5 things: Couples' charge impressive at Riviera

Fred Couples celebrates his nearly 100-foot eagle putt on the first green in the second round of the Northern Trust Open PGA golf tournament in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles Friday, Feb. 18, 2011.

Fred Couples celebrates his nearly 100-foot eagle putt on the first green in the second round of the Northern Trust Open PGA golf tournament in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles Friday, Feb. 18, 2011.

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Fred Couples' decision to skip a title defense at the Ace Group Classic on the Champions Tour apparently rankled one columnist for the Naples Daily News (David Moulton wrote that Couples’ decision to play the Northern Trust Open made a “mockery” of the entire Tour).

We’re not sure on which planet Moulton is living, because Couples at Riviera Country Club in the lead at the age of 51 is delectable stuff. Maybe it’s not Tom-Watson-Chasing-A-Claret-Jug-At-Turnberry-At-The-Age-Of-59 . . . but it sure lays the foundation for great weekend watching. That is, if the weather cooperates.

Five storylines of note from Friday’s second round at Riviera:

•••

You know he doesn’t need GPS to find Riviera

So, how long has Couples been playing at this beloved piece of Hollywood real estate?

Consider that the tournament had Glen Campbell’s named attached to it and Couples was playing Riviera after having taken part in events titled after Joe Garagiola and Andy Williams. (Go ahead, Freddie, ask your playing competitors if they have ever heard of Glen Campbell, Joe Garagiola, and Andy Williams. We suspect the answer is no.)

Consider, too, that two of the guys against whom he competed in his debut at Riviera, Jay Haas and Craig Stadler, have sons who are playing in this year’s tournament.

The year was 1982, and Couples finished in a tie for 13th, looking up at three heavyweights who led the way: Tom Watson, Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf. And if you consider that Watson had not yet won a U.S. Open, well, that gives you another perspective of just how long ago it was. Heck, Couples has been playing so many years in this tournament, he can lay claim to having played on three different courses: Riviera, Rancho Municipal and Valencia.

•••

The legend continues to pick up steam

Racing out the blocks with three consecutive birdies, this year’s rookie rage, Jhonattan Vegas, was creeping up the leaderboard.

But on a day of spotty weather, the young man from Venezuela couldn’t maintain momentum. Bogeys at Nos. 8 and 9 pushed him back, then after making birdies at 10 and 11, Vegas doubled the par-4 12th. A bogey at Riviera’s demanding par 4 18th brought him home in 70 and left him at 1 under at the halfway point, but still, you have to be impressed by the way this unheralded youngster had started the season.

He’s now played 15 rounds, and his worst score is a 71.

Vegas has not quite roared so far into the spotlight that he’ll be involved in the Accenture Match Play Championship next week (he’s ranked 76th in the word), but be patient. Vegas’ debut in a WGC event will come at the Cadillac Championship (March 10-13) at Doral, thanks to being inside the top 10 on the current FedEx Cup list.

•••

Saved by the bell – er, bogeys?

For most of the day and well into the afternoon, it appeared as if Jim Furyk was going to miss a third consecutive cut for the first time since the tail end of the 2004 season. Stunning, given that Furyk in the six seasons since hasn’t missed more than three cuts in a year.

Then something just as surprising happened . . . rain fell, temperatures dropped and bogey trains were boarded. Choppy play by a number of players presented PGA Tour officials with their worst headache: a huge number of players advancing into the weekend at a time when bad weather is expected.

Whereas it appeared as if 1 over would be the cut, perhaps 2 over, it sat at 3 over when play was halted late Friday with 26 players still on the course. Presently, 83 players are inside the cut, though 68 are at 2 over or better, so the picture could change with the resumption of play.

If it remains at 3 over, Furyk would avoid missing his third straight cut.

•••

Hey, they’ve got the weekend to talk things over

Then again, something tells me that Jim Gray, Dustin Johnson and Bobby Brown won’t be involved in any discussions with one another. Not after the way things unfolded late Thursday.

Johnson was assessed a two-stroke penalty to start his first round Thursday, and it was explained later that his caddie, Brown, took the blame for misreading a text that provided his man’s starting time. That certainly is fodder for discussion – but in the middle of a round? Please. Gray deserved the immediate action taken by Golf Channel (he was removed from coverage for the rest of the tournament).

Johnson, meanwhile, never recovered from the miserable start. With rounds of 73-75, he missed his first cut in five starts.

•••

Back to back isn’t easy

We’re seven weeks into the PGA Tour season, and it’s proving very difficult for players to follow up a win with a great effort. Hey, maybe carrying all that money to the bank is tiring stuff for guys, but D.A. Points is the latest to suffer this letdown.

Victorious at Pebble Beach last week, Points made just three birdies in two days, shot 74-73 and missed the cut. Last week at Pebble Beach, Mark Wilson missed the cut, one week after having won at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

While Jonathan Byrd (T-34) and Bubba Watson (T-29) didn’t miss the cut the week after winning, neither did they fare very well. Same goes for Wilson the week after winning at Sony (he was T-61 at the Hope).

The exception? Our man Jhonny Vegas. The rookie followed a win at the Hope with a T-3 in San Diego.

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