Couples On Riviera's 10th: "It's not as fun because it's more of a struggle."

As the Northern Trust Open first round neared a conclusion before play was called at 5:43, Riviera's 10th was playing to a 4.056 average and for the first time several players suggested that maybe the short par-4 beloved by so many wasn't as fun as it used to be.

Several players referred to "changes" but the only difference this year is the Stimpmeter reading of 12 and increased firmness from a lack of rain. The last major changes to the green caem in 2009 when the surrounding bunker lips were lowered.

Fred Couples after an opening 68:

Q.  Since you've been here, how have you played 10 in the past?  Do you feel like it's been one of your better holes here at Riviera?

FRED COUPLES:  Yeah, I said that yesterday.  I used to tell my caddie being a little cocky that when we teed off, just put the 3 on the card, because I birdied it so many times, and now I think if you look at the last four years I've played, I barely make pars on it.  I bogeyed it last year twice.  They might need to re‑evaluate that green here in the near future.

It's really slopey, and the front of the green goes up and the back goes like that and the balls are rolling over.  It's all fun and hunky‑dory when you try to drive the green but when you get around the green and you're playing 35 feet left of the flag because there's nowhere to go, it kind of defeats the purpose.


Q.  Is it fun?

FRED COUPLES:  It's not as fun because it's more of a struggle.  There's nowhere to drive it.  If you're good enough to drive it in that grass and pop it up in the air and have it trickle on the front of the green, you're really a good player.

But if you drive it on the green, it rolls down across and they have shaved it and it just rolls to where there's nowhere to go, except when the pin is in the very front.  But the other three days, you're chipping 40 feet from the hole.

Lee Westwood, making his first Riviera appearance in six years, opened with 68 and said after the round:

They have changed it since I played it, six or seven years ago.  There's like a run‑off area down the left if you hit driver, so it runs too far and then you've got to come around the bunker to a back right flag.

So it's really difficult to play it now, and there's no fringe around the green, around the bunkers.  So anything, it's a very severe green, it's very quick and anything that spins off goes in the trap.  It's significantly harder than the last time I played it.  I probably still haven't quite figured out how you play it but I think most of the people will be in the same position to be honest.

Phil Mickelson, birdied the hole en route to an opening 71:

Q.  Would 10 be any better, if they worked with it more, could it be a better hole than it already is?

PHIL MICKELSON:  Well, I think it was ten years ago, but over time, greens are going to shrink, kikuyu is going to keep in.  As we have got firmer greens, it's become a hole that you used to try to make a three on and you're pretty happy today to make a four.

I got lucky today in the sense that I hit a perfect chip shot and made a great putt but this hole is going to play over par.  It's very difficult to make threes there right now.

Q.  On 11, you turned and watched Westwood play his shot; is that one hole you can sit and watch out of curiosity how guys play and what they do?
PHIL MICKELSON:  Yeah, I always enjoy watching him chip around the greens, too, though.

It is fascinating how, as the green has sped up and the hole becomes more difficult, how much it seems to be in the heads of the world's best. I'm not sure it's quite as extreme as some are describing simply because so few actually lay-up off the tee in the proper area.

Either way, Doug Ferguson filed a fun summary of the early morning antics Thursday worth a look. Most notably, Humana Challenge winner Brian Gay opened with a triple bogey 7.

He's among the shorter hitters in golf, and chose to lay up to the left. He had 58 yards left and a decent angle to the diagonal green. The safe shot would have been a pitch that landed on the front of the green and rolled up to about 20 feet. Gay realized the middle part of the green sloped hard to the left, so he took on a small gap just to the left of the front bunker.

It was a smaller margin of error, and he made an error. The shot was too far to the right and went into the sand. He compounded that by aiming at the flag, and his bunker shot went through the green into the back bunker. His next shot hit the 8-inch lip of the bunker and rolled back to the sand. He hit the next onto the green about 7 feet away, and the missed his putt. Triple bogey.

His caddie, Kip Henley, walked over to the 11th tee and said, "What the hell just happened?"

He added a few minutes later, "This has got to be one of the top five holes on tour. Maybe the best. And I'm saying that after my man made triple."

Mark Lamport Stokes reports on the first round, where Matt Kuchar's 64 led the way.

A few images from the opening day, including Jonas Blixt's hot pink shoes, Adam Scott's range bag-turned-putter cover and the tallest professional basketball player in the world making an appearance.