The Northern Trust Open It Is

Golfweek's Scott Hamilton confirms with added details what was revealed here earlier this week: the L.A. Open is now the Northern Trust Open.

The headline writers might like it, but it's still the L.A. Open for me.

Bearing Point Out Before It's Ever In

You may recall a post about Bearing Point taking over for Nissan as sponsor of the L.A. Open. It was based on Thomas Bonk's story in the L.A. Times, confirmed prematurely by Riviera's Michael Yamaki.

Now, you may wonder why this is of interesting since most people around here will still call it the L.A. Open.

In that post I speculated that Phil Mickelson's bizarre outburst at Tim Finchem following the Deutsche Bank had something to do with the PGA Tour (rightfully) rejecting an idea to make Mickelson the player host of a Bearing Point Open.

Well, now I'm wondering just a bit more since it's not exactly a well kept secret that Bearing Point will not be sponsoring the L.A. Open, but instead, several sources reveal that Northern Trust will be taking over for Nissan.  

Media Watch: Praising Change

masterslogo.gifIn recent years we've been subjected to plenty of stories praising the tree planting, rough and other shenanigans at Augusta National. Now that Hootie's gone, it will be interesting to see if any scribblers try to tell us that the new "premium on accuracy" is all that it's been cracked up to be. Remember, for the last few years we've heard that we need to see the course fast and firm to judge whether the lengthening, tacky tree planting or ridiculous rough could be considered an improvement.

The lengthening perhaps, but that the soft conditions exposed that the course lacked elasticity, leading to additions to the 11th and 15th tees this year (again, that should have been anticipated by the architect). 

But more important is the notion that there has been so much criticism of the changes. As Geoff Ogilvy noted in John Huggan's Sunday piece:

...for 60 years not a bad word was said about the place and for the last five a lot of very important people have been very critical.

Does this onslaught (and the likelihood that we'll read few pieces praising the rough and trees) speak to just how awful the changes have been?

Or is it more of a statement about how much Hootie Johnson was feared and disliked?

Or a bit of both?

Tiger's New PGA Tour Commercial

Doug Ferguson writes about Tiger's new PGA Tour ad, filmed during his Nissan Open week off.

While at home in Florida two weeks ago, Woods did three spots for the PGA Tour. One of them was a voiceover, and the other two were scripted roles promoting the FedExCup.

"Clearly, having Tiger do these spots is a very nice element of the campaign," tour spokesman Ty Votaw said. "It’s always good to have your No. 1 player participate in these things. He’s someone who resonates with our fans, and to see him in this kind of context is something the fans will enjoy."
Ty, no mention of texture?  And I had it marked on my PGA Tour MBASpeak bingo board! Oh well. 
Mark Steinberg at IMG said PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem approached him late last year and they found a spot in Woods’ schedule — coincidentally, it was the week of the Nissan Open, which Woods skipped for only the second time in his career.

Coincidentally, I think that's the week that he was undecided about playing up until the last minute!

Uh there's your confirmation: that lovely westside traffic really did leave a bad taste in his mouth. Can't say I blame Tiger.

This should also put to rest the silly stuff about him skipping Riviera to protect his streak.  

Nissan Open Ratings

From the good folks at Brenner-Zwikel: 


CBS Sports’ final-round coverage of the PGA TOUR’s NISSAN OPEN with Phil Mickelson losing in a three-hole playoff to Charles Howell III on Sunday, Feb. 18 (3:19-7:27 PM, ET) scored an preliminary national household rating/share of 3.4/7 , up +31% from last year’s 2.6/5 (ABC).

CBS Sports’ final-round coverage peaked with a preliminary national rating/share of 5.4/10 between 7:00-7:27 PM, ET.

Sunday’s 3.4/7 is the highest rating for the final round of the Nissan Open since 2004’s 3.9/9 (ABC)..

(Nielsen releases the national rating and share for Saturday’s third-round coverage on Friday, Feb. 23)

Greetings From L.A., Final Edition

greetingsfromLAAfter meeting Golf Digest fashion guru Marty Hackel, I now realize I have way too much khaki in my life. I need serious help. A khaki intervention perhaps?

