Rory comin y’all!
Before he was euthanized, I would lament that the PGA Tour season used to have two beginnings: the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, and whatever week Big Cat first showed up. Sure the season was officially underway, but it didn’t feel like it really started until He showed up. Now with the fall series, and the fact that the large feline is holed up playing Call of Duty under an alias, the rollout of the PGA Tour season looks more like an intro to a GOP debate than it does a grand opening. It’s not on the same aforementioned Tiger level, but this week, I find myself legitimately giddy about Rory’s U.S. debut for the 2016 season. The tournament hasn’t even started yet, and he’s already won the week twice:
— Rory McIlroy (@McIlroyRory) February 16, 2016
I really wanted to say "suck my white ass ball" but they wouldn't let me! https://t.co/wGb9HcU8q5
— Rory McIlroy (@McIlroyRory) February 16, 2016
At times both under appreciated and forgotten in 2015, a rejuvenated Rory has chosen the best possible setting for his arrival. Riviera is the crème de la crème of the West Coast Swing, and the class of the field this year matches the glorious setting in the Pacific Palisades. Man, just saying “Pacific Palisades” gets me halfway there! A palisade is defined as “a fence of wooden stakes or iron railings fixed in the ground, forming an enclosure or defence,” which is fitting because Riviera screams exclusivity, and “invite only.”
Everything about this week just oozes class. Gone is the over saturated, forced, corporate stench of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and in comes a great test of golf in a tournament that prides itself on being about the actual golf. Hogan’s Alley is perhaps the most universally loved course that we see every year on the tour, and you need a certified sommelier to properly describe the graceful aging process for this So Cal masterpiece. Prep thyself for a four-day ball striking blowout on a top shelf course accompanied by choice visuals (gallery, blimp shots, weather, etc.).
Riviera Country Club
Riviera is dope. Period. Point blank. I had a chance to play it unexpectedly in 2008, and I haven’t shut up about it since. George C. Thomas designed Riviera (par 35-36-71), which opened in 1927. A ballstriker’s paradise, Riv ranked third in a 2012 poll of PGA Pros’ favorite courses (trailing only Augusta National and Harbor Town). As with most well-aged tracks, accuracy off the tee is of utmost importance, as is the ability to work the ball both ways (obviously a boon to Gerry Watson). Just listen to what some of the pros are already saying about it:
Never gets old coming to Riviera. Truly one of the best courses/tests ever made
— Justin Thomas (@JustinThomas34) February 17, 2016
— Graham DeLaet (@GrahamDeLaet) February 17, 2016
Riviera this week.. In my top 5 courses I've ever played
— Jordan Spieth (@JordanSpieth) February 15, 2016
The day begins with a downhill, 505 yard par-5, which always plays as one of the easiest holes on Tour, easing competitors into the challenge that awaits them. Another example of “par” being irrelevant.
The rest of the opening nine is a collection of 400+ yard par-4’s (the shortest measuring 408 yards, longest 471 yards) along with a couple stretched out par-3’s (199 yards and 236 yards, respectively). There are no signature holes, necessarily, but each will call for shot-making, a certain amount of creativity, and an ability to properly wield every club in the bag (motifs which carry over to the second nine).
The back nine starts with Golf.com’s 6th best hole in the United States, the driveable 10th that measures just 310 yards. Jack Nicklaus noted this hole has more options than any short hole in the world. Expect to see #10 heavily-featured on the telecast (deservedly), but don’t expect many drives to hit the green.
On Sunday, especially, when they cut the hole on the far right portion (from the players’ vantage point), and given the slope of the green and bunkering surrounding it, it’ll be a challenge to get near the hole with a wedge after laying up, let alone with the Big Dog from the box. Nantz and Sir Nick will be quick to point out, repeatedly, that although a tiny par-4, bogey is always in play on #10, no matter if guys go conservative off the tee or not. In general, we give guys a pass on not trying to take on this green from the tee, because it’s far from a no brainer, and the chances of a ball staying on the surface are quite minimal. In all, it’s as good a hole as advertised, and a ton of fun to watch.
After #10, guys get a grown-up par-5 (the first of two on this side) measuring 583 yards. Then it’s a few more 400+ yard par-4’s with another mid-to-long iron par-3 (#14, measuring 192 yards) thrown in. The finishing trio of holes is mega-solid. A diverse mix, it offers bit of everything for both players and viewers.
Sixteen is a relatively short par-3 at 166 yards and gives guys an opportunity to stuff the pinata with a well-struck short iron. Seventeen is a cavernous, uphill par-5 that measures nearly six-hundo. There’s a chance some big sticks get home in two this week, but overall eagles will be pretty rare (unfortunately). It is a prime chance to trap some more common feathered flyers, though. There’s a good chance the board will be bunched Sunday, and seventeen will be the last best chance to make birdie before the daunting eighteenth.
The finishing hole is among the most famous in golf. It’s a very challenging 475 yard par-4 which plays uphill, a bit left-to-right, and with a green that is hilariously in-conducive to holding the requisite long-irons into it. The upper left side of the hole is framed by Larry David’s sprawling mansion, and the putting surface is tucked in at the base of a hill with the iconic Riv clubhouse looming bossily in the background. The natural amphitheater gathers huge crowds and for good reason: there is usually serious Sunday drama unfolding just below.
