The long-hitting American, who has relished playing at Riviera
Country Club since his rookie PGA Tour campaign in 2008, took
advantage of ideal scoring conditions to fire a five-under-par 66 in
the opening round.
Johnson, who tied for second at last week's Pebble Beach National
Pro-Am, mixed six birdies with a lone bogey to finish one ahead of
10 others before play was suspended for the day due to darkness.
Of the 15 players yet to complete the opening round, American J.B.
Holmes was just one stroke off the pace with two holes remaining.
Among those who had already signed for 67s were Americans Robert
Garrigus, Charley Hoffman and Jimmy Walker, who has already won
three times this season, Italy's Francesco Molinari and Australian
U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, playing his first event of the year
after recovering from tendinitis in his right shoulder, shot a 70
while 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and former world number
one Lee Westwood carded 69s.
Though four other players briefly reached five-under, only Johnson
stayed there after reveling in a glorious morning of unbroken
sunshine at Riviera where there was hardly a breath of wind.
The 29-year-old American birdied four of his first nine holes and
picked up two more shots after the turn, along with a bogey at the
tricky par-three fourth, to surge to the top of the leaderboard.
"I just got off to a good start and continued to play really solid
all day," said Johnson, who has recorded top-10s in his first three
starts on the 2013-14 PGA Tour, including victory at the WGC-HSBC
Champions in November.
"I kept it in play and hit a lot of greens, had a lot of looks at
birdie. I've been playing pretty good all year, so the game's right
where I want it to be. Coming off a good week last week, I'm
definitely feeling good coming in this week.
"Any score under par out here is a pretty solid round. It's a tough
course ... but it's just a golf course that I really like. Right now
it's in perfect condition and I have zero complaints about the
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Johnson, an eight-times winner on the PGA Tour, has an impressive
record at Riviera where he has posted three top-10s in six starts,
including a tie for third in 2010 and a share of fourth in 2012.
"Ever since the first time I came here, I've just really liked this
golf course," he said. "It's a great, great golf course, it's always
in good condition and it's just a fun course to play.
"It's tough but, you know, it's fair. It's in great shape right now,
too. The weather couldn't be any better."
Like Johnson, red-hot Walker loves Riviera and he moved into early
contention for his fourth victory of the new 'wraparound' season
with a sizzling birdie-birdie-birdie finish.
"You just don't birdie the last three holes here," smiled Walker,
who clinched his maiden PGA Tour title at the Frys.com Open in
October before adding further wins at the Sony Open in January and
last week's Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
"It's tough to do. Just go with it. I hit good shots and you try not
to think about the next hole. I hit a really good shot into 16 to a
foot and then two good shots into 17 and made a nice putt."
Though Walker found the intermediate rough to the right off the tee
at the uphill par-four 18th, he struck an eight-iron from there to
30 feet and sank the birdie putt.
"I hit a great shot to the back of the green and made that long
putt, so it was nice," Walker said. "You're not always going to make
that putt on 18."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; editing by Larry Fine
and Ian Ransom)
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