Of course I'm not going to go all green pants and pink shirt like the sometimes Golf Channel fashion critic sported Saturday, nor will I dare to try the fire engine red slacks he sported Sunday, yet I am re-evaluating my love of beige trousers. (But it's so easy to coordinate in the dark!).

Oh, the Nissan Open at Riviera. Right. Well, the PGA Tour's setup of the course was a tad uninspired this year. Recent years have seen a nice variety of hole locations and alternate tee locations. But three straight days of a front right hole on 15 and another three straight back left on 6 did not exactly take advantage of possibilities with incredibly fast and firm greens. Then again, there were no major glitches and the players were allowed to display their talent, so all in all, a good week for the PGA Tour's Mark Russell and his hard working crew.

As in other recent years, I come away even more impressed by Captain Thomas's design despite all of the poor changes and grateful that the players love it, even if they have no idea why beyond the usual "it's right in front of you" line.

I'm not surprised by how little the major changes (length, shifted bunkers) increase scoring. Perhaps because each time the Fazio gang tends to chip away at the little subtle features and deceptive touches that make the course difficult, all in the name of visibility or framing. 

Take for instance the two par-5s on the back nine, where they brought in fairway bunkering to close off the approaches for those attempting to get home on these once-long holes. Both holes saw bunker shifting that much better defines where the green begins, which actually making it easier to pick out the target for a good player, especially for those who lay up on these holes. Both used to pose difficult third shots because of they were so undefined, but not anymore.

New look No. 11 (Click to enlarge)
In the case of the 11th, the shaping eliminated an old bank which kicked balls down into the right bunker or rough. The  top edge of the bunker extension is now slightly angled to kick a ball toward the green instead of away from it. The difference is slight, but in no way is the hole more difficult for a good player. (The scoring average went down to 4.596 from 4.647 last year, even though the greens were much firmer this year and the hole had been given new "strength." The 17th also played easier this year statistically.)

As for the great tenth, I'll get to that tomorrow with some photos and ShotLink stuff. I know you can't wait.

"Golf Happens"

The L.A. Times sent out their former hockey columnist for some rivetting insights into Sunday's Nissan Open finale. Check out this killer lede:

Phil Mickelson's opportunities to win the Nissan Open were strewn around Riviera Country Club with the leaves that reclaimed the greens and cart paths after he lost to Charles Howell III on the third hole of a playoff.

The leaves that reclaimed the greens and cart paths? Wow. I need a moment to soak that poetry up.

And how about this Jim Murray-eat-your-heart-out moment:

Sunday was Howell's day to shine, to be known not as "Charlie three sticks" for the suffix attached to his last name, but as a winner.

Golf happens. Mickelson has a great short game, but he couldn't explain why he missed an apparently good putt on 13 and another on 16. Even Tiger Woods loses once in a while — though not in his last seven PGA Tour events and not here this year, since he chose to take a week off before this week's Accenture Match Play Championship at Marana, Ariz.

Mickelson, a two-time Masters champion, has lost tournaments before. And he will lose tournaments again.

Chills down the spine here in Santa Monica. 

Greetings From L.A., Volume 6

greetingsfromLAI don't have a whole lot to say yet about the final round because I want to ponder the events of Sunday and in particular, the 10th hole play. Oh, and, I want to go to bed.

In the meantime, I can report that this remark earned an audible groan from the assembled inkslingers who gathered for Charles Howell's post-Nissan Open victory interview room: 

JOAN vT ALEXANDER:   More important, you are on top of the FedExCup once again after another great week.  Congratulations.

CHARLES HOWELL III:  Thank you.  Obviously, the one time I really want to be on top of the FedExCup is a few months from now.  But I will definitely take this, and any time I can be leading a FedExCup list with the players in the world today, the players here at this field, is extremely special.  230136-683566-thumbnail.jpg
Charles Howell (click to enlarge)

Phil on 18 Sunday (click to enlarge)
Another point on Phil, before the game stories start appearing: it was a remarkable effort to shoot a final round 68 while his partners Padraig Harrington and Rich Beem stunk up the joint.

He spent an excessive amount of time waiting on them throughout the day, which may explain why they both so kindly offered to play out before Mickelson attempted his par putt in regulation.


Greetings From L.A., Volume 5

greetingsfromLAA hot and sunny Saturday at Riviera where the course seemed vulnerable, producing a bunch of 68s and 69s but no killer low round (well except Rich Beem's hole-in-one aided 65).