Freddie Couples is widely known to have a love affair with Riv, a fact that underscores and reinforces her sexiness (as if she needs such legitimizing). Count on her to again separate the ballstriking wheat from the chaff, yielding an ultra-glitzy board come the weekend.
Gone are the pornographic ocean views that frame Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines, and absent are the boisterous galleries that define TPC Scottsdale, but don’t you dare go feeling sorry for the Northern Trust Open. At minimum, this is a top three non-major event. The vibe is mostly ‘California-cool,’ which means laid back and genial with still a hint of LA phoniness and self-aggrandizement sprinkled in. So make yourself a nice drink, don your most festive party attire, and smoke ’em if you got ’em–this is the class of the West Coast Swing.
A comedy of errors led us to 3 man playoff where James Hahn edged Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey by nailing a 23 foot birdie putt on the third playoff hole. Preceding that, Sergio bogeyed the last two holes to miss out by a shot, Spieth missed a six foot par putt on the 72nd hole that would have put him in the playoff, Casey bogeyed 18 with the chance to win outright, and DJ bogeyed the par-5 17th with wedge in his hand on his third shot.
- We wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t mention Weir won this tournament. Twice. Back-to-back. ’03-’04 were dark, dark times, man.
- This was the site of Nick Faldo’s last career win (1997). He was never the same after getting paired with Tiger in rounds 1 and 2 of the 1997 Masters and watching that massacre up close and personal.
- Riv boasts a hilarious roster of former champs: Len Mattiace in ’02, Kirk Triplett in ’00, Pavin ’94 & ’95, Walrus 1.0 ’96, Mayfair ’98 (beat Eldrick in playoff), and TC Chen in ’87.
- Of course we have to discuss the 6-man playoff in 2001 where Robert Allenby beat Toshi Izawa(!), Brandel Chamblee (couldn’t quite slay the dragon), Bob Tway, Jeff Sluman (Paychex, y’all), and Dennis Paulson.
- Some memorable moments from previous years, including Tiger’s PGA Tour debut, his playoff with Billy Mayfair, and more:
- Gerry Lester Watson, Jr. (25/1) – It’s painful to do, but at a course he likes, his odds should not be that high. Winner in 2014.
- Harris English (60/1) – T3 at Scottsdale, and he’s got a top 10 in the bag here at Riviera.
- Freddie Jacobsen (65/1) – It’s as ugly as you could imagine, but he comes in here smoking hot with top-5 finishes in three of his last four starts. Add in a top-5 finish here in 2013, and he’s worth a play at these odds.
- Charles Howell III (80/1) – This is basically the end of Chucky Triple Sticks season, so I’ll waste one more unit as sort of a “pour one out for the homie” measure.
- Patrick Rodgers (90/1) – Top 20’s in five of his seven starts this season. He’s 5th on tour in strokes gained tee to green, and this course rewards ball striking.
Fantasy Corner: Matsuyama has a strong history here, as do Spieth, Schwartzel, Sergio, and Walker. Rory will also be in my lineup.
- Re-familiarize yourself with Kikuyu Grass – also known as Pennisetum Clandestinum (Latin for clandestine penis?) – as Ian Baker Finch will mention it ad nauseum during the telecast whilst . It’s essentially a sticky, inexpensive, drought-resistant weed native to East Africa, but thriving in SoCal. Not shockingly, it’s been known to cause paranoia around the greens.
- Tron went on an epic anti-CBS rant on Saturday, which Adam Sarson put in a storify for you to read. It’s starting to be beaten to death, but I think it’s entirely necessary for actual changes to be made. After reading this take down of the CBS coverage, and the interview with producer Lance Barrow, I’m not holding out any hope for change. As Tron said, they just don’t get it. Like, not even at a little bit. The vanity of the irrelevant bits, self-serving dialogue, and cringe inducing narrative driving has reached a level that would inspire Patrick Reed, and viewers have had enough. A year ago at this event, Jordan Spieth wasn’t shown live until the 17th hole, and the guy made 5 on the 18th hole to miss the playoff by a single shot! The negligence level they’ve obtained borders on malpractice, and we’re going to be stuck with it for the foreseeable future (or until somebody actually checks the mentions on the @GolfonCBS account).
- Here’s a primer on the LA private golf scene (although this article somehow left LA Country Club off?). The fact that the USGA refuses to hold an Open at Riviera is ridiculous. I’m already excited for the 2023 US Open at LA Country Club. West Coast US Opens are the best – primetime spectacles that should be ratings bonanzas. Can’t understand why the USGA doesn’t get out here more often. Links mag published an instructive comparison of the two courses a couple years ago.
- I’m kicking myself for scheduling a trip on the weekend of the Northern Trust rather than the AT&T, but I’ll be doing a Band of Brothers tour in Bastogne, Belgium this weekend. Easy Company did not lay up, and I’m pumped to see the scenes of the Battle of the Bulge. If you’re not familiar with the story, here’s a primer.