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Kuchar soars to first-round lead


SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—Matt Kuchar hardly looked like a guy coming off a seven-week break yesterday in the first round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Kuchar eagled the par-five 13th, then added two late birdies and a big par save on the rowdy par-three 16th hole, in an opening seven-under 64 at TPC Scottsdale.

“It was so nice to be home,” Kuchar said.

Playing in perfect afternoon conditions in front of a crowd estimated at 103,420, Kuchar took a one-stroke lead over defending champion Hideki Matsuyama and Brendan Steele.

“Someone told me it was five million,” Kuchar joked about the crowd.

“So many people out here," he added. "It's a good buzz. It's a good vibe.”

He made a 25-foot eagle putt on 13.

“Chased a three-wood up on the corner of the green and it was a pretty straightforward 25-footer,” Kuchar noted.

“That was a lucky place to be on that hole,” he added.

“Some of these pins were hard to get at. That was one that was hard to get at.”

Graham DeLaet (67) of Weyburn, Sask. was the low Canadian yesterday, finishing in a tie for ninth at four-under.

Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, B.C. was at even-par 71 while David Hearn (72) of Brantford, Ont. was one-over after an opening-round 72.

Nick Taylor of Abbotsford and Mackenzie Hughes of Dundas, Ont. both carded 74s to tie for 110th at three-over.

Matsuyama, who beat Rickie Fowler in a playoff last year, had a bogey-free round in the morning.

“I wish I knew why I play well here,” Matsuyama said through a translator.

“I did hit the ball very well today," he noted. "Hit a lot of greens, a lot of good shots.”

Steele, meanwhile, holed out from 194 yards for eagle on the par-four 14th

“We were trying to land it about 10 yards short,” recalled Steele, the Safeway Open winner in October to start the season.

"Little outside right and I pulled it just a touch.

“It landed about a yard left and about four yards short and went in the hole,” he noted.

John Peterson, Robert Garrigus, Scott Brown, Byeong Hun An, and Chris Kirk shot 66 yesterday.

Fowler, 2015 winner Brooks Koepka, two-time champion J.B. Holmes, Steve Stricker, Martin Laird, Webb Simpson, Alex Cejka, and DeLaet all were at 67.

Stricker is making his first start of the year. He will turn 50 on Feb. 23.

Sung Kang also was four-under on the final hole when play was suspended because of darkness.

Phil Mickelson opened with a 68 in his third-straight start in his return from two sports hernia surgeries to top playing partners Justin Thomas and Hadwin, the latest players to shoot 59.

The 46-year-old Mickelson parred the final nine holes after birdieing Nos. 8 and 9.

“I'll take three-under," Mickelson said. ”I've got to get it a little bit better off the tee tomorrow [Friday].

“My iron play has been pretty good, so I should be able to make some birdies if I get the ball in play,” he noted.

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