Riviera Country Club
The West Coast Swing heads down to SoCal for the annual event at Hogan’s Alley. I challenge you to come up with a more badass name for a city than the home of the Northern Trust Open, “Pacific Palisades.” Wikipedia describes it as an “affluent neighborhood” in Los Angeles, which hardly puts into perspective just how wealthy the area is (after all, being affluent on the LA spectrum is bit different than being affluent most other places, no?). The town is called home by many celebrities, and the locker room at the Club features more stars than last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
The course itself befits the swanky location. It’s a classy, old-school gem, a George C. Thomas design (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 flight balls both ways around the grounds. Guys must be able to see and execute a plethora of shots–something not always required at other Tour stops.
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.
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.
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 and consider this a down week on Tour. It’s actually the cherry-on-top of the West Coast Swing (like Tiger and Lefty, we pretend the Match Play doesn’t exist). Paulo Coelho couldn’t mix up a more potent witch’s brew of boss locale, regal track, Best Coast energy, and bejeweled field; the tournament’s sum is consistently greater than its parts.
To put it bluntly, this is the best non-major event, at least in the opinion of Fil and myself–Soly happens to be a Cbus native and therefore is contractually obligated to give this distinction to the Golden Bear Schmooze Fest Memorial, each and every year. The vibe is mostly ‘California-cool,’ which means laid back and genial with some obvy 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 a four-day shot-making, ballstriking BLOWOUT.
It was a homecoming party as LA County native and UCLA product John Merrick outlasted ‘The Waffle Man,’ Charlie Beljan, in a playoff to capture his first career win in his seventh full season on Tour. Merrick’s sleeper-cell strike triumph came after posting a final round 69 to post a seventy-two hole score of eleven under, 273. This was right in line with the six previous winning totals which averaged about 271. Expect the winning score this year to fall somewhere between ten and fourteen deep.
Although two years ago now, allow us to indulge in reminiscing about the 2012 event when Bill Haas (Member, FDIC) emerged from an insanely tasty playoff with Phil and Keegan to capture the win. You’ll remember a playoff was necessary because Batman and Robin produced matching, dramatic 72nd hole birdies:
It’s hard to overstate how sweet the dual birds were that day on 18. Three is a great score anytime, let alone when you have to have it. We like to think this is where the Phil/Keegan bromance was conceived, with birth given in the fall at the Ryder Cup, and continued at the Presidents Cup:
And really, everything about that tournament was savory as hell. The final leaderboard looked like the finishing order of a Kentucky Derby: Haas, Mickelson, Bradley, Sergio, DJ, and some dude named Jimmy Walker were all inside the top-5 (Jeeeeesus).
(all lines courtesy Ladbrokes.com, the Official Bookmaker of NoLayingUp.com)
Horses for Courses
- Dustin Johnson (12/1) – On fire this season, and loves this place. Five straight top 12 finishes, and has two top 4 finishes at Riv over the last 4 years (2012 and 2010). Now that he’s shed the future father-in-law from his pairing he’s ready to bust out.
- Jimmy Walker (20/1) – Going back to the well with Walker yet again. Playing the best golf on the planet, and a GREAT track record here: T16 in ’13, T4’s in ’12 and ’11. I’d lean more fantasy here because I never bet guys to win back-to-back.
- Graham DeLaet (25/1) – Top-5 or better his last five Tour starts, including T2’s in San Diego and PHX. Has made cut here each of last two years. Supreme ballstriker, this course should accentuate Graham’s talent.
- Bill Haas (Member, FDIC) (25/1) – T3 last year, Winner in ’12, and T12 in ’11. Enough said.
- Hideki Matsuyama (25/1) – Patti Stanger, Millionaire Matchmaker, couldn’t facilitate a more guaranteed match-made-in-heaven than MatsuYOTTO and Riviera. It’ll be love at first sight, and really, is there anything better during Valentine’s Day week?
- Charl Schwartzel (33/1) – came over last year before the Match Play and banked a T3 here. Obviously is a world-class shot-maker, if he packed his putter, these odds are wholesale value.
- Pat Perez (50/1) – Eleventh or better in four of last five starts on Tour this year. Has a T13 here from ’12, but not a ton of other recent success of note. Is clearly in form, knows the course well, and looks like he’s ready to grab a win.
- KJ Choi (66/1) – Finished top-33 each of last five years here, including two top-7’s.
- J. B Holmes (80/1) – Before MC’ing last year had four top-12 finishes in four years. Has made three cuts in three starts this year, but with just one top-25 (T23 at San Diego). Happy memories here could kick his game up a few levels.
