Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., plays host to the 2014 Northern Trust Open, and despite the course's lack of length and straightforward layout, the historic venue has stood the test of time with its simplistic beauty.
Not to mention, it always winds up being a stern test of golf on the PGA Tour's West Coast swing. John Merrick is the defending champion, winning a thrilling playoff over Charlie Beljan in last year's tournament.
With tricky, subtle green slopes and kikuyu grass that can grab approach shots in odd ways, it's difficult to tell where the ball will end up all the time at Riviera as professional golf's elite navigate the scenic terrain.
Among the chief developments at the outset of the 2013-14 tour campaign is the meteoric rise of Jimmy Walker. The 35-year-old was a rather unknown player before breaking out with three wins in his past eight starts, capped by last week's triumph at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
Walker credits his work with renowned swing coach Butch Harmon for his raging success as of late, per ESPN.com's Bob Harig:
I think the older you get, the harder it is to take advice from people, I think it's just the nature of people anyway. So I really committed myself when I went to go see [Harmon], to come in with a blank slate, that I want help and listen. I think that's hard to give in and listen to somebody, especially when you go to make a swing change or work with anybody about anything, you've got to get in and believe and buy what they are telling you. I have and I think it's been good.
Seeing how Walker continues handling the pressure of being thrust into the spotlight will be a fascinating subplot, along with the bevy of world-class talent that occupies the field this week.
Below is an overview of the basic information for the Northern Trust Open, and after is a breakdown of what's happening inside the ropes as it unfolds. Read on to see how the tournament is going, with a recap and leaderboard analysis for each day.
Note: Video, statistics and player information are courtesy of PGATour.com.
When: Thursday, Feb. 13 through Sunday, Feb. 16
Where: Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif.
Purse: $6.7 million
FedEx Cup Points: 500
For the first time since Bubba Watson gave his resume and stardom a giant boost by winning the 2012 Masters, the booming left-hander has won a PGA event.
With a score 269 to put him at 15-under on the par 71 course, Watson has won the 2014 Northern Trust Open.
Have a look at the final leadboard:
2014 Northern Trust Open Final Leaderboard
Watson made a fierce charge up the leaderboard over the last two days of this event.
He wound up his tournament with back-to-back 64s. That strong finish has to be a nice bit of confidence for Watson. In his last tour start, Watson choked away a late lead in the Phoenix Open. He bogeyed two of the last three holes and lost by one.
There would be no such slip ups on this day for Watson. He didn't pick up a single Sunday bogey. The field got a giant sign that things may break his way when he holed out from a bunker, in the above video, on the par-3 sixth hole for a birdie.
That was Watson's fourth birdie in the opening six holes. Although he didn't need his flat iron on that hole, PGA.com points out that Watson can thank his great putter work for this victory:
Watson began the day in sixth, but by the time he finished, he could feel comfortable the win was his. Fellow masher Dustin Johnson, who also began Round 4 tied for sixth, was Watson's closest competition, and he finished two strokes off the lead.
Johnson was also bogey free on Sunday. He birdied No. 15 and he was just one back of Watson at that point. That would be his last birdie of the day, however, and Watson picked up a stroke on the course with a birdie on the final hole.
Then there was third-round leader William McGirt. He opened the round with a two-stroke lead, but it was clear from the early goings he didn't have his best swing.
McGirt was fighting the course all day.
He did start his round with a birdie, but he gave it back on the very next hole. He then had to claw just to finish the par-35 front nine with a 36. With Johnson and Watson posting lots of early birdies, McGirt was already off the lead at that point, which Wofford Athletics helps us recount:
Now, McGirt will have to look towards other events for his first career tour victory. As for Watson and Johnson, they will be hoping to take this hot hand into Augusta for the year's first major.
William McGirt carries a two-shot lead into the final round after what was a scorching 18 holes on Saturday.
In each of his first two rounds, the 34-year-old struggled on the front nine. That wasn't an issue in Round 3, as he wasted little time in putting the rest of the field on notice. He birdied five of the first six holes before leveling off a bit.
McGirt would go on to birdie Nos. 10, 11 and 13 before bogeying 15 and finishing with a six-under 65. That great performance puts just 18 holes between McGirt and the first PGA Tour victory of his career.
It would be a deserved honor for somebody Jason Sobel of the GolfChannel.com calls the "down-to-earthiest on the Tour:
On a tour that is -- no joke -- filled with down-to-earth guys, Will McGirt is amongst the downest-to-earth. Or maybe down-to-earthiest.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) February 15, 2014
After the round, McGirt remained humble and focused on the round ahead, per Doug Ferguson of the Associated Press (via PGA.com).
"It's just 18 more holes, and whatever is going to happen is going to happen," he said. "All I can do is go out and play the best I can."
Another golfer who helped himself on Saturday was Bubba Watson. His seven-under 64 was the lowest score of the round.
