PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – Nine months from now, Fred Couples will take his U.S. Team to Melbourne, Australia to play in the Presidents Cup.
But in the more immediate future on Saturday at Riviera Country Club, two Aussies – Aaron Baddeley and John Senden -- have just pulled within a shot of Fred Couples after making birdies on the par-3 sixth hole. Baddeley’s putt was 6 feet while Senden made it from 5.
Both players from Down Under are bidding to end lengthy victory droughts. Baddeley’s last victory came at the 2007 FBR Open while Senden’s was at the 2006 John Deere Classic.
Their records are Riviera are inconsistent. Baddeley hasn’t missed a Northern Trust Open since 2005 but a tie for seventh in 2005 is his only top-10 finish.
Senden, on the other hand, has only made two cuts in six starts at Riviera. With rounds of 67 and 69 this week, he’s already tripled his tally of sub-70s scores.
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – Kevin Na has gained some ground on Fred Couples midway through the front nine in the third round of the Northern Trust Open.
The 27-year-old Na made three birdies in his first five holes to close the gap to one. He just missed the green at the par-3 sixth hole and made his first bogey, but Na has still pulled into a tie for second with Aaron Baddeley, John Senden and Trevor Immelman.
Na is looking for his first PGA TOUR victory after three runner-up finishes, most recently at last year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard. He two-putted the first hole from 34 feet for his first birdie, then made putts of 5 feet and 12 inches after a pinpoint approach at the fifth hole.
PACIFIC PALISADES – Everyone has teed off in the third round of the Northern Trust Open, and the par-5 first hole has proven generous. Every player in the last three groups – nine in all – made birdie there Saturday morning.
Fred Couples, who rolled in a 94-foot eagle putt on No. 1 in the second round, had a putt of 18 feet to get to 2 under right off the bat. He didn’t make it, but tapped in from 6 inches to maintain his two-stroke lead.
Spencer Levin, Aaron Baddeley, J.B. Holmes and John Senden kept pace and are 7 under. Kevin Na, Stewart Cink and Trevor Immelman are three strokes behind.
The only player late in the second round who had a chance to catch leader Fred Couples was John Senden. Instead, the Aussie three-putted from 10 feet on the final hole -- he hit his first putt 12 feet past the hole -- to give a stroke back and end his day two off the lead at 6 under after a 2-under 69.
A hole earlier, Senden laid up on the par-5 17th only to hit his approach shot to 35 feet and two-putt for par from there.
Three-putting was a rare mistake for Senden, who is eighth in the field this week in putting and ninth in greens in regulation. Still, his nine birdies leave him in good shape going into what looks like will be a wet weekend.
“Today was a little tougher than yesterday I thought with the conditions,” Senden said. “The golf course is actually softening up, which makes it sort of more target golf now, and possibly if we can stick the rain away tomorrow, it'll be ‑‑ I think the scores will be better on the weekend than what we had the first two days.”
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – No matter what happens when the first round of the Northern Trust Open is completed on Friday morning, there will be more players tied for the lead than after any round of any tournament on the PGA TOUR since such records started being kept in 1970.
The current tally is nine – John Senden, Martin Laird, Robert Allenby, Spencer Levin, Aaron Baddeley, Ben Martin, Bill Haas, Carl Pettersson and J.B. Holmes. And Peter Tomasulo could make it 10 if he converts a 13-footer for birdie at the 18th hole when he resumes his first round at 7:45 a.m.
The previous record was eight.
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – Fred Couples is playing with two potential members of his Presidents Cup team this afternoon in Bubba Watson and Anthony Kim. He might want to be keeping an eye on the competition, though.
Of the 12 players at the top of the leaderboard right now who have finished their first rounds in the Northern Trust Open, six are eligible to play for the International Team. Not to mention, five of them are Australians – which should play well when the matches are played at Royal Melbourne Nov. 14-20.
Aussies John Senden, Robert Allenby and Aaron Baddeley are among the six players tied for the lead at 4 under. Two more from Down Under -- Geoff Ogilvy and Stuart Appleby – finished at 2 under while Fiji’s Vijay Singh is among those who shot 68s.
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- At least he beat the daunting rush hour traffic here in Los Angeles.
But John Senden still had a very early wake-up call for his first round of the Northern Trust Open. And with that 7:11 a.m. PT tee time, the veteran from Australia was on the putting green before the sun was up.
