Matthew Fitzpatrick starts fast in bid to emulate Nick Faldo

Sheffield star opens with a 66 at the Genesis Invitational as he looks to become the first Englishman to win at Riviera since Nick Faldo in 1997

"Oh, really?" said a surprised Matthew Fitzpatrick after being told his opening 66 at the Genesis Invitational on Thursday tied the lowest first-round score of his PGA TOUR career.

At the time, it was good enough for the early clubhouse lead. And by close of play, only one other golfer in the field of 120 - American Sam Burns - had gone lower.

Fitzpatrick, who shares second place with Max Homa, had previously started out with a 66 on three previous occasions on the PGA TOUR, the most recent at the 2020 Heritage.

On day one at Riviera his early lap beat the field average by over five strokes and Bryson DeChambeau by nine. But Fitzpatrick has a much more important stat in mind as he continues his challenge at the famed Los Angeles track.

This long-standing PGA Tour event was first contested in 1926. But checking the names of all those past winners reveals just one Englishman - Nick Faldo in 1997.

While English players have done particularly well in the PGA TOUR's Florida events - Tyrrell Hatton will defend the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill next month - they've suffered a drought at Riviera.

Faldo was the reigning Masters champion when he headed to this tournament, then the Nissan Open, in 1997.

Using all his craft and experience, the three-time Green Jacket winner posted 12-under and came home three shots clear of defending champion Craig Stadler.

Anyone digging out Faldo's stats for that week would probably expect to find one of the game's greatest iron players near the very top of the greens in regulation charts. The reality was something different though.

Faldo ranked only 32nd in GIR, instead paving the way for victory with a short-game masterclass. No-one scrambled better that week (he got up and down over 80% of the time) while only one player took fewer putts.

Fitzpatrick has parallels to Faldo in 1997

Intriguingly, Fitzpatrick seems to be following a similar path so far.

Just like Faldo, he's opened his bid with a 66. And just like Faldo, he's done it thanks to some magic on and around the greens.

Noted stats expert Justin Ray picked up on that in a tweet.

html) */?>

Although Ray describes Fitzpatrick's first-round scrambling as "unreal", let's recall that Faldo sustained something similar (just over 80%) for all four days. In fact, Fitzpatrick wasn't even the best scrambler in round one, his ranking 'only' fourth in that category.

While hitting less than half the greens in regulation is far from ideal, the six-time European Tour winner was quick to point out that it didn't quite tell the whole story.

Speaking after his morning round, Fitzpatrick said: "Yeah, yeah, it was good. It was a good day overall. I felt like I played probably better than my tee-to-green stats would suggest. My swing actually felt pretty good. There's a couple of loose ones in there, try to fix that this afternoon, but on the whole it's a great start, couldn't ask for any better."

Fitzpatrick, who finished a solid 30th on his Riviera debut last year, ended the day ranked second for Putts Per GIR. And the immaculate putting surfaces certainly impressed him.

Poa annua has a reputation for being bumpy but not these ones.

He said: "I feel like I struggle a little bit on poa annua, so to see them how they are this week, so firm, fast, they're as true as I've ever seen. Yeah, it's a big advantage for me."

The early scene at Riviera CC in round one.
The early scene at Riviera CC in round one.

Faldo was third after day one after shooting his 66 in 1997. He added a Friday 70 to nudge up to second and then fired two 68s on the weekend to claim what would be the last of his nine PGA TOUR wins.

Fitzpatrick is trying to win his first. But his bid to follow in Faldo's footsteps could hardly have got off to a better start.

* Fitzpatrick is 16/1 with Sky Bet to go on and claim victory. He was a 66/1 chance pre-tournament.

Latest Golf Videos