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By Mark Lamport-Stokes
PACIFIC PALISADES, California, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Having spent six months on the sidelines because of a lingering neck injury, Brandt Jobe could not wipe the grin off his face after making a strong start to the Northern Trust Open on Thursday.
The 47-year-old American, who has had two nerve block procedures to help him cope with severe inflammation and a loss of control in his hands, fired a five-under-par 66 at Riviera Country Club to end the opening round two shots off the pace.
Competing in only his second PGA Tour event since the AT&T National last July, journeyman Jobe surged into contention with four consecutive birdies in his last five holes.
"I played a solid round of golf," Jobe told reporters after finishing two strokes behind pacesetting American Matt Kuchar.
"I saw some good things which makes me happy, which is what we are all trying to do. Round one accomplished. Let's see what happens tomorrow. It's a good start to the week."
Jobe, who is playing the PGA Tour on a medical exemption this year due to a herniated disc, accepts he still has a long road ahead of him because of his assorted injury problems.
"The last swing I took (last year) was July 1 at the AT&T, Tiger's event," he said. "I couldn't close my hands. That's how bad it got. I knew there was a problem.
"My disc looked all right, a few degenerative areas, but what was bad was my nerve canal. I was so inflamed. They (doctors) were surprised that it didn't hurt more than what it did.
"I basically didn't touch a club until the first part of about December 1, end of November. That was a good layoff, but I had to for the procedures that I had done."
Jobe ended up having two nerve blocks, six weeks apart, and was advised to stay away from the golf swing and anything else which could result in a "lock" with his posture.
"The body can only make so many golf swings, doing activities so many times until something falls apart, and what's kind of what's happened," he said.
"You can do these nerve blocks and if those don't work, then your next thing is a big-time surgery, and they don't know how long that will last.
"Right now, I'm trying to get back and trying to do good things. However that ends up by the end of this week, if I keep improving and get better, then that's what it is."
Jobe has yet to win on the PGA Tour despite having triumphed 12 times worldwide as a professional in Canada, Japan and elsewhere in Asia.
He has plenty of local knowledge to draw upon at Riviera Country Club, however, after playing the course hundred of times as a student at the nearby University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
"I've played here probably 200 rounds at least, maybe more, 300 rounds," said Jobe, who has been a runner-up on the PGA Tour four times. (Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Peter Rutherford)