Phil Mickelson summed it up in his post round gathering with the scribblers (where I'm typing this literature): "it's hard to make a lot of birdies and hard to make a lot of bogies."

His sitdown included a beautiful rally killler:

Q.    I'm running a story about your old college roommate PerUlrik Johansson, he has lost all of his playing rights here in the States, and in Europe, can you give me a comment about that?

It's rather startling to see Padraig Harrington at 12 under considering how often he's short-siding himself, and also how many times he tried to play a pitch and run through the kikuyu. The most starting show, however, came at the 6th where he missed left of the green but had a nice bank behind the hole to throw his chip and have it go up a slope, then roll back down within five feet. He instead tried a spinning shot close to the hole that had no chance, and naturally he faced an 15-footer for par.

Here's what he said after.

6, I hit a 4- or 5iron left of the green.  And then chipped it by  it was short.  I chipped it well by the hole and missed the putt.  Seemingly I could have chipped it up the side of the green and it would have come back down.   I didn't happen to notice that.  My playing partner told me that as I was going up the next hole. 

Q.    Are you saying that was Phil that showed that to you and not Charles?


Nice of Phil to give him some help!

Media center affairs were rather dull other than the brief power outage and Marty Hackel's green-pant-pink-shirt-yellow belt ensemble. He declined to be photographed. I will try again tomorrow though, so look out Marty!

Calling In The Shinto Priest

redwood.jpgIllustration and insight from John Strege's Local Knowledge in the latest Golf World:

Those participating in this week's Nissan Open might notice that two stately redwood trees on the bank left of the 18th fairway at the Riviera CC are no longer there. They weren't removed without considerable consternation, either. In Japanese culture trees are thought to have souls, and to ensure the redwoods were dealt with properly, Riviera owner Noboru Watanabe summoned a Shinto priest to perform the ritual ceremony. A small temporary shrine was erected in front of the green. The ceremony included traditional chants on behalf of the souls embedded in the trees. The proceedings also reportedly included an O Harahi purification ceremony to cleanse the souls of those wielding the chainsaws that brought down the two trees, which were part of Riviera's landscape for about 50 years. The trees were removed in conjunction with the installation of a new irrigation system. The trees rarely came into play, and their removal is not thought to have altered the character of the course in any fashion.


Letter To The Editor

An interesting letter to the editor in Saturday's L.A. Times:

After suffering through last weekend's Pebble Beach Pro-Am, I think it's about time they put this little clambake to rest.

Years ago, when actual celebrities showed up, it was novel, and fun. Now with the B-list celebrities and six-hour rounds of hacking, it's like going to the dentist, with the pompous Nick Faldo along as commentator.

The reason I stopped playing golf was because of slow play and too many people on the course with absolutely no idea of how to play the game. Why would anybody want to watch it on TV?



Why Phil Is Popular

After the post 2nd round media scrum in the ladies locker, that didn't sound right.

Anyway, after meeting with TV and print folks who burned off their chicken and potato media room lunch by coming up the hill to Riviera's clubhouse, Phil Mickelson easily could have taken a right turn down a hallway and headed toward the locker room.

Instead, he announced his intention to sign autographs for 15-20 minutes, where around 50 people (mostly very young boys) were waiting in near darkness to get various items signed. Pretty classy.


Anthony Kim First Player In History of Game To Not Have Phone Call Returned By Tournament Director

I found out this week that Anthony Kim is about as popular in the press tent as a Monday finish, so it's nice to see him getting to display his inner self for all to read. Courtesy of Peter Yoon, L.A. Times:

"I thought I was going to have an opportunity to get my card through sponsor exemptions, but obviously I feel like I got snubbed there," said Kim, who earned his card through qualifying school.

"I was 165th on the money list in two tournaments that other people are playing 30 events in. Not to get an opportunity when people said they were going to give me an opportunity is a slap in the face."
Here's the best part:
Kim, who is playing this week on a sponsor's exemption because his Q-school status wasn't enough to get into the popular event, said he applied for several sponsor exemptions, but his calls went unreturned.

"Having the chance to get my card or at least bypassing two stages of Q-school would have been nice," he said. "But to not have that opportunity was pretty tough to swallow."

