SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Playing for the first time since mid-December, Matt Kuchar hardly looked rusty in his return to competition.
The 38-year-old made two birdies and an eagle over his final six holes to shoot seven-under 64 in Thursday’s opening round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open on Thursday.
Defending champion Hideki Matsuyma, who has four wins and a pair of runner-up finishes in his last eight worldwide starts, and Brendan Steele are tied for second a stroke back.
“I decided I'd go hard from summer on and take my break starting basically Christmas,” Kuchar 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.”
And he hit plenty of nice shots on Thursday, too, including on the par-five 13th, where he reached the green in two before rolling in a 20-footer for eagle.
He added a birdie on 15, getting up and down from behind the green, and another on the reachable par-four 17th, sending his drive to just short of the green on the 341-yard hole before spinning a long chip to a few inches.
“I wanted to be aggressive,” said Kuchar, who was bogey-free on the afternoon. “I knew this was going to be an easy one to leave short. There was a bunker behind the green, not too far past this pin. A little nervous about that, but I tried to remind myself to just be aggressive, get it up the hill, but it came off beautifully.”
Equally impressive was the play of Matsuyama, also without a blemish on his scorecard.
A year ago, the Japanese star closed with a 67, making birdie on each of the final two holes in regulation before beating Rickie Fowler on the fourth hole of a sudden-death playoff after Fowler had blown a two-stroke lead with two holes to play.
Matsuyama picked up where he left off 12 months ago, making a half-dozen birdies, including four through his first nine holes. He also finished runner-up here in 2015.
Fowler, meanwhile, is in contention again at the tournament he let slip through his fingers a year ago. He 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 drove it into the water left but got up and down, holing a 16-foot putt to avoid bogey.
He was also seven for seven scrambling and needed just 25 putts.
“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.”
Things didn’t go as well with the flat stick for Jordan Spieth, who took 30 putts on the morning, including four of them on 17. He finished with a 70.
Playing for the first time since back-to-back wins in Hawaii, Justin Thomas opened with a 69, while playing partner Phil Mickelson was one better. The third member of the group, last week’s Farmers Insurance Open winner John Rahm, had three birdies and two bogeys for a round of 70.