Riviera presenting a major challenge

By Jason SobelFebruary 21, 2015, 2:31 am

LOS ANGELES – Here’s one dirty little secret of the organizations which hold major championships: They don’t simply bring ‘em to the best courses.

This notion may stretch the idealism of neophyte observers who believe turf and landscape alone are the determining factors, but it shouldn’t. While governing bodies won’t bring a major to an undeserving track, many are quickly crossed off the list for logistical reasons. After all, lush fairways and tricky greens can be created anywhere; only certain venues, though, are spacious enough for luxury corporate suites, gargantuan merchandise tents and overflow parking lots.

All of which leads us to venerable Riviera Country Club, host of three majors but none in the last two decades and none scheduled in the near future. Not that it’s an impossibility. Look, if the USGA can bring a U.S. Open to Merion Golf Club, as it did two years ago, then we shouldn’t write off any course.

But just in case the powers that be don’t see fit to bring a major back to Riviera, for logistical or political or philosophical reasons, that’s fine, too.

The course is just going to go ahead and host its own major this week anyway.

Through two rounds of the Northern Trust Open, conditions are firm enough, scoring is high enough and competitors are muttering to themselves enough to make this look vaguely familiar as one of the big four.

“It's getting that way, yeah,” Retief Goosen agreed. “The rough is thick in places. Yeah, the greens are definitely becoming U.S. Open greens. They are getting firmer and quicker. Some of these holes, if you get away with a par, it's a good score.”

He would know. Though it’s been 11 years since his second of two U.S. Open victories, Goosen has always played his best golf on difficult setups – which also explains his overnight lead entering the weekend.

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But even that news – his first 36-hole lead in a half-decade – underscores the greater theme so far. After scores of 66-70, he finds himself atop the leaderboard at just 6-under.

That’s the highest leading score in relation to par this season by three strokes.

The numbers illustrating Riviera’s difficulty don’t end there, either. The 3-over cut is the highest at a tournament since last year’s Quicken Loan National. And it’s the highest at this course in three years. By comparison, the cut at Pebble Beach last week was 10 strokes better.

“You see the golf course like this and you realize it could definitely have a U.S. Open here,” surmised Ryan Moore, who at 5-under is just a stroke off the lead. “I mean, you just can’t get next to a hole. There were maybe five or six chances today of having something inside 10 feet, unless you get lucky.”

For those players who haven’t walked through the cavernous clubhouse and noted the many forms of memorabilia celebrating those long-ago majors, here’s the annotated history: In 1948, Ben Hogan won the U.S. Open here; in 1983, Hal Sutton won the PGA Championship here; and in 1995, Steve Elkington also won the PGA.

Justin Thomas was only 2 years old during the last leg of that trio, but that doesn’t mean he fails to understand how fierce this course can be.

“I've only played one major but from my experience and from what I've heard from others, this is very U.S. Open‑like,” said Thomas, also a single shot off the pace. “It's very firm and being in the fairway is such a huge premium, and all the spin you can get on it is really important. There are good pins and the greens are small and severe, so you need to be precise with what you're doing with your ball.”

Like at most major championships, the leaderboard entering Saturday’s round might not resemble the one which starts the day on Sunday. With contenders so tightly packed – 25 are within five strokes of the lead – and the course firming up each afternoon, don’t be surprised if a few players post scores early and watch everyone back up later in the day.

For evidence we only have to look back to last year’s edition of this event, when Bubba Watson made the cut on the number, then posted weekend scores of 64-64 to win.

“It’s nice when you can shoot 2 or 3 under and move up the leaderboard,” Moore said. “There’s something kind of nice about that. But at the same time, you know how difficult it is and it’s very easy to shoot 4 or 5 over on this golf course right now and not hit bad golf shots.”

That’s what will be facing players in the final two rounds. There’s a very fine line here at Riviera between success and failure.

But hey, it’s not just unique to this tournament. We can say that about every major.

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.