By Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
Riviera Country Club changed tremendously from Thursday to Sunday during the Northern Trust Open.
Saturday was a huge shock to players who had to quickly adjust. Riviera became very dry and very fast due to a lack of moisture and wind. When PGA TOUR players hit short irons into greens that take a huge bounce and release upon impact, it gets a golfer’s attention.
Saturday and Sunday at Riviera were extremely difficult. Given the perfect weather conditions, I thought Riviera was the most difficult course we’ve seen this year on the PGA TOUR.
Home game: Riviera is a hard course to learn. The rough, the small greens -- they all require experience and local knowledge. You see very few inexperienced players win at Riviera. John Merrick went to school at nearby UCLA and played dozens of rounds at Riviera during college. His chip from behind the 18th green during the playoff showed a beautiful touch that could only be learned through experience. The 90-yard wedge he hit into the 10th green during the second playoff hole had the perfect amount to spin to hold the green.
Game plan: Fredrik Jacobson came to the 17th hole tied for the lead with a game plan. Everyone seemed to be going for the par 5 in two shots; Jacobson played to his strength and hit 3-wood off the tee. He is 152nd on TOUR in driving distance at 279 yards but is eighth on TOUR in wedge play between 50-75 yards and is fourth in strokes gained-putting. The result: drive into the fairway, lay up, wedge onto the green and a missed putt. It was still perfect strategy but his putt from above the hole could not be charged and broke across the hole. Jacobson had another misfire on the 18th hole with a pull left that could have put him into a playoff. You wonder if nerves played a role in his last two misses.
Posture: Charl Schwartzel weighs 140 pounds and averaged more than 305 yards per drive this week. He does not need body mass to crush the ball because he has perfect posture creating levers in the golf swing. Schwartzel’s swing produces effortless power.
Kikuyu: The rough took its toll again this year. The unique strain of African grass causes problems because it is thick and wiry. It’s often described as Bermuda on steroids. It was first grown at Riviera because it is so thick and was a perfect turf for the club’s polo fields. On a golf course, the long tendrils grab a golf club creating twist and misdirection. Chipping was also an adventure as the fringes, which contain Kikuyu, became sticky.
There was a good deal of guesswork involved this week playing out of the rough and fringe. Webb Simpson made an all-world bogey at the eighth hole when he drove wide to the right, took a drop, hit short of the green, chipped up to 8 feet and one-putted for a 5. He conquered both the kikuyu rough and fringe on the same hole and was so excited at making bogey he delivered a first pump.
Poa annua: One PGA TOUR player told me the West Coast swing means, “four weeks of poa.” The poa annua grass can be a beautiful putting surface but grows at an uneven pace creating “bumps” on the green. Like a speed bump, the ball rolls and hits the occasional ramp and gets airborne.
Players try to eliminate that deviant hop by striking putts firmly with lots of topspin. The problem with that strategy is the miss. If a firmly struck putt does not go into the cup, the player is left with a bumpy 3-footer. Bill Haas’ putt for par on the sixth hole got airborne twice and still went into the cup. Schwartzel’s putt on the 17th hole was bumped off line.
Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here.