This week I am making my second appearance at the Riviera Country Club for what is now the Northern Trust Open; last year it was the Nissan Open. I came here last year after a very mediocre performance at the AT&T and went “mad” in my first round to shoot 63. It was my first competitive round on the course and it all felt easy however as the week went on I found out that it wasn’t all that easy. In the end I finished on ten under par and in seventh place on my own; I remember that first three rounds went fine but once I was really in contention on the Sunday I struggled as I just wasn’t quite “match fit”, which is very similar to last week. I was looking at my stats for this event during the week and I was surprised to see that I finished well here as none of my stats were that impressive; normally when I have a good week there is something that stands out but not last year.
This year I am in a very similar position as I was last year, as I would love to have a few more events under my belt so as to be fully tournament ready. However this is always how I feel in the first few events of any year; I never feel quite ready to play. I arrived here in L.A. on Monday night, feeling miserable. I caught a bad cold on Sunday in Pebble and I felt drained all day Monday and Tuesday. As I was feeling so bad on Tuesday I decided against playing the course and only did a small amount of practice. In fact the main reason for going to the course at all was so that I could see the doctor and confirm that it was only a cold and nothing more serious, I have been taking all the usual stuff for colds to try and get rid of it. My practice on Tuesday was spent focusing on my mental game as I was found waiting in this area last week and I don’t want to end up walking away from this week feeling that I left shots behind due to my mental game. I played the pro-am on Wednesday morning, when we teed off at 7.20am but we couldn’t see more than 50 yards in front of us due to fog, which lasted for four holes; thankfully I have played the course before and I am comfortable on it so the fog wasn’t that big a deal for me in terms of my practice. The main aim of the pro-am for me was to get myself into my routines and trying to hole putts. After the round I spent a bit of time practicing my putting and chipping as this is a course where these elements of the game are vital.
Riviera Country Club is a golf course that I would happily turn up and play any tournament on; I would consider this as one of the best courses that we play. It is an old course with most of the holes tree lined and a great mix of small and big greens. It is not often that you come to a course where there are no weak holes on it, and this is one that has eighteen great holes. This course has held a number of major tournaments over the years and when you walk around it you can see why. It measures over 7,500 yards and plays as a par 71. When it gets warm it doesn’t play its full length as the ball travels a bit further in the heat but in the morning it can play long.
Last year I named the 6th, 10th, 16th and the 18th as key holes for the week and I would have to go with these again for this year.
The 6th is a 200 yard par 3 with a bunker in the middle of the green. It is a hole that you would be more than happy to play in level par for the week. The green is heavily sloped so even a good shot can end up running away to a very awkward position. The green is a bit like a bowl so you will see people using the back stops to get chip shots close here as well as putts.
The 10th is a 300 yard par 4, it is very reachable off the tee but the real trouble with this hole is the green. It is a long narrow green that is heavily sloped from right to left so any thing missing the green right means that it is nearly impossible to hold the green with your chip or bunker shot. However, even if you lay it up it is still a very tough pitch and putt as the green is so narrow. I would have to say that this hole would make it into my eighteen best golf holes; I think it is a great design. It is a short par four but yet a par is a good score. This hole will cause so much trouble this week as people will be trying so hard to make a birdie that they invariably end up making a mess of it. The important thing about this hole is that if you are going for it off the tee you have to make sure to miss it on the left.
The 16th is a 160 yard par 3; surrounded by bunkers and has a very small green. The problem with this hole is that it is very hard to make a par if you miss the green. While it is not a long hole it is vital you hit the green as it is a near impossible up and down from the surrounding area.
The 18th is a 475 yard par 4 that play up hill all the way. The tee shot is blind and the fairway slopes left to right. It is important to hit your drive up the left so that you don’t get blocked out by the trees on the right. A good drive still leaves you with a long iron and in some cases a wood to the green. This is another hole where four pars would mean that you are making up ground on the field. This year it is definitely better to miss it on the left as the rough is quite light on that side.
I am here this week and I am wishing that I was better prepared but there is nothing that I can do about that now. I have spent some time this week working on my mental game and trying to get myself back into tournament mode; the thing is that I won’t know until I get myself into contention on a Sunday as to how much I have improved. The aim for this week, as with every week for me, is to get myself into a position with nine holes to go on Sunday with a chance of winning. If I can do this then I will find out how efficient my practice has been.
I am leaving Riviera a happy man as I finished as well as I could have in this week’s tournament. Going out in the final round I really had no chance of winning or finishing second so to finish in a tie for third is about the best that I could have done. This is a golf course that I would love to play every event on as it really is a great course. It is an old course that has plenty of length and has some of the best holes that we play all year. The tenth hole is probably the best short par four in golf! I came here after a reasonable week at the AT&T last week but knowing that I needed to work hard on my routines and focus. I did some good work during the week and I definitely felt that I was getting better as the week went on. It still wasn’t anywhere near the level it needs to be but there was certainly progress. Coming out for this run of three events I knew that I would be feeling ropey but I want to be in a position that when I finish the three weeks I feel that I improved my mental game and that my focus and routines are getting closer to where they need to be.
