Palmer’s grand­son is in command in Los An­ge­les

The Washington Post - - SPORTS -

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.

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