Despite the fact he was playing for the first time in nearly two months, Matt Kuchar barely seemed rusty in his return to competitive golf.

U.S.’s Matt Kuchar leads with seven-under 64

The 38-year-old American made two birdies and an eagle over his last six holes to shoot seven-under 64 in Thursday’s opening round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Defending champion Hideki Matsuyma, a Japanese wonder who will be 25 later this month, tied for second with Brendan Steele, as both players posted six-under 65s.

Kuchar’s round included five birdies and an eagle on the par-three 13th hole. He went bogey-free for the round, thanks mostly to well-placed drives and strong iron swinging.


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“I decided I’d go hard from summer on and take my break starting basically Christmas,” Kuchar, who last played at December’s Hero World Challenge, said of his extended time off. “It was hard for me to sit back and watch the guys at Hawaii and the guys at Palm Springs, but it was also fun. We had great weather at home. I got to watch my boys play basketball, and they loved doing that. It was a nice break.”

He made a birdie on 15, getting up and down from behind the green, and another on the par-four 17th, sending his drive to just short of the green on the 341-yard hole before hitting a long chip just a few inches.

Matsuyama also astounded, making six birdies, including four in his first nine holes. Last year, the Japanese star closed with a 67, making birdie on each of the last two holes in regulation before beating Rickie Fowler on the fourth hole of a sudden-death playoff after Fowler had lost a two-stroke lead with just two holes remaining. Matsuyama also finished second in Scottsdale in 2015.

Fowler, meanwhile, was among a large contingent to open with 67, making two big par saves in his first two holes, including on No. 11, where he hit the ball into the water but got up and down, sinking a 16-foot putt to avoid bogey.

“Unfortunately didn’t get the job done [a year ago], but I felt like I played fairly well today,” Fowler said. “It felt good to kind of have a stress-free round. Nice to make some putts.”

Another player who struggled was Jordan Spieth, who took 30 putts on the morning, including four of them on 17. He finished with a 70.

Justin Thomas, who was playing for the first time since back-to-back wins in Hawaii, opened with a 69, while playing partner Phil Mickelson was one better.

SCOTTSDALE, AZ – FEBRUARY 02: Matt Kuchar plays a tee shot on the fifth hole during the first round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale on February 2, 2017 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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