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Sam Saunders' opening round at Genesis Open fit for a King


PACIFIC PALISADES – One of Arnold Palmer’s grandkids drew attention to himself Thursday. Not for who he is, but for what he did, and how he did it.

In what he called a somehow “stress-free” round of 7-under-par 64 at Riviera Country Club capped off by seven birdies and without a bogey, Sam Saunders didn’t have to flash his ID to cut to the top of the early leaderboard at the PGA Tour’s Genesis Open.

Because of morning fog that delayed most everyone’s tee times by about an hour, even a push to get as much completed Thursday with heavy rain on the way still left 48 players out on the course when darkness hit at 5:34 p.m., including Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Hideki Matsuyama.

If play doesn’t resume until sometime Saturday, it gives Saunders an unlikely extra few hours to soak in the fact he at least has a two-shot lead.

Besides, in a field that includes more than a dozen of the world’s top-ranked players, how cool is it when the name of Arnold Palmer can come up in the conversation?

Palmer captured three L.A. Open PGA titles – 1963, ’66 and ’67, the last one 50 years ago. None of them were at Riviera Country Club, where Saunders realized that while he may not have his own army of followers, the gallery did noticeably increase as the afternoon wore on for his group, the last one of the morning 72 that went off from the 10th hole.

“Yeah, it did happen actually,” said the 29-year-old. “Like, ‘Who is this guy? I’ll go check him out.’”

Saunders’ mother Amy is the youngest of Arnold and Winnie Palmer’s two daughters. She and husband Roy manage operations at Latrobe Country Club and the Bay Hill Club in Orlando, Fla., where the PGA’s Arnold Palmer Invitational is held every March.

It’s not that there’s any striking resemblance with Sanders and Palmer. There’s also the story about how Sanders’ future wife, Kelly, didn’t know about the DNA connection to Palmer until she Googled his name about a month into their dating.

Granted one of four exemptions by Genesis Open organizers to be included in this field of 144 – it had to be a gesture in some way to honor of his grandfather, who died at age 87 last September – Sanders is a card-carrying member of the PGA Tour card and has finished as high as a tie for sixth in one of the 24 events he got into last season.