"From Hepburn to Mickelson, Riviera Embraces Hollywood and Golf"

Larry Dorman writes about Riviera's lore.

A riveting celebrity photo outside the men’s locker room shows Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.

“These walls have seen the biggest stars from every era,” said Michael Yamaki, the club’s corporate officer. “They have seen it all. There was a report once about W. C. Fields getting arrested here for debauchery.”

It had something to do with Fields taking liberties with the daughter of a Los Angeles police officer and is a true story, said Yamaki, who was once a member of the Los Angeles Police Commission.

Fact and fiction have a way of blending together at places where the combustible mystique of show business and golf mix, but at Riviera the facts are good enough.

West And Tiger

I penned a Tour Talk item for this week's Golf World on the Jerry West-Northern Trust Open pairing and Jill Painter includes a note about the West announcement in her golf column (after featuring Tina Mickelson and her efforts to grow women's golf).

Though most will understandably assume this is some sort of ceremonial position for West, I was impressed with his energy and passion for the gig. And as I explained in the Golf World item, West is an L.A. icon in a star-studded city that doesn't easily fall for celebrity.

Painter quotes him on the issue of landing Tiger, who it would seem West stands a chance of luring back to Riviera thanks to their past association and Tiger's soft spot for sports icons. And all with an assist from Eddie Merrins.

"I met him when he was a teenager," West said. "His father (the late Earl Woods) wanted me to talk to him about dealing with fame. He was one of those prodigies. He was playing with Eddie Merrins at Bel Air. It's been amazing to watch his career. He's always had a good relationship with the press. He didn't really need much of a conversation with me. He was always so poised. He was brought up with such a good work ethic. His father instilled that in him."

Barney Frank: Order Up More Golf Sponsorship, Go Easy On The Excess

Ron Sirak pulls an interesting clarification out of Congressman Barney Frank regarding the Northern Trust/TARP situation.

"No one is saying they shouldn't sponsor golf tournaments and honor existing contracts," Frank, the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee, said in a telephone interview. "It's the spending on luxury hotels and limousines they should not be doing. Now, if they weren't getting federal money it would be up to them to decide if that's how they want to spend their money."

That's an improvement from Frank's original outburst in which he implied running a golf tournament was a waste of corporate money. But it still means the tour has some work to do in getting its message across to the power brokers in Washington.

"It's certainly good news that Congressman Frank understands the title sponsorship partnership component, but we also need to do a better job explaining the charitable aspects, the economic impact and the marketing benefits it creates for the companies involved," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said by telephone when told of Frank's clarified position. "We have to work harder to make sure the business model is being understood."

Suggestion Commish: start by not saying that you have to work harder to make sure the business model is understood. It'll go a long way toward gaining support from people who are tired of hearing jargon-laced corporatespeak as a substitute for straightforward talk.

Northern Trust Hostage Crisis Day Four: Resolution Could Be Near!

Tom Petruno reports that Northern Trust is laying the ground work to possibly pay back their TARP money and to quiet their critics.

The bank hasn't said so directly, but it most likely didn't need the capital infusion, and went along with it because the government wanted participation by healthy and unhealthy banks alike.

In his letter to Frank, Waddell said: "We understand this is a time of great anxiety and financial distress, and your question regarding our support of an event such as the Northern Trust Open is legitimate.

"We deeply regret that some of the events associated with the Northern Trust Open have distracted from the positive nature of an event that has raised more than $50 million for charity since its inception."

As for repaying the $1.6 billion, which now is earning a 5% annual dividend yield for the Treasury, it isn't clear how easy that will be.

One key question is whether the government will require the bank to raise the same amount in private capital to replace the federal money, a task that could take some time.

Meanwhile SportsMediaWatch reports that the Northern Trust Open was the highest rated golf broadcast since the 2008 U.S. Open.

