When Does A Masterful Short Par-4 Become A Silly One?

I always have thought the short par-4 10th's character was so strong that it could survive the Fazio-inspired over-meddling that has quietly taken so much of the nuance out of Riviera in recent years.

Northern Trust Open round one ShotLink "scatter chart" (Click to enlarge)But in recent years the effort to make the famed hole more difficult, combined with dry weather and the outstanding maintenance work by Matt Morton's team, the 10th spilled over the edge this year.

The 311-yard hole averaged 4.201 during round one play of the Northern Trust Open. For a hole of that length to average so much over par in perfect weather? Red flag.

A damp, cloudy morning followed by very little afternoon breeze should have let some of the world's best score. But too often good shots or almost great shots were excessively penalized by the combination of factors both manufactured and accidental. With a drought and ideal turf-growing weather coming into Northern Trust Open week, the course has never looked better and the greens very firm for February. That's a testament to the shrewd practices. However, this little bit of added firmness when combined with the lowering of evolved bunker edges and the practice of rolling the surrounds has tipped the scales. The 10th hole's risk-reward dynamic has shifted to mostly risk and little reward for taking chances. On a strategy-driven hole that is the centerpiece of the tournament, this has not been a positive evolution.

Bubba Watson talked about the shifting dynamics of the 10th following his round.

Q.  Talk about your strategy on 10, seems like it's playing one of the hardest holes out here.
    BUBBA WATSON:  Yeah, the green, the nicest way to say it, it's very difficult.  The green is very difficult, and I don't know how to play it.
    So today, we hit 4‑wood, and I just tried to hit it over that bunker towards those trees so I could have an uphill chip to the hole.  Somehow made the putt today but I was just trying to play to the center of the green, get par and get out of there.
    As we can see, throughout the years, that hole is very, very difficult and par is a great score there.

    Q.  How long have you played here, ballpark?
    BUBBA WATSON:  That's a great question.  I've never missed, I don't think.

    Q.  Have you noticed that green getting ‑‑
    BUBBA WATSON:  Nine years.

    Q.  Have you noticed it getting a little more severe, edges and firmness, things like that?
    BUBBA WATSON:  It seems that way, but that's ‑‑

    Q.  Everyone's got to play it ‑‑
    BUBBA WATSON:  I'm not saying that.  No, no, it looks that way to me but I mean, it might just be because I'm so scared to death of the hole.  It just looks worse and worse ‑‑ as I get older, it looks worse.  It's very difficult.
    We've heard rumours that because of all the bunker shots, the sand makes it build up, but who knows.  Yeah, definitely, it's a very difficult hole.

    Q.  Do you look forward to playing it?

    Q.  Can you think of another hole on TOUR that you least look forward to playing?
    BUBBA WATSON:  A bunch of them but that's the worst for sure.

    Q.  In a good kind of way?
    BUBBA WATSON:  No, I don't think it's a good kind of way.  It's just I'm scared to death of that hole.  We thought about laying up today but then I was like, well, that 80‑yard wedge shot is going to be just as tough as somehow getting lucky off the tee.  And today I got lucky off the tee where all I had to do was go over the tree straight up the green.

Geoff Ogilvy was more diplomatic, but did acknowledge that the vibe has changed in his years playing the hole.

Q.  Talk about the 10th.  Is it getting a little edgy with the shaved areas?
    GEOFF OGILVY:  It's a lot tougher than it used to be.  It's hard to criticize such a good hole.  It's a lot harder than it used to be, especially when the pins are at the back like today.  I don't think you can go to the middle section of the green anymore because there's a lot of pitch on the green and how fast it is.  It's one of the top four or five holes we play all year on Tour.  It's a joy to play even when you're putting a five on the card.

    Q.  Balls that go off the green ‑‑ you didn't hit a bad shot?
    GEOFF OGILVY:  I have to think when they try to get more out of a great hole, that's all they are really trying to do.  It's everyone's favorite hole, really and they are just trying to get more out of it.  It's pretty good.  The greens are a lot firmer than we are used to playing.  They were just a bit softer a few years ago.  Now it takes that big first bounce and goes in that bunker really easy.

    It's a really, really good hole and definitely getting harder.

There is still a real delight in watching some of the great shots played here and the dynamic recoveries. Even the players walking off the green will tell you this, or as level-headed types like Paul Casey did after he'd cooled off post round. Still 

But the 10th hole vibe is also changing to one where the spectacle is a tad unseemly, like pulling over to savor a car accident (see embed from round one below). And while that slightly sadistic aura popular with many golfers, the negativity takes some of the genius out of George Thomas's creation and is utterly unnecessary in testing the world's best.