The Tour rolls into Lala Land this week for the 2015 iteration of The Northern Trust Open at venerable Riviera. Bubba Watson defends his title this week after desecrating one of NoLayingUp’s top three favorite courses on tour last year (as for the other two – he obviously went on to win at Augusta, and then we narrowly averted a brush with disaster at Muirfield Village). 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. Soly had a chance to play it a few years back and hasn’t shut up about it since, and yet I’m still jealous every single time he brings it up. 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).
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.
View off the box of #1 (photo courtesy of NorthernTrustOpen.com)
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 all, it’s as good a hole as advertised, and a ton of fun to watch.
View of #10 green. Sunday flag will be cut just over right side of the right-hand bunker in background. (Photo courtesy of NorthernTrustOpen.com)
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.
View of #18 green. (Photo courtesy NorthernTrustOpen.com)
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.
Paraphrasing the immortal PFTCommenter, if your not in the mood for barrelfire reality tv truths theres the door because this section’s not for you. The best show on tv right now is Vanderpump Rules (dead serious, I can’t get enough of it) – it’s set in LA and centered around a bunch of aspiring actors/actresses/models/morons who also happen to work at a pair of establishments called “Sur” and “Pump,” which are both owned by an older British minx named Lisa Vanderpump. The hi jinx that ensue provide for a transcendent viewing experience, light-years ahead of The Hills, IMO. I was unwittingly introduced to the show by my fiancee, who grew tired of Sony Open coverage and commandeered the remote from my vice grip. She then proceeded to flip it over to Bravo and within fifteen minutes I was hooked. Go ahead and watch a couple episodes prior to firing up the golf telecast and you are mentally prepped for the vibes emanating from your tv screen. You’ll thank me later.
Let’s move on.
- 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:
- Charl Schwartzel (33/1) – LOVE him this week. Top 5 finishes here in each of the last two years, and he’s top 10’d in 2 of the last 3 starts.
- Harris English (30/1, Sportsbook) – Primed to win sooner rather than later. T10 here last year, and coming off a playoff loss at Torrey. Former champ at Mayakoba, so obviously he’s got the stones to win huge events.
- J.B. Holmes (33/1) – From 2008 to 2012, he finished top 8 four out of five times. Oh, and he he’s finished T10 and T2 his last two times out. I’m willing to forgive the egregious layup on 18 at Torrey if he can win this week.
- Sang Moon Bae (60/1, Sportsbook) – Top 12 in both of his two starts here. Has cooled a bit since his hot start, but comfort level at the Riv.
- Charlie Beljan (65/1) – Finished 2nd here in 2013, T12 in 2014, and finished T3 at Pebble. Primed! #WaffleMan
- Aaron Baddeley (100/1, Sportsbook) – Horse for course. Winner here in 2011, top 18 in 3 of the last four years here.
- Brian Harman (125/1 yikes, already down to 80/1, Sportsbook) – T3 here last year, and made his last four cuts. Have to think he’s staying at his twin brother, Mark Wahlberg’s crib this week and will be comfortable.
- George McNeill (210/1 now down to 140/1, Sportsbook) – Half unit here. Top 6 in two of his last four starts here.
Fantasy Corner: As mentioned up top, Gerry almost desecrated on the NLU Triple Crown of Riviera-Augusta-Muirfield last year by winning all three, and it all started here. He’s a must play for fantasy, but can’t play him at 10/1. DJ is primed this week as well, but 10/1 odds aren’t enough to entice me. Spieth, Walker, and Sneds are all solid plays as well, but I don’t see much value in betting.
(Tracker: +45 units in 2015. Last week: -6.)
- 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.
- The stickiest of the icky
- Can CBS Sports redeem itself this week? They’ve been on autopilot for this entire season thus far, and the NLU posse has been admittedly critical of them on twitter. Pebble coverage sucked even worse than normal (commercials out the wazzoo, sparse actual golf coverage) and Phoenix and Torrey both seemed a little bit off. Things just feel stale and it’s nearing a boiling point where NBC is starting to close the gap, in spite of Johnny’s best efforts. And when is Frank Nobilo going to ramp up with CBS, as was announced last month? I like Frank’s take on things (his back and forth’s with Brandel are always rich and compelling) and hope he’s a good fit.
- The Euro tour heads to India this week for the Hero Indian Open. I hope Big Cat makes a surprise appearance just to glad-hand and collect a big appearance check (not for playing, just for showing up and putting in face-time). The field is absolutely horrid outside of the Mechanic and two or three other guys.
- Speaking of past-champ Robert Allenby earlier – I remain unconvinced he wasn’t in the scrip club in Honolulu. The guy needs to embrace it. You can’t tell me THIS GUY wasn’t in the scrip club. I brought this up as a shameless excuse to play one of the greatest quotes of all time:
- 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 was listening to sports talk radio here in Atlanta a few weeks ago and the topic of where people would choose to play college football if they could play anywhere. The callers who responded (most of whom were of the first-time/long-time ilk) all had pretty stock answers (UGA, Texas, Buck Tech, Bama, The U) and the topic withered away. But it got me thinking – if I was a stud high school golfer with my pick of any school in the country where would I go? UCLA and Stanford are at the top of the list. Some of my buddies countered with Arizona State, Cal, Texas, UNLV, and Alabama. (Interestingly enough, I have a buddy who had that very decision and chose Vanderbilt.) Anyway, I bring this up because of the visions that dance through my head while I watch this tournament – permasunshine, playing Bel-Air, Sherwood, Riviera, and LACC on the reg, mingling with extraordinarily gorgeous co-eds, and living that Left Coast dream. In reality, if I chose UCLA I’d probably follow in the footsteps of my favorite player on Tour and wash out after the first year.
- A follow up on that previous bit – I had no idea that most of these big-time D1 golf programs travel to events via private bird. That’s hilarious/awesome. How that’s not an impermissible benefit is beyond me!
- Lastly, an editorial note on these previews: A lot of the stuff that applies to multiple years (course, vibe, etc.), you’re going to see some stuff that’s just rolled forward from last year’s preview (mostly Tron Carter’s work). Is this poor journalism? Absolutely. Do we pretend to be real journalists? Hell no. Rest assured that the picks section will always be completely current. But previews are hard to do, we all have real jobs, and there is no point in trying to recreate some of the better stuff from last year.