Highest rated golf events since Tiger Woods' injury.
3.3: Northern Trust Open, Final Round (Sun., 2/22/09, 3 PM CBS)
3.3: British Open, Final Round (Sun., 7/20/08, 8 AM ABC)
2.9: Ryder Cup, Singles Matches (Sun., 9/21/08, 12:30 PM NBC)
2.8: PGA Championship, Final Round (Sun., 8/10/08, 2:30 PM CBS)
2.4: British Open, Third Round (Sat., 7/19/08, 9 AM ABC)
2.4: Ryder Cup, Foursomes/Fourball Matches (Sat., 9/20/08, 9:30 AM NBC)

Northern Trust Hostage Crisis Enters Day Three: Media Steps In To Defend Tour And Sponsors

Isn't it wonderful seeing everyone get along, and more importantly, sticking up for the PGA Tour as a viable and reasonable marketing tool. Well, until it has to stick up for itself.

John Powers says Northern Trust should give back the TARP money and keep on sponsoring golf tournaments.

Garry Smits takes Maureen Dowd and TMZ to task for stretching key facts and writes that TMZ should have stuck to what it knows -- Jessica Simpson's weight or whether Jennifer Anniston still pines away for Brad.

Andrew Malcolm says a conservative watchdog group wants to know more about the relationship between Northern Trust and the Obama's.

And Ron Sirak really lays into the Dowd column, doing the PGA Tour's job of laying out talking points to defend golf sponsorship (okay, maybe minus the Tiffany trinket bags for a while, eh?).

That there is much reform needed in the U.S. economy seems to be indisputable. The business practices of the financial services industry, in particular, need serious scrutiny. No one can argue with that. But the scope of the problem extends well beyond professional golf tournaments and entertaining at those events. To rip golf is an ill-informed, easy way out -- a smokescreen retarding real reform.

What seems to be happening is that golf has become a convenient scapegoat for frustrated pundits and politicians who rely on the fact that an ill-informed public can be manipulated. Golf is not the enemy here, nor is the PGA Tour. The sport, in fact, is an extremely effective and cost-efficient marketing tool.

The Day Corporate Cool Died?

I leave for a few hours and we go from a shoddy TMZ report with exaggerations and blatantly incorrect information about the Northern Trust Open, to prominent members of Congress using it to call for everything but a public execution.

There are a number of ways to look at the Northern Trust situation. Obviously it's hard to sympathize with a group that received TARP money going on to do over-the-top entertaining when other recent examples of such excess have turned prominent companies into dirty words (A.I.G.).

Northern Trust signed on as L.A. Open sponsor to build it's brand in the west. Well, today they went national today.

On the other hand, Northern Trust is a victim here. Having been forced to take TARP money they apparently forgot there were new rules of doing business attached to that money no matter how unnecessary they believed it to be. If CEO Rick Waddell and his board had any cojones, he'd hold a press conference tomorrow with a big $1.6 billion winner's check in his hand and an offer to give it all back to the government.

My initial reaction to these events has more to do with the PGA Tour and the future of the sport. You may recall that I spared you more detailed thoughts about the direction the L.A. Open has taken with Northern Trust and PGA Tour's Championship Management whispering in their ears to push out the L.A. Junior Chamber of Commerce, corporatize everything in sight and in general, make the event more like events the PGA Tour operates: bland, soulless and devoid of local character but "elegant" to the discerning corporate clients visiting from Chicago who can pass a blindfold taste test between Grey Goose and Smirnoff.

While some of you might giggle at my pleas for an 18th green manual scoreboard, it's little things like this that lie at the heart of the utterly disastrous direction the PGA Tour has taken where the corporate world takes total priority over the experience of the everyday fan.Do we really need an on course concierge? (click image to enlarge)

As Barack Obama spoke Tuesday night and made the boldest declaration yet to end corporate greed, malfeasance and excess, I couldn't help but think that the PGA Tour had better be holding emergency meetings through the night figuring out how to wean themselves from a fatal attraction to this peculiar world of arrogant excess that mercifully died on February 24, 2009.

