LOS ANGELES – The redness in Corey Pavin’s left eye was so evident that when a reporter asked him what happened, Pavin playfully covered it with his hand and replied, “What do you mean?”
It was just a case of pink eye, although Pavin would have reason to shed tears this week.
The former U.S. Open champion and Ryder Cup captain played his first PGA Tour event at Riviera in 1980, when he was a 19-year-old at UCLA. Pavin opened with an even-par 71 that day, although he wound up missing the cut.
He played as a rookie in 1984 and has missed only once at Riviera since then – 1993, when his son was born.
Pavin will tee it up at the Northern Trust Open on Thursday for the 29th time, and he understands this could be his last time. He was exempt this year because even though he turned 50 and spent most of 2010 with his Ryder Cup captain duties, he still managed to keep his card by finishing in the top 125 on the money list.
“I don’t know if this will be my last Northern Trust Open. It could be,” Pavin said Wednesday. “But it’s nice to be back here again.”
In an era where the premium wasn’t always on power, when a track like Riviera demanded players to maneuver shots, Pavin thrived. He won the tournament in 1994 and 1995, becoming the first player since Ben Hogan to win at Riviera in consecutive years.
The good memories far outweigh the bad, although Pavin tries to forget the latter.
The single greatest shot he has hit at the Riv? He had to think for a few minutes before coming up with a shot that meant something to Pavin because of the situation.
It was in 1994, his second shot in the par-4 18th, although he can’t recall whether it was a 2-iron or a 3-iron.
“I knew I needed to hit a good shot to cinch the tournament, and I hit a really good, long iron in the back right corner of the green,” he said. “I knew if I hit a poor shot there, that would have opened the door for Freddie (Couples) to have a chance. So that was probably the best clutch shot I hit here.”
The chances this year? Probably not very good.
Pavin hasn’t made the cut the last three times he has played in the Northern Trust Open. The course has gotten too long, and rain that has made the course soft in recent years hasn’t helped.
Besides, he is ready to move on to compete against guys his own age.
Pavin said Riviera is among only four PGA Tour events he will play this year. The others are The Players Championship, Colonial and the Travelers Championship in Hartford, Conn., where a year ago he lost in a playoff.
There’s no point in looking back on memories of Riviera, or anything else, the Ryder Cup included. One reporter had not seen Pavin since he left for Wales and asked his thoughts on the week and what happened.
“We finished second at the Ryder Cup,” Pavin said, showing his dry humor that was never fully appreciated during his captaincy.
He didn’t do much the rest of the year, and is ready to get back to golf on the Champions Tour, where he had two close calls in his rookie season before losing to Couples, and old nemesis, and to Bernhard Langer in the U.S. Senior Open.
A few Ryder Cup memories abound.
Eleven players from his American team are at Riviera this week, the lone exception Tiger Woods. That includes Steve Stricker, the defending champion who eased his way to a two-shot victory last year.
The lineup is shaping up as the strongest field so far this year. Even without the top three in the world ranking – Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Woods—the field boasts five of the top 10 in the world and 16 of the top 30.
From last year’s money list, only three of the top 20 are missing – Ernie Els, Tim Clark and Camilo Villegas, all of whom planned to be at the Northern Trust Open except for nagging injuries.
British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen makes his debut as a PGA Tour member, as does another “rookie” – 41-year-old Robert Karlsson of Sweden, who showed how serious he was about his U.S. membership by moving from Monaco to Charlotte, N.C.
Ryo Ishikawa, the 19-year-old sensation from Japan, also is in the field.
And then there’s Phil Mickelson, who feels he is close to getting his game on track and will try to win at Riviera for the third time.
“I’ve been playing well,” he said. “I’ve got just a slight hurdle to get over where I’ve got to get the scores down to how I feel I’m playing. Some of that will be course management, some of that will just be getting a couple putts to drop, but I feel like I’m right on the cusp of playing some really good golf.”
For Mickelson, the biggest concern is getting to the course.
As usual, he is staying home in San Diego this week and commuting by jet. A few years ago, he crowed when he walked into the door of his house and called his caddie, who was still stuck in traffic on his way to a local hotel.
Mickelson had a slightly tougher time Wednesday, with such low cloud cover that he was forced to land in Van Nuys, adding a half-hour to his flight. He’s not losing any sleep over that one.
“I’m a little concerned the next day or two getting in with some of the low minimums of the clouds,” Mickelson said. “It looks like it’s going to be OK.”
As for his game? Mickelson isn’t worried about that, either.