Before giving a few thoughts about Sunday’s final round at the NTO, just let me say for the record that I’d like to see Riviera find itself back into the Major Championship rotation. The last time this venerable layout played host to a Tour major was back in 1995 with the PGA Championship, and as I look ahead on the major calendar – there appears to be an opening in 2019 for the PGA Championship venue. This course isn’t called Hogan’s Alley for nothing, ya know. This layout can separate the wheat from the chaff just as easily as any other prestigious major championship layout can. It ain’t dead yet, not by a long shot. And now that I’ve called out my humble plea to those in charge of such meaningful endeavors, let’s get rolling, shall we?
It’s hard to put into words what transpired at Riviera earlier this afternoon…. chaos and clutter might be good descriptions to account for the first 5 hours of this painstakingly slow final round, but the last hour was more than worth the wait and twice the price of admission. It’s worth noting that the last time a Tour player won back-to-back weeks on the PGA Tour was in 2009, as Tiger Woods won the Buick Open and then went on to win the WGC Bridgestone Invitational the following week. Unfortunately for Phil Mickelson, that Tour stat will live on for at least another week. If you’re interested in reading Doug Ferguson’s more poignant review of Sunday’s final round, you’ll find it HERE. As for me – I’m just going to post some trivial thoughts and see where things lead.
In the Clutch, Haas is Boss
I’ve often pondered exactly why Bill Haas hasn’t won like 10 times already, but I think I’ve finally nailed it. He’s got a 2 or 3 hole stretch in one of the rounds on the weekends that just kills his momentum when he’s in contention, and not that they’re stretches of horrendous playing, but kinda like what we saw today with the back-to-back bogeys on holes 12 and 13. Billy just seems to get a little careless at the worst of times. But despite that, he’s quickly figured out how to deliver in the most clutch of moments. Now granted – he got a courtesy read from Dustin Johnson on the last hole in regulation Sunday…. seeing DJ’s putt go in was certainly a good omen. Nevertheless, it was a 5-footer that he had to make to preserve his lead and force the brilliance that was soon to follow a mere 20 minutes later, and he delivered. Looking back on it, that 5 footer to save par on the last hole might’ve been the most important shot he’d made the entire day, up until that point. The smart play Haas was forced to make on the 2nd playoff hole, this little short, Pirana of a par4 that has a history of feeding on unsuspecting Tour player ass on Sundays – that had to make Papa Jay very proud. He caught a break with the tee shot advancing beyond the trees on the left, the last thing he wanted to do was get greedy while knowing that his opponents were dealing with their own problems on the other side of the green. We wanted to see him open up that 60* wedge and make the heroic effort, similar to the water shot at East Lake. But then when the camera gave a closeup of his atrocious lie in the rough – not a chance. The interesting thing is that Haas bogeyed this hole 2 of the 4 days, but he birdied it twice on Sunday. Once again – Billy Haas came up big in a playoff and ran away with the money.
Almost # 41
Outside of Thursday’s opening round, Phil Mickelson didn’t play all that great this week. I’m not sure that we can say that he putted all that great neither. A lot of his par-saves came from the deft touch of his green-side wedge game, with a few mid-range 1-putts thrown in for good measure. But Riviera is an incredibly difficult 2nd-shot golf course and despite his struggles with consistency this week – he still ranked inside the top 15 in GIR’s for the tournament. So while he didn’t play all that great – neither did he play all that badly. He showed us last week that he’s still got plenty of good golf left, and he showed us that again this week, despite losing the lead in the final round and finishing 2nd. Most players struggle with the hangover of winning from the week before, which is why a lot of them take the following week off after a win. But not Phil. He’s out there grinding over each and every shot, and win or lose – he’s giving it all that he’s got. It wasn’t what he wanted Sunday, but it was no less a solid week for Lefty. I wish he was playing in the matchplay next weekend, but it’s not an event that he’s fared well with and he’s taking the family on a vacation. He’s earned it.
Bradley Has Become a Tour Turtle
There aren’t many things that I find wrong with Keegan Bradley, there’s a lot to like with this young man. But one of the things that I do take issue with is the lethargic speed with which he plays…. civilizations have evolved in lesser time than it takes him to play a round of golf. I can appreciate the fact that these guys play for boatloads of life-changing money and career-changing prestige, and they have to deal with tons of pressure-packed situations. But Keegan isn’t doing amateur golf any favors by showcasing 6-hour rounds on television. There were a number of instances on Sunday when he was 30 yards ahead of Mickelson off the tee, yet it still took him 2-3 minutes to figure out which club to pull from the bag. You could even sense that it was starting to impact Phil a little. I don’t know if they were put on the clock (not that anything would’ve happened had they been), but it just seemed like Phil took very little time to hit his ball on Sunday, almost like he was feeling compelled to make up for the amount of time it took his playing partner to play a single shot. That slow-play knock aside…. if this kid doesn’t win this year, I’ll eat my favorite sweat-stained golf hat.
