at 67.

Burns, 24, who grew up in Shreveport, La., and played college golf at LSU, is looking for his first victory in his 70th career start early in his fourth season on the PGA Tour. After a missed cut at The American Express in January, he has posted three solid results on the West Coast: T-18 at the Farmers Insurance Open, T-22 at the Phoenix Open and T-39 last week at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

A big key to his play Thursday at Riviera was that he quickly forgot about a closing 1-over 73 on Sunday at Pebble Beach, which dropped him down the leaderboard.

“Just about when I drove out of the parking lot,” Burns said in dismissing the poor finish. “It's golf, man. It will eat at you if you let it. I think just forgetting the bad ones and learn as much as you can. We just hope to keep putting ourselves in that position.”

That mental tip would serve a few of the game’s superstars well Friday.

Tenth-ranked Bryson DeChambeau, the reigning U.S. Open champion who was making only his third start of 2021 and his first in the continental U.S., shot 4-over 75. No. 3 Justin Thomas struggled mightily in a 6-over 77. Coincidentally, both birdied the par-5 first hole – DeChambeau was playing one group ahead of Thomas – and then had to birdie two of their final three holes to avoid even higher scores.

No. 6 Collin Morikawa, an Angeleno who won the 2020 PGA Championship and posted consecutive T-7 results in Hawaii in January, withstood a double bogey, bogey start to shoot 73.

No. 7 Rory McIlroy also signed for a 73, which was marred by four bogeys.

With 70 of the 120 players at even par or better, DeChambeau, Thomas, Morikawa and McIlroy will have to go low on Friday to make the cut.

The rest of the world’s top 10 fared markedly better in an opening round played under sunny skies and in the low 60s, with light winds.

No. 1-ranked Dustin Johnson, who started on the back nine, birdied three of his final five holes to salvage a 3-under 68 for a share of 12th place. Though he enters the second round four strokes off the lead, he likely remains the man to beat in the $9.3 million event. Johnson, the 2017 champion at Riviera, has won four of his past eight starts worldwide, including the 2020 Masters and the PGA Tour’s season-long FedEx Cup.

No. 2 Jon Rahm of Spain opened with 70, and No. 4 Xander Schauffele, another native Southern Californian, shot 71.

Jordan Spieth, whose Texas Longhorns won the 2012 NCAA title at Riviera, birdied two of his final three holes to shoot 68. Spieth entered Riviera after failing to convert 54-hole leads at his past two starts, resulting in a T-3 last week at Pebble Beach after a T-4 at the Phoenix Open. The three-time major champion, who hasn’t won since his 2017 British Open victory at Royal Birkdale, has climbed back to No. 62 in the world.

Sign up to receive the Morning Read newsletter, along with Where To Golf Next and The Equipment Insider.