PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- He's Arnold Palmer's grandson, and that would be difficult enough -- the attention, the questions -- had Sam Saunders not become a professional golfer.
But Saunders, 29, who Thursday took the first-day lead of the Genesis Open (the former L.A, Open) handled himself beautifully, appreciative of his heritage, someone who not only accepts who he is but relishes it.
In his first start at a tournament Palmer won three times, Saunders shot a seven-under 64, with no bogies and seven birdies. Three players, U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson, rookie J.T. Poston and Daniel Summerhays were at 66
Heavy rain was forecast for Friday, making the scheduled second round questionable.
Saunders is very comfortable with his background and connection to Palmer, who died at 87 in September. No matter how many times he is asked about his granddad, Saunders responds joyfully.
"We all miss him," Saunders said. "It's not just me. People come up and say, 'I'm sorry for your loss.' The truth is, we all lost somebody that meant a great deal to us, and did a lot for us.
"If I look at it subjectively, as just a guy, a young guy who plays on the PGA Tour, I owe my career to him, not because I'm his grandson but because I'm a guy who plays on the PGA Tour. We're all out here because of what he did."
What Palmer did was win the Masters four times, the British Open twice, the U.S. Open once and total of 93 tournaments in all. What Palmer did was sign autographs until his fingers ached. What Palmer did, as two-time U.S. Open champ Curtis Strange said, "Was make you feel good."
He certainly made Saunders feel good, even though in his three plus years on Tour -- he played collegiately at Clemson -- Saunders has nothing better than a tie for first, in the 2015 Puerto Rico Open, where he lost in a five-way playoff.
Saunders gave a memorable eulogy at Palmer's funeral service.
"My grandfather's passing was a surprise," said Saunders, "but the service was wonderful, and I think we celebrated his life in a special way."
His round Thursday was a bit of a surprise to Saunders. He said he rarely starts well.
"But I had some people tell me they thought it would be a good fit for me," he said.
It was on Day One of the Genesis.
Johnson played the back nine first and had six birdies including four in a stretch of five holes, 17, 18, 2 and 3. The one he didn't birdie, the first hole, is a 504-yard par-five reachable in two, especially for a long hitter as Johnson.
"Yeah, I left one there," said Johnson. "I just got a little out of position off the tee. I still had an OK chance to make birdie. I just didn't."
Mickelson, 46, was not at Riviera the last few years because it was his daughters' mid-winter school break.
"I love it back here," said Mickelson who won at Riviera in 2008 and 2009. "I really do enjoy this course. I love playing here."
He had a five on the par-four ninth, his last hole of the round, and after signing his card mused, "It's never fun ending with a bogey. But it's a good start."