LOS ANGELES – Ten years after Australia’s Robert Allenby won a six-man playoff at Riviera, he was part of a nine-way tie for the lead Thursday in the Northern Trust Open.
Allenby kept it simple on a gorgeous day along Sunset Boulevard with a 4-under 67 that turned out to be enough for a share of the lead when former Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin faltered late.
It was the highest score to lead after one round at Riviera in 15 years.
Also atop the leaderboard when play was suspended by darkness were John Senden, Martin Laird, Spencer Levin, Aaron Baddeley, Ben Martin, Bill Haas, Carl Pettersson and J.B. Holmes.
In what might be the best weather all week, no one separated himself in mild temperatures, a light breeze and a sky clear enough to offer a peek of the Pacific Ocean through the eucalyptus trees.
A few players managed to stand out.
Dustin Johnson’s caddie thought his tee time was 40 minutes later than it really was, so Johnson was on the practice range in the middle of his warm-up routine when he was supposed to be high on the hill on the first tee. Johnson was penalized two shots, and nearly was disqualified. Players have five minutes to get to the tee, and Johnson got their with 6 seconds to spare.
He wound up with a 73.
Then came the retro movement of Pavin and Fred Couples, who combined to win this tournament four times during a six-year stretch in the early 1990s. Couples, whose back is in such bad shape that he’s going for treatment next week, made three straight birdies at the turn and shot a 68.
Pavin was the only player to reach 5 under, and it would have been an amazing story if he didn’t have to play the last six holes. But he made three bogeys in the twilight, including his last two holes, and had to settle for a 69.
“You always want to finish off a round, so it’s a little disappointing in that regard,” Pavin said. “But I just went out there and hit every shot the best I could, and I just didn’t finish the way I wanted to. But if I had said, ‘Take 2 under before the round started,’ I maybe would have taken it. I’m not sure.”
Phil Mickelson got off to a great start with birdies on his opening two holes, only to look suspect with a few irons and a few putts. He wound up with a 71. His hope is that the rain holds off until he finishes the second round.
“I thought it was going to be a great day but I gave a lot of shots back, made too many bogeys,” Mickelson said. “I’ll have a good chance tomorrow morning to get out and try to go low. This afternoon it was tough to make some putts. Even though there were some low scores, I struggled getting the ball to go in. And I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s early round.”
Vijay Singh, who turns 48 on Tuesday, continued to showed signs of getting back into the mix. He had a 68 and was in a large group that included Padraig Harrington.
Geoff Ogilvy was part of the pack at 69, with a round that included a 3-iron to tap-in range for eagle and what will go down as a two-putt par from 70 feet, even though it was much better. Realizing the greens were so fast and the putt could break sharply to the left and roll into a bunker, he chipped his sand wedge some 20 feet right of the pin and watched it roll to a foot away.
Typical of this tournament, not everyone could finish. Fourteen players will return Friday to finish the round, although the conditions could be much different.
Rain is expected for much of the next two days, which is why Haas was pleased with his start.
“If I was 2 over right now, I wouldn’t like the forecast,” he said. “Nobody likes the forecast, anyway, but we’ve all got to play in it, and I was fortunate to shoot a good round when it was nice.”
Allenby has not won on the PGA Tour in 10 years, and that 2001 season started with a dramatic win at Riviera. In a six-man playoff that featured two players at Riviera this year as broadcasters – Dennis Paulson and Brandel Chamblee – he hit 3-wood from 235 yards in a cold, driving rain to about 5 feet for birdie on the 18th.
That was a decade ago, although Allenby hasn’t lost his love for this course.
“This golf course suits me,” he said.
For the first round, it seemed to suit just about everybody. The Aussies ruled early, with Senden and Baddeley joining Allenby atop the leaderboard among those who teed off in the morning.
“Maybe looking at all the big gum trees around the golf course makes this feel like we’re at home,” Senden said.
No one feels more at home than Couples, although there were times he wishes he could have been somewhere else. His back has been acting up, and it started to get to him toward the end of his round.
“It’s the shorter clubs that kill me,” Couples said. “But at the end of the day, I played 18 holes and had a great round.”
He then mentioned an MRI he has planned for Monday, followed by a treatment that he did not want to discuss. And he left little room to guess what it might be, saying that it was a “couple little things that may happen,” then describing it as “pretty drastic” and that “it’ll be fun for me to do it.”
That was about as easy to decipher as the leaderboard.