Obama: "I intend to hold these banks fully accountable for the assistance they receive, and this time, they will have to clearly demonstrate how taxpayer dollars result in more lending for the American taxpayer. This time, CEOs won't be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks or buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet. Those days are over."

Countrywide was visible at the 2009 NTO (click to enlarge)This doesn't mean golf or the days of golf tournament sponsorship are over. Nor does this unravelling of greed and corruption mean that corporations are going to be going away as hosts of golf tournaments and supporters of the game. And nor do we want them to go away.

However, the folks running the game are going to have to rethink their complete and utterly nauseating obsession with pleasing often out of touch and sometimes downright moronic hooligans who want tinted windows on their elevated luxury boxes so they can look down on the little people, who have little genuine regard for the values golf stands for, and who consistently display a disdain for anything beyond themselves.

TMZ Stunner: Northern Trust Paid To Host Tour Event, Had Courtesy Cars Too!

Gossip site TMZ seems to think they scored a major exclusive by reporting that Northern Trust paid millions to host a PGA Tour event and get this, providing Mercedes courtesy cars.

Sadly, TMZ apparently was unable to do a basic Google search and needs to have it explained that these cars were provided at Mercedes' expense for the PGA Tour players, not the bank.

Ah but that would get in the way of a good non-story!

I do agree that some of the excesses detailed are embarrassing in light of Northern Trust laying off 4% of its work force in December and taking (forcibly!) TARP money. It's equally embarrassing for Congress, which didn't hold Henry Paulson accountable for holding banks accountable and it's really humiliating for activist/singer/songwriter/raconteur Sheryl Crow, who is way too talented to be performing for a bunch of stiff bank VIP's.

But this part of the report is borderline comical:

Lots of people from Northern Trust went to the golf tourney ... in special Mercedes that shuttled them to and from the hotels. But for those who weren't into golfing, they could spend a few hours at the Northern Trust seminar on the credit crunch.

If anyone at TMZ is reading, here's the press release on the Mercedes about those "special" Mercedes.

Now, if it turns out that the PGA Tour's finest were shuttling bank execs to the course and then teeing it up, then that would be a good story.

Greetings From L.A. Final Mop-Up

I was going to bellow on about the corporatization of the tournament and how that is subsequently draining life from a once well-attended event and suggest ways to breathe new life into the L.A./Northern Trust Open, but really why bother? When the PGA Tour takes over tournament operations next year they'll whip out the Championship Manual and do their clean, sterile, boring thing. Crowds will continue to dwindle, the event will look just like a WGC minus Tiger, and I'll still be begging for an 18th hole scoreboard because the folks in Ponte Vedra don't ever actually go to a golf tournament on their own dime to experience it like a fan.

Instead, I thought it would be more productive to post the final ShotLink data and a more manageable plea to the far more agreeable and savvy folks who operate this wonderful technology. Could we revisit the 10th hole's "Going for the Green" stat? I think 3% of the field taking a crack is just slightly off!10th hole's four-round tee shot dispersion (click to enlarge)

For those of you shot dispersion junkies, here's this 2009's four round scoring from the location of the tee shot. (Right)

And finally, reader Steve emailed to ask how my prediction that the newly restored but poorly shaped short grass on No. 10 played out. You may recall that I noted how the poorly reshaped slope off the green, restored as short grass this after the brilliant idea to take one of the best features away, needed no help after surviving 81 years of play. Still, it was steepened and the Mickelson Mounds added to discourage drives near the 11th tee. However, the new area was collecting balls in the same small spots instead of a more diverse distribution that the gradual slope would have allowed.

Nice work by the Riviera crew to mask lousy shaping (click to enlarge)I point this out not to belabor the minutiae of golf architecture, but for you to file it under the old "why can't they build 'em like they used to" slot in your memory bank.

