Brandt Jobe feels good about his 66

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Last July, at the AT&T tournament at Congressional outside Washington, the nerve damage from the neck problem that had resulted became so painful that he couldn't close his right hand — not the one with the once-missing fingertips.

"Flying home from Congressional," Jobe said, "was so painful that I thought I was going to die every time the plane bumped."

He had two nerve-block procedures to relieve inflammation in the nerve canal around the C5 and C6 vertebrae. He travels with a portable traction machine and has put himself on a ball count, much like a pitcher.

"I used to pound five or six [buckets]," he said, "but not anymore. The body can only make so many golf swings."

His first tournament back since July was the recent Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, where he missed the cut. He was in the first group off at Riviera on Thursday morning, so early (6:40 a.m.) that Jobe said, "You couldn't see a shot on the range, and I don't know if I saw a putt from 15 feet on the putting green. It was that dark."

But he persevered, the sun came out and so did his putting stroke.

"On 14, made a 10-footer," he said. "On 15, 10-footer; 16 a 10-footer; 17 a 15-footer."

So, the player who used to jump a fence and sneak in to watch the L.A. Open as a UCLA student, who estimates he has played Riviera perhaps 300 times, is in the chase after the first round.

His fans have their fingers crossed that the duct tape holds.

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