Palmer’s grandson is in command in Los Angeles
This is the starring role Sam Saunders prefers.
Saunders, the grandson of Arnold Palmer who so famously kept his composure during a heartfelt eulogy of The King, rolled in birdie putts and kept a clean card at Riviera on Thursday for a 7-underpar 64 and a two-shot lead in the Genesis Open in Los Angeles.
Saunders called it his best round on the PGA Tour, and it was merely a coincidence that it came on the 50-year anniversary of Palmer defending his title at the Los Angeles Open, when it was played at Rancho Municipal.
“He just always talked about how much he loved coming out there and playing,” Saunders said. “I think his celebrity matched pretty well with the celebrity atmosphere that you have here, so he was obviously comfortable with that.”
Saunders had a two-shot lead over Dustin Johnson, who has a chance to go to No. 1 if he were to win this week. Daniel Summerhays, Cameron Percy, J.T. Poston and Brett Stegmaier joined Johnson at 66, while Phil Mickelson was among those at 67.
Because of a fog delay in the morning, darkness kept 48 players from finishing the first round. They were to return at 7 a.m. on Friday, though the bigger question was whether a monster storm of rain and wind would allow for that.
Jordan Spieth was at 2 under and facing a 50-foot birdie putt on the 17th. Jason Day was at even par through 16 holes, while Hideki Matsuyama was 1 under through 16 holes.
Saunders has kept a busy schedule over the past four months in the aftermath of Palmer’s death. He is taking on a bigger role at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando next month, along with being a husband and the father of two sons and getting his golf game in shape.
“It’s been busy but busy in a good way,” he said.
The morning was perfect for scoring once the fog lifted, and Saunders rarely had a round with so little stress. He only came close to making bogey twice, saving par with an eight-foot putt on the par-3 fourth hole and a six-foot putt on the par-3 14th.
Saunders, with only conditional status this year, is playing on the first of what figures to be several sponsor exemptions. He missed the cut in La Quinta and Pebble Beach and knew with the forecast so dire that it would be key to getting off to a good start.
LPGA TOUR: Playing for the fourth consecutive week, Katherine Kirk wasn’t showing any signs of fatigue after shooting an 8-under 65 at Royal Adelaide to take a two-stroke lead after the first round of the Women’s Australian Open.
The Australian player birdied four of the first five holes on the front nine and three of four in the middle of the back nine at Royal Adelaide.
Tied for second with 67s were Marissa Steen and Jane Park of the United States, South Korean Chella Choi and Min Lee of Taiwan.