PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – It’s hard to believe that players would be making their 2013 PGA Tour debuts in the middle of February. It’s even harder to believe that any player would shoot a low number on a difficult golf course in that debut.
Sergio Garcia accomplished both on Thursday at Riviera Country Club. The Spaniard’s 6-under 65 came on an afternoon in which the conditions were perfect for much of the day, but with three holes to go the temperature dropped 10 or so degrees as a marine layer rolled in from the Pacific Ocean.
But even Mother Nature could not derail Garcia from tying his second-best score at Riviera.
“It’s the kind of golf course that if you play well, you can shoot a decent score, but if you are not on, you can struggle quite a bit,” Garcia said. “So it’s a great test to start the year for me, and it’s not an easy golf course. So that those are the kind of courses that I enjoy playing.”
Garcia may enjoy playing Riviera, but he has had only two top-10 finishes at Hogan’s Alley in seven starts. In 2007, Garcia recorded four rounds in the 60s and shot 11 under, five shots out of a playoff won by Charles Howell III.
Last year, Garcia shot a final-round 64, his best round ever at Riviera, and moved from a T-49 to T-4, two shots short of a playoff won by Bill Haas.
With his 65 on Thursday, Garcia is 13 under for his last two rounds at the Northern Trust Open and is in his best position since a tie for the lead in 2001, when he opened with a 5-under 66.
“I feel like I’m playing quite well,” Garcia said. “I feel more comfortable with my irons than I feel with my driver. It doesn’t mean that I’m driving the ball badly. But I’m not quite as confident with it.”
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2. OH, BUBBA: Five players – Chris Stroud, Carl Pettersson, Cameron Beckman, Sean O’Hair and Stephen Ames – withdrew on the first day of the Northern Trust Open.
And with Steve Marino’s DQ after he signed for a lower score, two groups have been eliminated from Friday’s second round. So you have to wonder if Bubba Watson wishes he were sick or injured as well after a first-round, 6-over 77, his worst score in a non-major since the third round of the Tour Championship in 2011, when he shot 79.
“Just bad shots, yeah, that’s all it is, making bad swings,” Watson said after his round. “I’m going to go to the range. Normally I don’t go to the range, but I just don’t have it, so I’ve got to try to find it.”
Watson has struggled at Riviera. In six appearances, the Masters champion has missed two cuts, WD’d once and has three finishes in the teens: a T-14 in 2008, T-17 in 2009 and T-13 last year.
During those 17 rounds, Watson has recorded only six rounds under par, with his best a 68, on three occasions.
Playing competitor Fred Couples agreed that Watson struggled Thursday.
“I think when you start missing greens here, you’re really not going to get them up‑and‑down, and I think he was struggling judging distances and maybe a couple sour lies in the rough where he was short of a couple greens,” Couples said of Watson’s game. “I think he drove it pretty well. But his irons were a little bit short, and a couple were aggressive. And you know, you just get on these bogey trains around here, and next thing you know, you don’t make many birdies.”
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3. REMEMBER GLEN CAMPBELL: Fred Couples is playing in his 31st Northern Trust Open, but 2010 Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin has a long history at the course known as Hogan’s Alley, as well.
Pavin is playing in his 29th annual sojourn to the City of Angles. His run started in 1980 when the event was called the Glen Campbell/Los Angeles Open. It has since gone by names such as the Los Angeles Open, the Los Angeles Open Presented by Nissan, Nissan Los Angeles Open and Nissan Open before adopting its current name, the Northern Trust Open, in 2008.
“I love Riviera,” said Pavin, 53, the 1994 and ’95 champion here and an alumnus of nearby UCLA.
“The course is longer and it’s a little harder for me to play than it used to be, but I feel like if I play well I can compete out here and have a chance. That’s why I’m here. There’s only a couple courses on Tour that I kind of feel that way about, and Colonial is one of them and Riviera is another one of them.”
When Pavin played in 1980, Riviera played 7,029 yards and to a par of 71. This year, the course is still a par-71, but 7,349 yards.
But the biggest difference was the 1980 purse was only $250,000; 33 years later, it’s $6.6 million.
Since his win in 1995, Pavin has not cracked the top 10 here. In his last four starts at Riviera, he has missed the cut three times and finished T-55, in 2011. But for Pavin, an Oxnard native, it’s more than just playing at Riviera.
“It’s fun to come back and I get to see some guys I haven’t seen for a while, as well, so that’s kind of fun, too.”
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4. LUMPY BACK IN L.A.: Tim Herron has played in seven Northern Trust Opens in his career, the last coming in 2009 when he missed the cut.
In fact, in those seven appearances he has missed the cut five times and finished in the top 20 only once, a T-15 in 1999.
So his appearance after a three-year absence seemed unusual, but as players get older their reasons for picking tournaments change.
“I’m more of like, Let’s go out in a cart and play Riv, chill out,” Herron said of how he would like to play Hogan’s Alley. “I haven’t made that many cuts here, so I kind of took it off. I used to play pretty much the West Coast and take off this tournament, but I decided to switch it up, had some birthdays, stuff like that, so thought I’d give it a shot.“
Herron shot 3-under 68 Thursday, his best opening round ever. He stands T-7, four shots off Matt Kuchar’s lead going into Friday’s second round.
“It’s been totally a weird year because usually I struggle with my putting and my ball‑striking comes around,” Herron said. “This is taking a while because my kids are a certain age where I’m home a lot more, so I don’t go on the road to practice, and when I do, it’s in Phoenix and it’s 50 degrees in January,” Herron said. “It’s hard to loosen up and really feel what’s going on. So first time all year where I felt like my tempo was pretty good today, and I think I’m working on the right stuff.”
Herron hasn’t made a cut since a T-26 at Sony, when he opened with consecutive 66s but faltered on the weekend.
Now Herron has another good start, but will need to follow it up with some solid golf in the next three rounds to move his victory total to five. If he were to win this week, it would be Herron’s first victory since winning the Bank of America Colonial in 2006.
“It’s not life or death, but it’s important to gain confidence, so that’s what I’m trying to do,” Herron said. “Got a little goal set. If I can make a certain amount on the West Coast, then I’m doing better than I did last year.”
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Jesper Parnevik, who will return to Riviera to complete his first round early Friday, birdied his first hole and followed with 16 consecutive pars. If he makes par or better at 18, he’ll join Matt Kuchar as the only other player not to make a bogey. . . . Charlie Beljan’s 67 included a double bogey at the par-4 12th, where he hit his drive out of bounds. . . . Fred Couples established a tournament record when he made his 31st start at the Northern Trust on Thursday, passing Gene Littler. . . . Dustin Johnson, who won the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions, is in danger of missing his second consecutive cut after an opening 76. His best finish in three starts since Kapalua is a T-51 at the Farmers Insurance Open.