I arrived in the US having had the shingles and still feeling a little run down as a result. Then on the Sunday of the AT&T I caught the flu; as a result of this I was curtailed in the amount of practice that I could do (which at times is not a bad thing for me!). All week I felt tired and miserable. The best I felt was on the course but by the time I was finished I was tired and not fit to do much. I got the good end of the draw this week as us early starters on Thursday got to play most our round without too much wind. The afternoon starters got a lot more wind than we did; which was evident from the scoring.
Thursday morning was quite cold for California and so the early tee time I had was not so pleasant. In my early season tournament I don’t normally have too many expectations but this week was a little different as I had done well here last year. Even still I wasn’t overly confident as I was still feeling quite rusty and also suffering from a bad flu. My round was kind of what I would have expected. I struggled to get into it and was feeling very rusty. I made three bogeys and five birdies in the round but it was all a bit of a struggle; I hit just over half of the fairways and less than half of the greens in regulation. I bogeyed the 9th to be level par which was reasonable considering how I was playing.
I failed to birdie either of the birdie holes at the turn and then made a good putt on the 12th for birdie and holed from off the green on the 14th for another birdie to put me to two under and in very good shape. A good third shot with a seven iron on the par five, 17th set up my fifth birdie of the day; on the last hole I hit my best two shots of the day, a drive and a hybrid just through the green. I failed to get up and down for par and ended up shooting two under; the worst thing about it was that the group behind played the last hole down wind as the wind changed and they only had wedges to the green whereas I had a over 220 yards to the pin from a very good drive.
Friday was something similar again; I made five birdies and three bogeys again. This time I started well making a couple of birdies in the first three holes but kind of lost my way in the middle of the round. I bogeyed the 18th, my 9th, birdied the first and then bogeyed the 2nd and 3rd. After this run I was reeling and really looking to settle the ship - I made myself work for my next few pars. On the 7th I hit a tree with my drive and it ended up under a tree in a dip, I was left with a four iron when I should have been left with an eight iron. On top of this I had to hit a big cut around a tree, I was only hoping to get it close to the green but I actually hit my shot of the week to twenty feet and holed the putt for an unlikely birdie. A solid par on the 8th left me one under and then I holed from ten feet on my last hole to shoot a great two under par. It never felt like it would be anything like that and it could so easily have gone the other way.
Saturday was another mixed bag, a bit of “the good, the bad and the ugly.” I was still struggling with my focus on a lot of shots and as a result I was making several mistakes, however I was also hitting some very good shots when I got it right. I started great making birdies on the first and the second, but then three bogeys, on the 5th, 8th and 9th, knocked me back. I birdied the 10th to get back to level par for the day but then a three putt on the 12th put me back to one over. It was a tough day for scoring as it was quite windy but even still I knew that I was leaving shots behind me. However a good approach shot to the last left me with a two footer to shoot level par and leave me in a share of seventh position. I had struggled on quite a few shots with my focus and had paid for it as I hit a number of poor shots.
On Sunday I was in the fourth last group but had little or no chance of catching either first or second place as they were well ahead of me. I went out to play my game and see where that would get me, with no targets for where I wanted to finish. I opened up with a birdie again, (really this hole is more like a par four than a par five), but that was it for the front nine. I made a bogey on the 4th after I pulled my tee shot left of the green because I was trying to be too smart with it. Then I bogeyed the 7th after I pulled my tee shot into the fairway bunker and all I could do was hack it out, however I hit a lovely pitch to four feet but missed the putt. At this stage I was back to two under and not looking like I was going to do much; on the ninth I hit another bad tee shot as a result of bad focus. I hit my second into the front bunker which was a really awkward up and down but I managed to hit a very good bunker shot and make a par, which got me going again. I went for the tenth green as I had done all week and came up just short which left me with a tricky chip but I stiffed it for a birdie and then I birdied the 11th from just short in two. I was feeling good now and much more into my round and getting into my routines better. I played nicely coming in giving myself a few chances. I holed from ten feet on the 14th for birdie, lipped out on the 15th and then hit a glorious five wood to nine feet on the 17th which I left short for my eagle. This put me on seven under playing the last and in a share for third place. I hit a good drive and seven iron to the middle of the last green, however my first putt wasn’t up to much as I left it three and half feet short. I was thinking about the AT&T where I three putted the last when I was lining up my second putt, so was determined not to do the same again. This time I holed it for a final round of three under and a share of third place. I was delighted to finish in third as I felt it was the best I could have done and also as it made me feel like I was back playing again.
Looking back on the week I am very happy with how it went, the funny thing about it is that I can pick out two shots that swung the week around for me. The four iron from under the trees on the 7th hole on Friday that set up an unlikely birdie and the bunker shot that I stiffed on the 9th on Sunday to stop me going to three over for the day. If these shots had gone against me then I wouldn’t be as upbeat as I am now. It is funny how it goes; the main thing about this week is that my focus and routines got better as the week went on. From here I head to Tucson for the Accenture World Match play.
Talk to you all soon and thanks for stopping by!