Kim had to play all three stages of qualifying school, a grueling five-week stretch that he blames for his slow start this season. He missed three cuts in four tournaments this year before shooting 72-69 at Riviera to make the cut in the Nissan Open.

Now that he has his card, Kim said he won't hold a grudge against those tournaments that ignored him last year — maybe.

"Obviously, I'm here now and they're going to be asking me to play in their tournament," he said. "We'll just play it by ear right now and we'll see what happens. I'm definitely going to remember what happened. "


I'm sure tournament directors around the world will now have many sleepless nights. 

Greetings From LA, Vol. 4

greetingsfromLAAh how I love the smell of cigar smoke in the morning.

How is it that the one smell I attribute to the Nissan Open at Riviera is not the scent of freshly cut grass or the distinctive eucalyptus, but the horrid scent of those little burning coyote turds.

That's not to say Friday's was a bore. Far from it. The old Friday afternoon buzz was back, with a nice sized crowd that ought to come within 15,000 of the actual tally posted in the press room. The epic weather (75, clear, crisp, no wind) and the afternoon pairing of Els-Mickelson-Taylor gave the proceedings made it a wonderful-to-be-alive day.

Several things are remarkable about Phil Mickelson at the moment. Namely, his autograph signing for kids after the round (even as his jet waits at Santa Monica Airport) and his incredible on-course focus. Not only is he in "the zone," but he's playing so quickly and efficiently (1 bogey through the first 36 on firm, fast greens!?).

His bomb drive and 287 yard second to the 17th led to the loudest Riviera ovation since members heard a rumor that the club had been sold.

Other than that, a fairly uneventful day. Oh, me and 15 other scribblers had breakfast with Arnold Palmer and Jim Nantz to introduce the 1960 Masters rebroadcast. And it could be one of the coolest golf telecasts you will ever see, but more on that later.  

Dwyre On Murray

Bill Dwyre remembers Jim Murray in his Friday column:

When it was time to get to know a new young sports editor in 1981, Murray set up a golf game at Riviera. The new kid didn't play much then and was fairly overwhelmed just standing on the first tee at Riviera. Soon, on the par-five first hole, the group found itself on the green with everybody else putting for five or six and Murray somehow lying three.

His birdie putt was about 50 feet, with one of those Riviera double breaks to start and then a break to the left before flattening out at the hole. Murray, in his late 50s then, but always a bit feeble after battles with eye problems and a malfunctioning heart valve, hunched over his putt, stroked it and watched as it went left, then right, then left again before straightening into the cup. Slowly, he walked to the hole and picked the ball out, then stood silently as the others focused on staying out of double figures.

When all had putted out, he quietly walked to the cart, sat down and waited for his guest to join him. The drive to the second tree was short, but by then, Murray could stand it no longer.

"Sometimes, I miss those left," he said. His huge grin foreshadowed what was to come. He shot 112.

Greetings From LA, Vol. 3

greetingsfromLAAnother lovely day at Riviera with flawless weather and light crowds making an already perfect spectator course that much more convenient. Number 10 was its usual delight to watch, though players are finding it almost too easy to drive now. So some of the most interesting decision making is beginning to disappear. But with U-grooves going to V-grooves, that should change everything!

It's also startling to see so many world class players with no one watching.  Friday afternoon's tend to draw decent crowds though. But the weather has been so poor for so many years, that I wonder if the traditional Friday types remember what a festive day it once was.

Or perhaps the crowds were light because of the abysmally slow pace of play and the funeral atmosphere resulting from this death march. Two groups did not finish due to darkness and another three or four groups played in near darkness. It's just not enjoyable to watch with everyone standing around and taking five hours to play in perfect weather with no rough.

Slow play, more than the ball or course setup or drone-like personalities, is killing the pro game as a spectator sport. And the lack of buzz on site translates to television. (Hint to ad people: the 18-34 year olds aren't into watching funerals.)

So here's what I propose. We take away the player bathrooms on the course, allow them to wear those Lisa Nowak astronaut diapers and start dishing out 2-shot penalities to each player in a group that doesn't finish in 4 hours and 30 minutes. And don't give me the nonsense about how it's just a few bad apples. They're all slow because you have to be slow, otherwise a fast player would lose his mind out here.