Well I figured I had it wrong because the area looked splendid Sunday. Then I walked on it while trailing the leaders and noted that the stellar Riviera maintenance staff has been ably masking the modern architect's failed shaping with very discreet Kikuyu patches where divots were created. Yet again, the superintendent makes an architect look good.

 

"The more Phil talks about Masters buildup, the more golf will become like tennis."

I make a guest appearance on this week's SI/golf.com/Golf Mag/Time Inc./People Magazine mass market paperback to discuss all things golf.

I'd like your thoughts on the content of this exchange, starting with my comment:

It's also fascinating how the win here, the Match Play and everything else are clearly secondary to him behind The Masters. He's just repeated at Riviera, which used to mean something, and all he can talk about is how it was great to be in contention to prepare him for Augusta. And the Match Play? He says it's like six final rounds, which is great preparation for The Masters. I don't ever remember someone winning here and viewing it that way. Got to love his focus on the big prize, but it's not like this is a silly season event.

Van Sickle: That's more of the Tiger Effect. Only the majors matter to him, and therefore to the rest of us. The Hogan history at Riviera, and also at Colonial, has very little meaning for the players two generations removed. Too bad.

Evans: The more Phil talks about Masters buildup, the more golf will become like tennis. Can anybody remember watching tennis outside of the Grand Slams? Golf is headed in that direction, despite reports to the contrary from the Golf Channel.

Now I may be misinterpreting Phil's reaction because he gets very strange in the media interview room depending on who asks a question. And I will say his caddy Jim "Bones" Mackay was visibly thrilled by the win and made sure to grab the flag on 18 for his collection of winning 18th hole flags.

But what do you think of what Van Sickle and Evans had to say about the bigger picture issue of majors overshadowing tour events?

Greetings From L.A., Phil-Grinds-Out-A-Win-Edition

The general malaise displayed by Sunday's Northern Trust field resulted from a return of the dreaded Beef Stroganoff cream-of-too-much-butter pasta in the media center dining room following a week of stellar menu options.  Players could sense post round interviews would come before a refluxing band of scribblers and therefore played tentatively throughout Sunday's gloomy but warm finale.

That's my theory anyway.

Phil Mickelson sprayed it around Riviera this weekend and has a 62-72 finish and second straight Northern Trust Open trophy to show for it.Phil Mickelson tees off on the 4th Sunday (click on image to enlarge)

You can look at his win two ways.

Behind door number one, you could say his ball striking is a mess and he was lucky to win. After all, how many times of you heard of a Hall-of-Famer hitting balls after a 62?

And behind door two, you could say that much like Tiger, Phil's a man among boys. He can be shaky with the ball striking, still post two over-par rounds, and go on to win a big time event on a course that exposes the slightest miscues.

I'm definitely voting for option two.

Fred Couples approaches the 1st hole Sunday as fans and photographers look on (click to enlarge)A similar conclusion could be drawn about Fred Couples, only his problems were on the greens (well, until the shank on 18). He outdrove Phil and Andres Romero several times and his overall iron play was stellar. Not bad for a 49-year-old part-time golfer.

As for the media center reports, Doug Ferguson does a nice job encapsulating a bizarre final day.

John Bush at PGATour.com shares some pretty impressive "With This Win" deals, including this one which should give Phil slightly more satisfaction than the 500 FedEx Cup points he picked up:

The win moves the left-hander out of a tie with Vijay Singh and into solo possession of 13th place on the all-time wins list.

Freddie's record isn't too shabby either:Andres Romero plays a remarkable recovery on No. 5. Note how far right he's lined up to compensate for the sidehill lie (click on image to enlarge)

Fred Couples, the 2009 United States Presidents Cup captain, made his 27th start at the Northern Trust Open a good one, finishing tied for third. His amazing record here includes wins in 1990 and 1992, as well as 25 made cuts, 19 top-25 finishes and 13 top-10 finishes.

Mickelson on 14 (click on image to enlarge)Helen Ross wonders if in spite of the win, if this is really the confidence booster Phil had hoped for.

