LOS ANGELES -- In his first official tour of Riviera Country Club on Thursday Rory McIlroy started on the back nine first, opening with the iconic, but treacherous par-4 10th.
He played the 317-yarder in textbook fashion and made birdie.
Then he moved to the par-5 11th.
Two under par after two. Easy course, huh?
The world's No. 3 player, McIlroy very much found Riviera to his liking in the first round of the Northern Trust Open, suffering only one bogey -- or seven fewer than world No. 1 Jordan Spieth -- in shooting a 4-under-par 67.
In an eight-way tie for fifth, McIlroy was four shots off the lead of Camilo Villegas, who shot 8-under 63.
"Tee-to-green was pretty good," McIlroy said. "And I felt like my pace (on the greens) was good ... I think all of the things that you need to do around this golf course, I did pretty well today."
The start could not have been more impressive. McIroy played his tee shot left on 10 to give himself a prime angle and put an approach to 7 feet for birdie.
"That 10th hole here, you want to get off to a decent start," McIlroy said. "I would have taken a four on that 10th hole, but it was nice to make three."
The Irishman birdied Riviera's three par-5s, suffered his only bogey at the par-4 15th and canned a final birdie at the par-4 seventh.
McIlroy said Riviera already is a course that suits his eye.
"There are some holes where you can stand up on a tee shot and you can see a variety of different ways to play it," McIlroy said. "With the trees and the way the golf course is designed, I think anyone who is very visual in their pre-shot routine, it plays into their hands. I like to see shots, and I see Bubba (Watson) shot a good score. He's the same way."
Bubba treads lightly
Watson got himself into trouble a couple of weeks ago for criticizing the TPC Scottsdale course during the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
After he shot 5-under 66 on Thursday to be in a three-way tie for second, Watson smiled and opened with, "I just want everybody to know that I love this golf course and I love this community.
"I'm practicing," he added with a chuckle.
Beyond Villegas' nine birdies, Watson was second-best in the field with seven, including three straight at holes 17 through 1 after he started the round on the back nine.
Watson, who shot 64-64 on the weekend to win the 2014 NTO, said of the conditions leading up to the tournament, "They were the toughest I'd seen them in a long time, the fairways and greens.
"Totally different," Watson said of Thursday's conditions.
Some caddies and players wore black ribbons on their caps in the first round to mourn the death of Chris Roth, the caddie for UCLA alum Patrick Cantlay. Ross, 24, was killed and a driver arrested on Saturday after a hit-and-run accident in Newport Beach, the Orange County Register reported.
Cantlay, of Long Beach, is not in the NTO field this week.
-- Among the top 26 players on the leaderboard, only Troy Merritt did not birdie or eagle the par-5 No. 1 that was playing 491 yards. Overall, there were 14 eagles and 105 birdies on the easiest hole on the course.
-- Two-time NTO champ Fred Couples, 56, made a double bogey at No. 10 and shot 3 over.
-- Charles Howell III opened with a 4-under 67. His second and last tour win came at Riviera in 2007.
-- Defending NTO champion James Hahn fought back from a 3-over start through nine holes to score even-par 71.
This article was written by Tod Leonard from The San Diego Union-Tribune and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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