I made a point to spend as much time as possible watching Northern Trust Open play on Riviera's 10th, and while I'm sure most of you have moved on to the match play, I thought I'd share a few observations from the week while I'm away this weekend and posting infrequently. Here goes...
Why Not Lay Up? That's the question I kept asking all week as guys fumbled their way to pars, bogies and the occasional double, even though laying up left will rarely result in worse than par. Check out the ShotLink scatter chart (above) for the week and the clusters speak for themselves. A new high of 72% went for the green, up 10% from last year and up about 40% from three years ago. Yes, that's fun to watch but it does mean some risk/reward temptation has been eliminated by the lack of distance regulation by the governing bodies. And yet...
The green continues to baffle. In 2007, just 62% of the plays here resulted in a green hit in regulation, about 20% lower than on most PGA Tour par-4s of comparable distance. The number was 60% in 2008 and the scoring average has remained steady at about 3.8 and change.
It's the grooves. Even with the green firm and fast, I saw way too many guys lay up down the right and hold the front portion of the green with ease, Jeff Quinney's amazing second shot Saturday being the most prominent example. But I believe the grooves have a greater impact by compelling guys to drive the green (or past it), knowing they can mop up with a flop wedge shot.
72%. Is it a bad thing that more guys than ever go for No. 10 without contemplating a lay up? Yes and no. I would love to see more guys face an internal debate over the lay-up option instead of the decision being between 3-wood and driver. The hole was drivable in Bobby Jones's day (pre-kikuyu), so it's an important part of the design. Either way, it's such a joy watching the world's best get into so much trouble driving it all over the place and doing absolutely mindless things!
Addicting. Mid-morning Friday I was heading back to the press room when I stopped in to watch a group come through. It turned into five groups and a chance to watch the action with the AP's Doug Ferguson. He made the interesting point that other than 12 at Augusta and maybe 16 at TPC Sawgrass, Riviera's 10th is the only hole where players all seem to watch what the group behind them is doing as they walk off the 11th tee. And as a spectator, it's astonishing what you see with each group. They really need a grandstand here and round-the-clock video coverage on PGATour.com. It's that interesting.
Rise to prominence. Ferguson asked me while we were standing there why the 10th had risen to prominence in the last few years. Obviously I would have referred him to my recent Golf World article if we had web access on the spot, but more than that I pointed out that it wasn't very driveable until recent years, except by the bombers. I would also say that the final piece to the puzzle in No. 10's resurrection has been the removal of the coral tree grove that surrounded the green until the late 90s. They have left the green more exposed, only adding to the drama and fear factor.
When I was standing with Ferguson, the pairing that included Joe Ogilvie and Davis Love came through. Ogilvie drove it in the front left bunker, hit it into the back bunker and made par en route to a missed cut. As he was walking off the green, within earshot of us, Ogilvie shook his head and muttered, "best hole in the world."