Ferguson also notes that Couples was playing with a heavy heart, making his play that much more impressive.

Jim Achenbach does a beautiful job explaining why Riviera is such a great spectator course.

This reminds me how much I detest modern courses that are virtually unwalkable because they sprawl from one housing segment to another. Sometimes the ride from green to tee is longer than the ride from tee to green. In my mind, there is a disconnect in this design scheme. One hole never seems to flow naturally into the next.

One last Phil shot, the 9th tee shot (click to enlarge)Unless you are Walter Driver and Fred Ridley looking for validation of the change-courses-not-the-ball philosophy, don't read the rest of the column where Jim says that it's time for the governing bodies to start looking out for the Riviera's of the world, and then advocates...oh I can't even type it. And to think we could have bickered about this Jim!

Speaking of the ball going too long, I had heard from a marshal that Shigeki Maruyama was nailed in the back by an incoming range ball Saturday while he was in the 11th fairway...past the barranca. For those of you who don't know the course, this requires about a 330 yard carry.  A reliable source says Shigeki is still awaiting a show of concern/acknowledgment of pulse from the culprit, the one and only J.B. Holmes.No. 18 continues to be one of the great stages in the game (click to enlarge)

That's all for now, but I have a few more NTO posts to mop up with this week. For now, hope you enjoy the black and white images and other iphoto distorted stuff. As someone who loves the old imagery of L.A. Opens past, I thought it'd be nice to see 2009 the way tournaments used to look. And besides, it was a B&W kinda day Sunday, don't you think?

"We gave him his first exemption."

Before we crown another winner here in L.A., I wanted to post this item from Jill Painter that ran earlier this week in the L.A. Daily News and earning huge eye rolls from the assembled scribes. Quoting Rick Waddell of Northern Trust on the chances of luring Tiger back to the Northern Trust Open:

"I fully expect he'll play in the Northern Trust Open in some years ahead," Waddell said. "When he does, I hope I'll present him the trophy like I did with Phil last year."

Mickelson had taken the Northern Trust Open off his schedule for five years before returning in 2007, when he lost in a playoff.

Woods isn't playing the event for the third consecutive year. He's played 11 times at Riviera, including two as an amateur, but has never won here. It's Woods' longest tenure at a tournament without a victory.

This is essentially a home tournament for Woods, who grew up in nearby Cyrpess, so Waddell has good selling points.

"This is a golf course that's very familiar to him," Waddell said. "We gave him his first exemption."

We?

Greetings From L.A., 63-72-62 Edition

A 5 a.m. wake up call afforded me the chance to:

(A) watch John Mutch set up the back nine so Phil Mickelson could torch it in 30 for a 62 to follow his 63-72

(B) check out the huge sucker hole location on No. 10 that Mutch thought might be too easy but, for a second year in a row, proved way too deceiving for the majority of today's bomb and think about the consequences later

(C) think long and hard about the need to compliment the first rate media food service with a small nap area here in our media hanger for these soft, overcast, muggy days after a nice hot lunch. I'm thinking clear booths like the radio people passed on using this week so we can all see who just couldn't stay away any longer and had to lie down.Phil Mickelson after missing his birdie try on 18 that would have tied the course record (click to enlarge)

The chances are slim since last year's pleas to restore the manual scoreboard on 18 were ignored. The chances will dim even further next year when PGA Tour Championship Management steamrolls over any semblance of non-corporate aesthetics and local flavor in favor of sterility, so I guess I'll just curl up under a tree next time sleep beckons.

Fred Couples tee off on No. 9 (click on image to enlarge)Thankfully the golf was lively today, with the overcast skies apparently making it easier for players to see, as Fred Couples talked about in his enjoyable post round press conference. The cloud cover added a little "stick" to the greens in Mutch's word as we drove around and boy did the players respond. Mind you the greens were still pretty firm but just a shade slower and receptive.

