Driving Riviera's 10th Because They Must?

I'm still wrapping my head around some of the comments from players today about how they play Riviera's short, wild and wacky 10th.

As longtime readers know, it never gets old watching the hole even though its strategy has changed in the modern technology era. And of late I've been surprised to not see more guys lay-up left and leave themselves with an 80-yard wedge shot from the best angle of attack.

The reasons that came up in today's press conferences proved revealing and suggest that the combination of changes to the green and the modern ball force many players to drive the green.

Ernie Els:

Q.  I'm curious from the first time you played here up until now, has the way you played the 10th hole, has that changed at all?

ERNIE ELS:  It has.  Just because of the setup.  I remember back in '99, I think I only went for the green once.  The rest of the time I just laid it up.  The greens were softer back then, so that little pitch shot, it's one of my favorite shots in the game is that 85‑ to 95‑yard pitch shot.  I laid it up almost every day and I think I made birdies every day.

Now the green is firmer, it's a lot slicker.  So that little shot is very tricky now.  So you'll see a lot more guys go for the green and chip it up and try and make 4 and get out of there.  It's one of the more difficult holes.

New trees on the 10th hole for 2013 (click to enlarge)Keegan Bradley, who drove into a greenside bunker in the 2012 Northern Trust Open playoff and missed a birdie putt to extend the playoff.

KEEGAN BRADLEY:  Well, you can't play up to that back pin, it's impossible; you can't hold the green.  When the pin is in the back right, you have to get it up by the green and hopefully over the green.  You can't lay up and holed that green.

But I had eight feet to tie Bill Haas again, and it was actually a really good putt.  It caught the low lip.  For me, it's a good 3‑wood.  You know, when that pin is up on the front left, I guess you can lay up, but it's kind of silly considering you can get up there close.

But when the pin is on the back right, you're just trying to make 4 most of the time.  Bill made a 45‑foot putt, which is good for him.

Fred Couples talked about changes to the hole over the years:

FRED COUPLES:  Well, I will say this about the 10th hole, and my caddie, who caddied for 22 years here, I used to tell him, put the 3 on the card on the 10th hole.  That's not being cocky.  I just, now, I would take a 4 and run to the next hole.  The green has become so sloped and so narrow in the back, that it is a brutal hole.

But I think what you're getting at is now people try to drive the green.  I used to always hit a 2‑ or 3‑iron as far left as you could, and then normally a full sand wedge depending where the pin was.  And the green has gotten ‑‑ the way they have shaved the back of the green, it's got really, really hard.

But back, even in the 80s, I don't remember many people driving it on the green.  You could, the longer hitters; now it seems like everyone under the right conditions tries to drive it right in that front bunker.  Or I think Bill Haas hit it long and left last year, which turned out to be, there's a few more trees than what seems, but he was in a perfect spot and ended up winning there in the playoff.  But that's not a bad place to be, pin‑high left coming across that green.

Considering this newfound difficulty in the green--which is a product mostly of the surrounding bunker edges being cut at a low height and the lip lowering a few years ago--consider what Bill Haas had to say.

BILL HAAS:  I think you just have to commit to a tee shot and then hit it, and from there, you can hit a perfect shot and not be in good shape.

So you pretty much just try to get up there near the green to where you think you can make a good 4 and have a chance at 3.  In my opinion, laying up does not help you.  Hitting a wedge, a full wedge to that green, you can easily hop it over the green.

I just don't think with the balls today ‑‑ the older balls spun a little more.  The new balls, in my opinion, you get the best chance going for the green, but just trying to get it in that left front area where you can pitch across the green, there's just a little window over there where I think you can be the most consistent from.

Unfortunately, the PGA Tour's "Live@" coverage focusing on one hole is once again not coming to the 10th. So all of the bizarro, amazing and wildly entertaning golf shots will just be seen by a few writers, fans and players until Golf Channel comes on at 12 p.m. PT Thursday and Friday.

One of these years!