By DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The scene was similar to the last time Tiger Woods played against the world’s best, minus the size and the history. Fans packed onto every balcony on every level of the Riviera clubhouse Thursday, all of them straining for a glimpse.
Woods made the Genesis Invitational feel like must-see golf in his first competition since the British Open at St. Andrews last summer.
That meant missing another California native, Max Homa, close out his round with three straight birdies for a 7-under 64 and a one-shot lead among early starters.
Jon Rahm opened with a 65 as he bids to return to No. 1 in the world, while Matt Kuchar opened with a 30 on the front nine and settled for a 66.
Hardly anyone was watching them, which was to be expected considering Woods was playing. He has commanded all the attention for the last 25 years, and now Tiger sightings are rare, given his legs that have been battered by knee surgeries (left) and a car crash (right).
The space behind the first tee at Riviera was crammed so full that Seamus Power had to squeeze his way through fans to get to the putting green. Fans began chanting Woods’ name when he arrived. The applause when he was announced wasn’t quite as loud, mainly because so many people were holding phones high above their heads to get a picture.
Woods played with his son in the 36-hole PNC Championship in December while riding a cart. Previously it was The Open at the home of golf, where thousands of fans packed every hotel balcony, peaked out windows and filled every seat in the grandstand as he crossed the Swilcan bridge for likely the last time.
Woods opened with a good pitch to 4 feet for birdie on the par 5, the easiest hole at Riviera, and he followed with two more pars before missing the green and then a par putt from 10 feet on the long par-3 fourth.
As for his legs, there was a noticeable limp as he descended a steep cart path from the first tee, and they will be tested at the end of his five-hour round when he has to climb the 52 wooden steps that lead to the clubhouse.
Homa won at Riviera two years ago and called it the coolest thing he had ever done in golf, and for good reason. He grew up about 30 miles away and used to attend this tournament as a fan. He also won when his beloved Dodgers and Lakers were world champions. Oh, and Woods is the tournament host and presented him the trophy.
Victories are not routine for Homa, but he is getting used to them. He already has won twice this season, most recently three weeks ago down the coast at Torrey Pines.
He began his round on the 10th, regarded as the best short par 4 in the U.S., went long of the green, hit a flop shot into the back bunker and then holed out for birdie.
The finish was even better. The wind that made Riviera feel like Alaska on Wednesday was mostly gone, giving way to mild weather. Homa hit wedge to 4 feet on No. 7, another wedge to 2 feet on No. 8 and finished with an 8-foot birdie on No. 9.
That gave him a one-shot lead over Rahm, who won his first two starts of the year in Hawaii and the California desert. Rahm had a chance to get back to No. 1 last week in Phoenix — that went to Scottie Scheffler — but has another opportunity this week.
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