Kokrak on upward trend at Riviera
February 19, 2016
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
- Jason Kokrak averaged 316.7 yards off the tee in Round 2 en route to a 7-under 64. (Harry How/Getty Images)
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- Here are a few observations following the second round of the Northern Trust Open where Jason Kokrak fired a 64 to open a one-stroke lead over Chez Reavie. For more information, click here to read the Daily Wrap.
1. PASSING GRADE: Jason Kokrak would be the first to admit he's struggled to learn how to play Riviera Country Club. In four previous starts at the Northern Trust Open, after all, the big-hitting Canadian shot a cumulative 20 over.
Through 36 holes this week, though, Kokrak has reversed that trend. In fact, he is a cumulative 10 under as he stalks what would be his first PGA TOUR win.
"It's right there in front of you," said Kokrak, who made eight birdies in Friday's 64. "There's no tricky shots. It's just it's a good tough golf course, good test."
As might be expected, Kokrak, who ranks ninth on TOUR in driving distance, birdied all three par 5s at The Riv in the second round. He also had "kick-in" birdies of 8 inches at the par 3 14th and 28 inches at No. 15.
Kokrak came in confident after shooting 67-69 on the weekend at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, too. His putter has been particularly cooperative of late, and Kokrak says that's the key to good weeks for him.
"But the way I hit it on Saturday and Sunday at Pebble, I can definitely see something special coming," Kokrak said. "But I just put myself in position, just like I'm going to try to do the next couple days and see what happens."
Jason Kokrak shoots 7-under to take 36-hole lead at Northern Trust
2. SKI BUMS: Dustin Johnson says he's probably a 2 handicap as a skier. Justin Leonard, on the other hand, is likely scratch considering he skies almost five days a week when he's back home in Aspen.
Johnson, who fired a 66 on Friday, went on a couple of ski trips in the last few months and finds the sport is a good leg workout. Don't expect the lanky South Carolinian to go all Bode Miller on us, though.
"I ski, but I'm very cautious," he said.
In Colorado, skiing is a great outlet because Leonard, who shot 69 on Friday and trails by four, can't exactly hit the range during the winter. In fact, he estimated he went 35 days without touching a club before playing in the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
"My work, when I'm not here at a golf tournament, is simply in the gym," Leonard said. "I don't have a place to hit balls. I take my clubs out of the travel cover to make sure nothing's broken and then they sit in the corner until I pack them up again.
"It's been nice. And I've talked myself into believing that skiing is actually helping my golf."
3. CHANGE IS GOOD: Johnson has four finishes of fourth or better in the last six years at The Riv. In fact, he lost in a playoff a year ago and finished solo second in 2014.
That success didn't preclude Johnson from making some changes in his bag entering this year's event, though. He put a new TaylorMade M2 drive in his bag this week as well as a new set of PSi Tour irons.
"I spent a lot of time on the range just with TrakMan getting the distances dialed in," Johnson said. "I felt really comfortable. I mean, it seems to be working so far.
"I haven't hit any balls that came up weird yardages or anything. Everything's going how I've been planning it to go."
4. LURKING CLOSE: Rory McIlroy, who is making his debut at the Northern Trust Open this week, liked Riviera Country Club immediately.
"I don't feel like I have to play really good to still shoot a score," McIlroy explained. "It's that sort of golf course, if you can limit your mistakes and play solid golf, it's there to score. It's a fun golf course. It's just fun to play."
As if to lend credence to his words, McIlroy had a bit of a roller-coaster round on Friday. But his 69 left the world No. 3 in the hunt at 6 under, just four off the lead.
"I think it was sort of a tail of two nines," McIlroy said. "I played the front nine very well, very solid, 3-under par. I think for me, that's the more difficult nine on this golf course.
"And the back nine was a little scrappy. The bogey on 10, which you can do here, I mean, it's a tricky golf hole. I sort of put myself out of position. But bogey from the middle of the fairway at 13 and then to 3-putt 15, as well. Sort of two unforced errors there.
"I can't make those going into the weekend, if I want to have a chance to win."
5. NUMBERS GAME: Of the top six players on the leaderboard, four rank 16th or better on TOUR in driving distance -- all averaging more than 300 yards.
Kokrak is ninth with an average of 310.9 yards. Bubba Watson and Johnson, who trail by two, clock in at Nos. 4 and 6, respectively, with averages of 314.7 and 313 yards. Marc Leishman, who is 7 under, is No. 16 and averages 306 yards.
Conversely, Chez Reavie, who is alone in second, ranks in a three-way tie for 116th in driving distance at 290.4 yards. And Troy Merritt, also tied for third, is 161st with an average of 285.6.
So who has the edge? We'll have more clarity on Sunday. But Watson is a former champ and Johnson has runner-up finishes each of the last two years.
"Having length is an advantage I think on most golf courses," Kokrak said. "You can't hit driver on certain spots but a lot of the long par 4s, you've got to hit driver on. A couple of those longer ones are into the wind but the par 5s are all gettable. 1 obviously; I hit just a 4-wood into 17.
"They are long par 5s, but for us, we can get there in two, as some of the other guys can't, just depending on where the pin is. But you leave yourself short-sided or a difficult up-and-down, it's very difficult to get it up-and-down around here."
6. COSTLY PENALTY: Brendon de Jonge was hit with a four-stroke penalty for playing with a non-conforming club on Friday.
De Jonge bent the handle of his lob wedge on his last hole Thursday after hitting it in frustration against his golf bag. He realized the club was damaged when he started to use it on the second hole in the second round.
De Jonge immediately called a rules official over. He was assessed a two-stroke penalty for each of the first two holes when the damaged club was in his bag and ended up shooting 77. (The maximum penalty is four.)
De Jonge, who had opened with a 71, missed the cut.
QUOTE OF THE DAYI played well here in the PGA in '95, and since then, I've just been waiting to get back on that roll that I had in '95. So maybe it just takes 25 years.
CALL OF THE DAY
Rory McIlroy drains a 58-foot birdie at No. 3 during the second round of the Northern Trust Open.
Free play-by-play coverage of the Round 3 from Riviera streams from 2-8 p.m. ET on PGATOUR.COM.
SHOT OF THE DAY
Shot of the Day
Rory McIlroy's birdie bomb on No. 3 is the Shot of the Day
Rory's tee shot hit this fan.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 19, 2016
Apology accepted. pic.twitter.com/zDopSFP0SS