2012 PGA Tour: Riviera a Tough Test on Day One of the Northern Trust Open

Kevin Casey@kevincasey19Contributor IFebruary 16, 2012

Phil Mickelson was all smiles Thursday as he took the lead at the Northern Trust Open
Phil Mickelson was all smiles Thursday as he took the lead at the Northern Trust OpenHarry How/Getty Images

Just four days after Phil Mickelson shot a blistering final-round 64 to take home the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am crown, he is on top again.

The left-hander sure has a flare for the dramatic, chipping in on 18 for his sixth birdie of the day (against just one bogey) to finish at five-under-par and hold a one-shot lead at the end of the first day of the Northern Trust Open, which was suspended due to darkness.

J.B. Holmes had his round to five-under at one point as well, but faded slightly at the end, double bogeying the eighth (his 17th hole of the day) before finishing with a birdie at nine and a 4-under-par total.

Hunter Mahan also finished the day four-under, finding his groove near the end of his round. Starting on the back nine, Mahan struggled, remaining at even par through 14 holes. But Mahan then caught fire, birdieing five, six, seven and eight before parring nine and finishing at his four-under total.

Jonathan Byrd and Carl Pettersson are two back at three-under-par and world #1 Luke Donald had a solid PGA Tour debut with a one-under 70 that left him just four shots off the lead.

Despite these players, Riviera put up quite a battle during the first round. The course bewildered world-class players such as Adam Scott (two-over-par 73), Nick Watney (two-over-par 73) and Rickie Fowler (four-over-par 75), and allowed just 21 sub-par rounds of the 114 golfers who finished Thursday.

The scoring average of the morning group was 73.76—almost three stokes above par— and although the afternoon wave had it a little better, it was still none too easy. No player was able to go low, as evidenced by Mickelson’s modest five-under-par 66 leading the way.

The secret to Riviera’s tough play on Thursday was the wind. With gusts of up to 30 miles per hour, it was tough going for much of the field in the first round.

On a course that requires so much strategy and punishes any shots that are out of place, big winds had a magnifying effect, forcing slightly errant shots far off the strategic map. 

The results Thursday were still been surprising, though.

Riviera is one of the PGA Tour’s most beautiful courses, but it is far from the toughest. The winning score here the last five years has averaged just over 14-under-par, and only twice in the last decade has the winning score been in single digits under-par.

The last time a major championship was played here (the 1995 PGA Championship), the winning score was 17-under-par, a result that further proves the rather average difficulty of the Los Angeles course.

The scores Thursday are far different from last week when three players stood atop the leaderboard at nine-under-par. It will be interesting to see if the course can keep it up, though.

Riviera has surely taken its toll on Thursday's pairings, but will players flourish when the winds die down? We will see over the next three days.