5 Things: D. Johnson leads; Walker shines; more
Riviera Country Club is the hardest test on the West Coast. It doesn’t matter if it's firm and fast or wet and slow, the classic design and lines are what make Riviera a must-stop for most of the PGA Tour, sans Tiger Woods.
With drought conditions, the kikuyu rough has not really taken shape while reduced watering also has created greens that at times repel shots – making Riviera unpredictable.
At one time during the morning wave, 15 players were tied for the lead. But Dustin Johnson, with just one bogey on his card, posted a 5-under 66 and took a lead that held up until play was suspended because of darkness.
Ten players finished one shot back at 4-under-par, including three-time 2013-14 winner Jimmy Walker, with J.B. Holmes on that mark through 16 holes when play was put on hold until 7:30 a.m. local time tomorrow.
Here are 5 Things to know from Pacific Palisades, Calif.
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1. ALMOST AS HOT AS WALKER: Long-hitting Dustin Johnson has had a pretty solid 2014 season, starting with a win at WGC-HSBC Champions and then following it up with a sixth at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and a runner-up finish at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am last week on the strength of a final-round 66.
On Thursday, Johnson picked up where he left off at Pebble Beach with another 66 to take the lead at 5-under-par and put himself in position to make another run at his second win of the season.
“Ever since the first time I came here, I think my rookie year, I've just really liked this golf course,” Johnson said. “It's a great, great golf course. It's always in good condition and it's just a fun course to play. It's tough but, you know, it's fair.”
With just one blip on the scorecard, a bogey on the difficult par-3 fourth hole, Johnson played almost flawless golf in hitting 16 of 18 greens that led to six birdies. He needed 30 putts and was ranked outside the top 100 in putts, but first in strokes gained putting.
Now with a slim lead and a golf course in Riviera that doesn’t allow much separation, Johnson needs to continue doing exactly what he did Thursday: hit green and make a few more putts.
Johnson said that his game around the greens is better than ever – and if he can convert on a couple more opportunities?
“I'm just streaky,” Johnson said of his short game. “I always have been though. I get up and I can hit – it seems like the harder the shot is, the better I hit it. But you know, I'm always fairly good out of the bunker. Just it's something that – it's an area that I can always improve on. “
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2. IN CONTENTION AGAIN: It’s a little early, with the first round still requiring players to finish Friday morning, but Jimmy Walker is living up to his television moniker of Dynamite as he again finds himself in the mix at a PGA Tour event.
The three-time winner on the PGA Tour in this 2013-14 season took a good round late Thursday, let it slip and then brought it back – all in the span of of eight holes.
Walker made the turn at 2 under with birdies on the first and ninth holes, then followed it up with a birdie at the drivable 10th to move to 3 under. But after paring the par-5 11th hole, the golf gods threw Walker a curve ball on the par-4 12th when his drive of 300 yards found the worst lie in the rough, sitting in a hole just feet off the fairway.
“It could have been a lot better, but I went in after it and I thought I could get it to squirt up there on the front left, but came out dead right instead of on my line,” Walker said explaining how he bogeyed. “I thought the grass would grab the club just a little bit more than it did and keep it more in line, but it didn't.”
Walker would bogey the par-4 13th hole as well, when he missed the green and couldn’t get up and down to move back to 1-under.
Walker would then go on a tear, making three consecutive birdies to finish the round and move to one shot behind Johnson.
At the par-3 16th, he hit it to 2 feet. On the par-5 17th, he hit it just short of the green in two and got up and down. And on the par-4 18th, Walker would drain a 30-footer to cap off an improbable run.
“I've always had a pretty decent, what do you call it, the bounce-back stat,” Walker said. “I make a lot of birdies. I tend to make a lot of birdies, and birdies after bogeys. It happens. That's a special deal. You just don't birdie the last three holes here. It's tough to do.”
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3. I LOVE RIVIERA: Robert Garrigus used a little rope-a-dope in his approach to this week's Northern Trust Open.
In his previous four appearances in Los Angeles, Garrigus missed two cuts in 2007 and 2009; WD’d after an opening round 79 in 2012; and finished T-51 in 2011.
In the nine rounds he completed at Riviera, Garrigus had a scoring average of 73.0. He has recorded just one round in the 60s, a 69 in the second round in 2011.
So Garrigus decided to take a different approach, starting with not playing a practice round. All he did in preparation after a T-27 finish last week at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am was to hit balls and putt.
“I completely changed my attitude,” Garrigus said in explaining his first-round 67. “I just stopped telling myself that I hated this place, so to speak. But I convinced myself this is my favorite golf course of the year.”
That had to be hard to do when Garrigus, who started at 6:40 a.m. local time off the front nine, bogeyed arguably the easiest hole on the course, the 503-yard, par-5 first hole. Garrigus was in the greenside bunker in two, then left his third in the bunker; he could not get up and down and made a bogey six, but even that didn’t dampen his mood.
“I really wasn't too upset because I didn't hit a bad shot and I just got a bad break,” Garrigus said. “So it was pretty easy just to go to the next hole.”
Garrigus would go on a run of four consecutive birdies from the eighth to the 11th hole and tie his best round of 2014.
“I kept saying that every time I got a bad break, I love this place,” Garrigus said “I ended up birdieing 8, 9, 10 and 11 and I think that was a big part of the attitude.”
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4. WHAT A DAY: Harold Varner III took full advantage of the Charlie Sifford exemption and shot a 2-under 69 at Riviera. That was more than anyone would have expected from a Web.com guy, but Varner seemed unfazed with his performance.
“I felt really comfortable on the range and I had played in the U.S. Open last year,” Varner said of his five-birdie, three-bogey performance that left him T-19 when play ended Thursday. “And so I knew what to expect. Hopefully going to do tomorrow the same thing I did today.”
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Who are the other nine players who, like Jimmy Walker, shot 67? Blake Adams, Sang-Moon Bae, Charlie Beljan, Robert Garrigus, Brian Harman, Charley Hoffman, Matt Jones, Francesco Molinari and Scott Stallings. . . . The first round ended with 15 players still on the course and players will be back in position at 7:30 a.m. local time – with the second-round times beginning at 6:40 a.m. as scheduled. . . . Riviera gave up no bogey free rounds Thursday. . . . WDs: Darren Clarke (strained chest muscle) after the round; Scott Verplank (back) through eight holes; Harrison Fraser (personal issue) before the round, replaced by Billy Hurley.