Ryder Cup star Luke Donald carded a three-under-par 68 to sit in a share of fifth after his opening round in the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club in California.
The Englishman was just three behind Korea’s KJ Choi, who led by one from Kevin Na with fellow Americans Chad Campbell and Vaughn Taylor a further shot behind.
Donald, who missed the cut last season after finishing 12th and 13th the previous two years in Pacific Palisades, was in a big group of nine players, which also contained world number two Phil Mickelson and Germany’s Alex Cejka, on three under but was probably slightly disappointed with his round after starting with two birdies in three holes.
Having played the next six in regulation he picked up further shots at the 10th and 13th but then bogeyed the par-four 15th for his only dropped shot of the day.
Choi carded six birdies and no bogeys to lead Kevin Na of the United States by one stroke in the event, with the pair benefiting from early tee-off times, completing their rounds before afternoon winds picked up.
Chad Campbell and Vaughn Taylor are two shots behind Choi, but play was suspended for the day due to bad light with the 17 golfers still on the course set to complete their rounds on Friday morning.
Choi has struggled with both his putter and his irons in the past at Riviera Country Club, but had no problems with either in the first round and nearly holed out an eight iron on the seventh hole from 152 yards.
“This course, I’ve always had trouble putting and my irons shots have always been a problem,” Choi said. “I felt like they were working today, and I think even the weather was pretty pleasant when I played, so it worked out good.”
Na made par on his first nine holes but then countered with five birdies on his next nine holes.
“I did get off to a bit of a slow start,” said Na, who was born in Seoul. “I made the turn and then I started hitting them close. The putts started falling and I took it low on the front nine.”
Campbell also benefited from an earlier start time, while Taylor had to battle the elements for his final four holes, managing one birdie.
Dustin Johnson thrived in the blustery conditions and was on three-under after 15 holes when play was suspended.
Open champion Padraig Harrington was just one behind after a 69 which was a mixed bag of five birdies and three bogeys.
“I’m still trying to get rid of the winter cobwebs,” said the Irishman.
“I go out full of expectation but I haven’t played enough rounds yet where I’ve reached the stage where I can completely trust my swing.”
Justin Rose could manage only a one-over 72, with compatriots Paul Casey (73) and Lee Westwood (74) faring worse.
Londoner Brian Davis was one of the golfers still on the course when darkness fell, at three over with two to play.
Another Ryder Cup star Sergio Garcia was also way off the pace after a 74.