Sergio? Is That Really You?
Only 10 feet of green kept Sergio out of a playoff Sunday: a 4-footer to save par that he missed on the par3 4th, and a missed par attempt from 6 feet on the par4 7th. It’s hard to fathom that on a day when a guy can shoot 2-under and come from behind to win, that there is potentially a round of 9-under 62 out there for the taking at Riviera. What is even more difficult to comprehend is that he was 3-over on Friday and made the cut on the number. To go from 73rd place on Saturday morning to a T4 finish Sunday afternoon – that’s damned impressive.
Riviera and the Storied Par4 10th
Those who take issue with the insanely long distances that the modern day golf ball flies – here’s your solution. I wish there were more holes like the par4 10th on Tour, because if there were, we’d see a lot less bombing and a little more
finessing. Earlier today in our Final Round Open Discussion thread, contributing editor James Neveau accurately pinpointed one of the key aspects that makes the layout at Riviera so demanding: The Bunkering. And not just the bunkers around the greens, but also the depth of the bunkers protecting the fairways. There might only be 60 sand bunkers total that dot the Riviera layout, but they’re keenly positioned and the players know how difficult things become if they find them. On several occasions today, we saw players finding those fairway bunkers off the tee and unable to go at the green. There’s not a single water hazard on the layout, and the winning score on Sunday was 7-under par. If that’s not Major-Venue worthy, somebody please shoot me.
Notable Players Sunday Quotes
“Yeah, I don’t know. I’m yet to have a big lead and really hold a big lead. Even my win at the Viking Classic I had a four shot lead going to the back nine, and after 13 we were tied. I have a way of coming back to the field or never getting myself that far ahead. So I haven’t really had that tap in for par kind of feeling on 18 to win. But like you say, stay in the moment. You’re here, you’ve earned it. Enjoy the moment. I’m nervous as heck out there and don’t want to screw up, but I tell myself, you wouldn’t be nervous if you missed the cut or you wouldn’t be nervous if you were in 40th place. Enjoy this. Who knows what can happen. And I think if anything what the FedExCup did for me is I’ve told myself that a ton of times, anything can happen. I said that a little bit on the putt there on 10. You never know, just hit a good putt and hopefully it goes.” – Bill Haas, commenting on how he managed to maintain his focus in both of his last 2 playoff victories.
“Yeah, I knew Phil was going to make that putt. Phil is too much of a gamer to not make that putt. I was honestly ready for him to make it, and I knew that having to putt second would be difficult because the crowd is so behind him. But credit to the crowd; they really quieted down for me. After Phil made that putt, I gave him a fist pump, and he looked at me and said, “Join me.” He really meant it. Even though I didn’t win the tournament, to make that putt on the last hole, one of the toughest holes on the PGA TOUR, is really awesome.” – Keegan Bradley, talking about both his and Mickelson’s birdie putts on the 72nd hole to force the playoff with Haas.
“Well, it was very U.S. Open-esque. You could see by 10 where you’re having to play defense, Bill wins it, but he had to play 60 feet away from 30 yards. It was very defensive because the greens were so firm, the pins were tough, and although there was no rough, it had kind of a U.S. Open feel.” – Phil Mickelson, explaining the challenges on Sunday at Riviera (and obviously in agreement with me that Riviera is more than enough course to host an upcoming major).
“Yeah, but Match Play is funny, and you guys know that. Match Play, I might go out next week and shoot 5-under and get beaten. You know, it’s just the way it is. But obviously taking away the second round, which like I said earlier, I didn’t play that badly. I probably played to shoot maybe 1-over. But other than that, the first round was nice. Yesterday I played good. I messed up a couple of holes and today I obviously played nicely. It is good momentum for me, and I’m hoping that I can take it into next week and have a couple nice rounds early on and kind of get going as the tournament goes on.” – Sergio Garcia, commenting on his solid play this week and how it bodes well for him next week in the matchplay event.
For a full recap of Sunday’s action at Riviera, click HERE.