Risk/reward makes for riveting par-4 10th hole at Riviera

PACIFIC PALISADES, CA - FEBRUARY 21: Bubba Watson hits out of the bunke on the 10th hole  during the final round of the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club on February 21, 2016 in Pacific Palisades, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) Harry How/Getty Images

Risk/reward makes for riveting par-4 10th hole at Riviera

PGA Tour

Risk/reward makes for riveting par-4 10th hole at Riviera

(Editor’s Note: This story appeared in the Feb. 13, 2017 issue of Golfweek.)

The 10th hole at Riviera Country Club is one of the most famous risk/reward, drivable par 4s in golf.

On the scorecard it is listed at 315 yards, but the hole played shorter than that each round in last year’s Northern Trust Open, shrinking to 289 yards for the second round.

The PGA Tour tracks a stat called Going for the Green, and it measures a player’s success rate when he tries to reach the green with his tee shot on a par 4 or hit the green with his second shot on a par 5. On the surface, it might seem that big hitters who rank highly in Going for the Green would eat No. 10 at Riviera alive, but that is not necessarily the case.

In 2016, Bubba Watson, who won at Riviera for the second time, ranked fourth in Going for the Green at 72.43 percent for the PGA Tour season. That means Watson, one of the longest hitters on the Tour, hits the green almost three out of four times when he tries to drive a par 4 or reach a par 5 in two shots. He was 77 under par all last season when going for the green and just 12 under par when he did not.

However, the 10th at Riviera got the best of Watson last year. He bogeyed the hole in the first round, made par on the last three days and finished with a -1.46 strokes gained for the week on it. That means he gave up 1.46 shots to the field average just on that hole.

Image courtesy of Google Earth

Image courtesy of Google Earth

“The green, the nicest way to say it, it’s very difficult,” Watson said in 2015. He went on to say, “I don’t know how to play it.”

In the 2016 Northern Trust Open there were three eagles, 121 birdies, 245 pars, 61 bogeys, nine double bogeys and one “other” made on No. 10, yielding a stroke average of 3.9 (fourth easiest on the course).

While Watson struggled, others proved the 10th can be tamed. Adam Scott, who tied for second last year behind Watson, birdied the hole Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and he made par Sunday. Jason Kokrak, with whom Scott tied for second place, birdied it Friday and Saturday and made par Thursday and Sunday.

Length is not the issue on the 10th. It’s all about getting the ball into the ideal position off the tee so the second shot to the tiny green arrives from the best possible angle. That nearly always means coming in from the left side, an area guarded by a bunker positioned about 50 yards from the green.

In the first round of the tournament last year, when the hole was toward the middle of the green, just a bit toward the back bunker, no player made birdie with an approach from the right half of the fairway or right rough. In later rounds there were birdies made from the right side, but for the week only eight players got up and down from the front greenside bunker to make birdie.

If players choose to lay up off the tee, a straight 225-yard shot clears the cross bunkers to the widest area of the fairway, leaving 70-80 yards to the hole. That’s can be an awkward distance for the approach shot to the small green.

Statistically speaking, the best time to attack the green off the tee is when the hole is in the front left of the green, because for the most part the bunkers are then out of play. Last year, when the hole was front-left in the third round, Chad Collins and Chez Reavie chipped in for eagle, 34 birdies were made and just four bogeys were carded.

The numbers show that as with most great golf holes, the 10th at Riviera can be played in many different ways, but every golfer needs to have a plan and execute it almost perfectly to make a birdie.

10th Hole Hijinx

The chart below shows how the last five winners have fared on the 10th hole:
screen-shot-2017-02-14-at-3-39-00-pm

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