Watson moved into a tie for sixth at eight under. Only four shots off McGirt, he could make a late push, but he acknowledged that he'll need to start well on the front nine in order to close over the final nine holes, per Randall Mell of GolfChannel.com:
Bubba Watson after his 64: "I'm looking at giving myself a chance on the back nine tomorrow. I want that chance going to the back nine."— Randall Mell (@RandallMellGC) February 15, 2014
George McNeill and Charlie Beljan will be ones to watch on Sunday, as they're only two strokes behind McGirt. Both golfers have been consistent throughout all three rounds, so in the event they don't get to the top of the leaderboard, they'll be lurking all day.
Sang Moon-Bae was one shot better on Friday than he was on Thursday. Subsequently, he took a one-shot lead over a tight field at the Northern Trust Open.
He came into the day in a logjam at second place and trailing Dustin Johnson. The latter couldn't keep up the pace, though. He shot a one-over 70 on Friday to fall three strokes back.
Heading into the weekend, it's still anyone's tournament, though.
Four shots separate 13 players. Unless someone catches fire on Saturday, this should be a tight race through Sunday. Thanks to amazing shots like this from Robert Garrigus, the field is keeping Sang in their sights.
This is an awesome eagle on the 17th hole.
Sang stayed bogey free throughout the second round. He really solidified his strong performance with back-to-back birdies on the 16th and 17th holes.
After being in the hunt through the first two rounds last year, Sang fell off the pace. He was asked what he learned from the experience. He told Doug Ferguson of The Star Tribune:
"It was really, really good experience, and I learned a lot. I improved a lot from last year."
Ferguson points out, holding on to the lead this weekend may be hard because of excellent weather. He writes:
"Patience surely will be required at some point over the weekend on what has shaped up as one of the best weeks of weather at Riviera — an abundance of sunshine and only a trace of wind."
Can Sang hold on to the lead this year? We'll have to wait and see.
Day 1 Leaderboard and Recap
|Position||Player||Score (To Par)|
|1||Dustin Johnson||66 (-5)|
|T2||J.B. Holmes||-4 through 16 holes|
|T2||Robert Garrigus||67 (-4)|
|T2||Francesco Molinari||67 (-4)|
|T2||Jimmy Walker||67 (-4)|
|T2||Charlie Beljan||67 (-4)|
|T2||Sang-Moon Bae||67 (-4)|
|T2||Scott Stallings||67 (-4)|
|T2||Brian Harman||67 (-4)|
|T2||Matt Jones||67 (-4)|
|T2||Sang-Moon Bae||67 (-4)|
|T2||Blake Adams||67 (-4)|
Dustin Johnson capitalized on a strong tie for second at Pebble Beach last week by carrying the momentum over to the first round of the 2014 Northern Trust Open on Thursday.
The powerful player put together a stellar round of shot-making to complement his trademark booming tee shots and power en route to a five-under 66 to break ahead of a slew of players at four under par.
ESPN stats guru Justin Ray highlighted Johnson's ball-striking prowess:
Dustin Johnson in 1st round at Riviera last 4 years: 2011-13: combined +7, hit 52% greens in reg. Today: -5, hit 16/18 GIR.— Justin Ray (@JRayESPNGolf) February 14, 2014
American compatriot and fellow past Ryder Cup player J.B. Holmes has struggled through injuries in recent seasons but made a push as Johnson sat in the clubhouse for a long time with the lead. Holmes got to five under through 15 holes but bogeyed the par-three 16th and parred in to tie 11 others in second.
Play was suspended due to darkness at Riviera before Holmes and several others could finish their opening rounds, per the PGA Tour Media's Twitter account:
@NTrustOpen round one suspended due to darkness at 5:42 p.m. PT. Restart Friday at 7:30 a.m. PT.— PGA TOUR Media (@PGATOURmedia) February 14, 2014
Holmes missed the cut last year but has had success here in the past:
J.B. Holmes missed the cut at Riviera last year. Before that: T-8, T-12, T-3, T-6, T-7. He's making another run: http://t.co/WKHUJXrJSO— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 14, 2014
Among the notables in that massive cluster are current FedEx Cup points leader Jimmy Walker and Charlie Beljan, who lost in a playoff in this tournament in 2013.
Walker closed out his day in style with a 29-foot putt on the par-four finishing hole, which gave him three straight birdies to finish with a 67.
Jimmy Walker finished birdie-birdie-birdie to get within one of the lead. It started with this beauty of a tee shot: http://t.co/Hp6aVcbc34— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 14, 2014
A trio of big names lurk at three under in Keegan Bradley, Jim Furyk and Rickie Fowler. Sporting a much shorter haircut—perhaps an illusion to a more precise approach under new swing instructor Butch Harmon—Fowler chipped in to get his round going on the par-four 15th and then rolled in a birdie putt on No. 16.
Even those lurking as far as six shots off the pace have a chance to get back into this tournament. Given how tight it is at the top, just about anything can happen as these golfers attempt to make the weekend cut.
Riviera should continue fostering another excellent event and see the likes of last week's stars in Johnson and Walker continue to thrive. However, there are plenty of challengers who posted strong first-round scores that should be prominent factors over the next three days.