Sam Saunders tees off on the ninth hole during the first round of the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club Thursday. [RYAN KANG/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS]

Saunders opens two-shot lead at Riviera

LOS ANGELES — 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-under 64 and an early two-shot lead in the Genesis Open.

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 with a 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. 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 last four months in the aftermath of Palmer's death. He is taking on a bigger role at the Arnold Palmer Invitational 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.

Saunders was rock solid Oct. 3 when he stood before thousands at St. Vincent College, and so many more watching the live telecast of Palmer's memorial service. Speaking without notes, Saunders beautifully captured the spirit of Palmer as a golfer and as a grandfather, saying that day, "There wasn't a big difference between the man you saw on TV and the man we knew at home."

He has always been known as Palmer's grandson, and Saunders has learned to embrace it. He no longer worries about trying to make a name for himself.

"I don't need to compete against my grandfather's career. Nobody can," he said. "I don't care how many golf tournaments you win, nobody's going to compete in the terms of doing what he did for the game. And for me to try to promote my own brand or name would be foolish because I have such a great opportunity to promote and to continue what he has already done. That's what I'm going to do and not make it about myself."

LPGA: At Adelaide, Australia, Katherine Kirk shot an 8-under 65 at Royal Adelaide to take a two-stroke lead after the first round of the Women's Australian Open.

The 34-year-old Australian player birdied four of the first five holes on the front nine and three of four in the middle of the back nine. She won the last of her two LPGA Tour titles in 2010.

Americans Marissa Steen and Jane Park, South Korea's Chella Choi and Taiwan's Min Lee shot 67.

Canada's Brooke Henderson was four strokes behind after a 69. Michelle Wie, using a new putting grip and stance over the ball on the green, shot a 70, and top-ranked Lydia Ko had a 71.

No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand, the LPGA's player of the year and a five-time winner in 2016, had a 72, and defending champion Haru Nomura of Japan shot a 75, both in tougher afternoon conditions when the wind increased and the greens firmed up.

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