- Freddie Jacobson (80/1) – Does not appear to be in good form with an MC and WMD last two starts, but does own a T3 here last year and a T13 from ’12.
- Jason Kokrak (80/1) – 5/7 this year on cuts made, finished top 20 every time he’s played the weekend. Made cut last two years here (although lit himself on fire last year on Saturday), and could make serious noise if he can drive the ball somewhat straight. We’re really high on Kokrak and feel he’s too good to be in the 80/1 value platter.
- Luke Guthrie (150/1) – Talented young ballstriker who collected a T21 here last year in his first start at Riv. Pretty good 2014 going with five of seven made cuts and three top-25’s.
No drinking game necessary this week. It’s all about the golf shots. So go ahead and splurge for your favorite wine or spirit, mix in a party hat and kazoo if you’re really feeling it, and just enjoy the hell out of premier shot-making on an old-school, legendary loop.
- 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.
- A lot of European thoroughbreds are in the field this week as a precursor to next week’s Match Play event. Among them are the Big Easy, Joost Luiten, Francesco Molinari, Thorbjorn Olesen, Louis Oosthuizen, Justin Rose, Charl Schwartzel, and Westwood One.
Joost Luiten, Freaky-deaky Dutchman
- Riv boasts a hilarious roster of former champs: Len Mattiace in ’02, Kirk Triplett in ’00, Pavin ’94 & ’95 (tried to rename it “The Rat Family Open” in ’96, was denied), Faldo ’97, Walrus 1.0 ’96, Mayfair ’98 (beat Eldrick in playoff), TC Chen in ’87, The Breeder ’63,’66,’67.
- Started six years ago, the Northern Trust Open awards an annual exemption to “a top golfer who represents the advancement of diversity in golf and wouldn’t otherwise be eligible to compete in the event.” This year’s recipient is Harold Varner III, 2012 Conference USA POY out of East Carolina, who has full Web.com status this year. Very cool initiative, though we’d freaking relish the chance to pump some old, crusty vets and/or young, hungry dudes full of truth-serum, ask their opinion of it, sit back and listen.
- Go ahead and 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 while dudes are chipping. 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
- The All-Lettuce team gained another couple of members last week: Richard H. Lee’s flowing locks and Joost Luiten’s Jerry Curl earned a spot alongside Robert Rock, Vic Dubuisson, Phil Mickelson (his wings are on point right now), and John Peterson (top-shelf frat weave). Expect a feature piece from us on this “team” once a few more guys assert themselves in this regard (haven’t had a Spafro sighting yet in 2014).
- Several dudes in the field are borderline to qualify for Match Play next week. Looking at #51 through #100 on the OWGR list, Scott Piercy (#66), Brendon de Jonge (#69), Angel Cabrera (#72), Chucky Three Sticks (#73), and Bo Van Pelt (#74) could go either way depending on performances this week. I refuse, however, to do the actual math to determine who needs what to make it.
- Is Luke Donald alive? Seriously, we’re asking.
- Matt Kuchar is back with us after his two month Hawaiian vacay. Must be nice. Hopefully this means they’ll stop playing that dumb commercial featuring him at a Hawaiian cook-out over and over again.
- Steve Marino was DQ’d here last year. According to the ‘Amber Alert’ that Finchy filed this was the last time Marino was seen publicly. Such a shame, especially considering he used to menace the West Coast Swing.
- Heath Slocum is an alternate this week. If he doesn’t make it in, look for him to head over to nearby Santa Anita Park and catch a couple mounts, as his physique sets up perfectly for a future as a solid jockey should the golf gig not pan out.
- Soly has a good Riv story when he lucked out on a business trip and found himself playing the course in 2008. We’ll let him tell it:
“We’re about to tee off on the first hole, we’re shootin the shit with the starter. Very informal. He asks us our names and where we’re from, but he writes nothing down. We wait for the group in front of us to clear the fairway, and he tells us to play away. The first tee at Riviera is right up against a cart path that is the only thing separating you from the outdoor patio dining area. It’s a Sunday afternoon–lunch time–and the outdoor area could not be more crowded, which was intimidating enough. As I prepare to tee off, the starter yells: “Ladies and gentlemen, from Chicago, Chris!” Almost at once the entire patio put their silverware down and started applauding. I was in shock. I obviously gave a #TourSauce courtesy wave to the crowd, but my heart was absolutely POUNDING. I could barely get the ball on the tee. I can attest that adrenaline is a real thing, though, as I promptly smoked my drive dead down the center of the fairway, leaving about 175 yards into the par-5. Gave another courtesy wave to the second round of applause, and acted like I knew what I was doing. Which is again what #TourSauce is all about.”