"There was one guy there with a torch he was shining on the hole," Senden said, smiling and only half-joking.
The fact that Senden was referring to a flashlight, not a Tonga torch was briefly lost in the translation. Regardless, once he warmed up – the range was lighted and Mother Nature soon cooperated, Senden was on his way to a 67 that was his lowest round in 17 attempts at Riviera.
Senden teed off on the 10th hole and didn't waste time setting the tone for the day as he made a 4-footer for birdie there. He added another from similar distance at the 18th hole to turn in 2 under and followed with a two-putt from the fringe at the par-5 first.
His longest putt of the day was the 25-footer Senden made for his fourth birdie at the fourth hole. He gave that back when he missed an 18-inch putt for par at No. 5 but Senden polished his round off with another 4-footer for birdie at No. 7
"The golf course played extremely well this morning," he said. "... Today I sort of didn't strike the ball extremely well, but my iron shots even out of the rough were pretty good. This year I think the rough isn't as high as it's been. It's playable out of the rough.
"I think previous times I've been here, you hit into the rough and it's a real challenge to get the ball on the green. So I'm thinking that that gives you a lot of chances. You've still got to drive the ball well and come out of the fairways, but today I sort of was lucky enough to get some nice lies in the rough and play my way onto the green, so had a good day."
Senden says Riviera reminds him of some of the courses Down Under. Maybe that's why he's not the only Aussie high on the leaderboard -- Robert Allenby just finished at 4 under, as well.
"I think that maybe looking at all the big gum trees around the golf course makes this feel like we're at home," Senden said with a smile. "It's a fabulous golf course. I really enjoy it. My results here haven't been fantastic, but the nature of the golf course here is similar to what we have in Australia where there's a lot of subtleties. Even though the greens -- some greens are small, some greens are large, so there's a good variety, and that's what we have at home.
"And it's just a great piece of property for a golf course. I think it's in a valley but it's got a lot of slope, a lot of uphill, a lot of downhill shots. Very unique; every hole looks very different. You see a lot of the modern golf courses these days look very much the same every hole, but Riviera is very unique, and it's been great to see that they basically have not changed it over the number of years, well, I've been coming here, but probably go way back and it's hardly changed at all, and that's because it's just a great design from the beginning."
Senden said he'd normally be looking to get between 10 to 15 under to have a chance at his second PGA TOUR title. That said, he's mindful of the rainy weather forecast and how the complexion of the course might change in the next few days.
"I think tomorrow there might be some disruptions with weather, so we've got to be patient with that," Senden said. "And the golf course ... with the little bit of rain yesterday, it was a little bit softer than it was Tuesday. I'm thinking that it can be another soft day again probably tomorrow and Saturday, so it might even be more target golf on the weekend.
"So the scoring might be a little bit lower than expected." -- Helen Ross
It’s still very early in the opening round of the Northern Trust Open, but John Senden is your clubhouse leader -- for now.
The Aussie hit just nine fairways and 10 greens in regulation, but he scrambled well enough to make five birdies and just one bogey on his way to a 67 at Riviera.
Senden has missed each of his last three cuts, but just two years ago had a breakout season with a career-high seven top-10s and more than $2 million in earnings. Last season was a step backward for the 39-year-old, though, as he had just two top-10s.
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – So far this year, Mark Wilson has won every other week he’s played – starting with the Sony Open in Hawaii.
So given past history it should come as no surprise to see the FedExCup leader in contention early at the Northern Trust Open. After all, this is Wilson’s second start since he picked up his second win of the season at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Wilson started on the front nine Thursday and bogeyed his first hole. He’s made three birdies since – sinking putts of 12, 15 and 11 feet – to move to 2 under through 14 holes.
Jarrod Lyle, John Senden and Martin Laird are currently setting the pace at 4 under. – Helen Ross
Add John Senden's name to the growing lost of players at 7 under. The big Aussie already has a tie for 11th and a tie for ninth in two Fall Series events, and he birdied the par-5 ninth to finish with a 64 in the opener at TPC Summerlin.
Senden was 18-for-18 in greens hit on Thursday. For the year, he is fourth on TOUR in GIR and 21st in Total Driving.
Senden missed nine cuts before the Deutsche Bank Championship in the second round of the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup. He finished solo eighth at TPC Boston, breaking 70 in every round.