Now, I know I beat this 10th hole thing to death, but watching today and witnessing the nearly endless stream of mindless shots reminded me why it is so fun and vital in gauging a player's ability. Because Riviera's 10th consistently shines a big nasty light on the course management ineptitude of today's modern golfer (look how few layed up left with a sucker front hole location in the ShotLink image right).Shotlink dispersion chart for Saturday's third round play (click to enlarge)

Robert Allenby and Fred Couples were tied for the lead after 10 holes (click to enlarge)Ah but you'll say, note that Couples hit it way right off the tee, a big no-no for a veteran. I asked about that and he explained after the round. His comments might shed some light on why he has so much success at Riviera:

Q. Talking about your love of the golf course, and the great architecture, on 10, you laid up very far to the right. Can you talk about how you approach the 10th hole all the time, and why you played that shot today?

FRED COUPLES: I shanked that shot today. (Laughter).

But to be honest with you, every day I try and go further left than people think. And very rarely do I hit driver there.

But over the years, I've played it really, really well. And I try and go this way.

And today in my mind, I knew where the pin was and I tried to go further to the right and then I told myself even further, and I just kind of luckily was in the fairway. If it had gone another yard to the right in the rough, I would have had no shot. But I hit a great little 75yard shot in there to stop it. But that's a tough, tough hole.

To recap for the 8 milionth time, the strategy is simple: play left in some way, either driving the green or laying up and you will be okay. Right is DEAD!!

CBS's 10th hole graphic says it all (click to enlarge)Just check out the killer ShotLink graphic CBS ran today on the six years of stats compiled under the system.

As for Mickelson's incredible round, the 7 one-putt day on the back side was nice but I was most astonished by just how far he is hitting his tee shots. Since the USGA and R&A keep saying distance has been capped, Phil's comments were interesting:

Q. How much longer are you hitting it with your new driver than previous drivers?

PHIL MICKELSON: It's a noticeable difference for me. When I say noticeable, it's 12 yards. I mean, that's a big difference for me. Being able to get eight, nine yards for carry, that's a really big difference. I mean, usually it would be two or three yards and you would notice a difference. This is a big difference for me.

The biggest thing, though, is that I'm able to work shots, hit cuts, draws, low shots, rather than just one standard shot.

And finally in media center news, the turnout was cut by more than half with Ryo's departure, but that still didn't stop a modified sign from being posted for those who apparently chose to smoke in the portable toilets.Women's restroom sign at the media center (click to enlarge)

I wonder what PGA Tour Championship Management would make of that handmade sign?

2009 Northern Trust Photo Caption Fun, Vol. 1: Phil Confronts Marty!

I was the lone (impartial) witness to this heated encounter--as you can tell by the intense stare down from Phil Mickelson--between renowned white belt wearer Phil and his top critic, Golf Digest fashion guru Marty Hackel following Saturday's third round.

It went something like this:

Phil: Marty, Bones tells me you were critical of my white belt.

Marty (gesturing wildly): Love the belt! I just think you should wear white shoes with it.

Phil: Oh that would be way over the top!

From there it spiraled with no-on-the-white-belt votes from Jim Mackay and Butch Harmon, who were supervising the rare post-round ball striking session. (Yes, he was hitting balls after a 62.) Mickelson then explained to Hackel where the white belt concept came from, and if I shared the story (A) you'd never in a million years believe what he said and (B) it would violate the writer-player driving range off-the-record agreement that I'm sure I signed off when I autographed my PGA Tour media regulations form.

But naturally, you are welcome to offer your fictional versions of this encounter. Tastefully, of course.

Nice Column On Rocco...

...By Bill Dwyre in the L.A. Times, writing about Rocco's determination to play Riviera this week and about his incredible start.

Thursday, Mediate teed off quietly, walked slowly around the Riviera course while managing a one-under-oar 70. Friday, he walked it again and turned in a three-under 68.

The good news, for Mediate, is that he made the cut at four under and will play two more rounds today and Sunday.

The bad news, for his physical therapist and surgeon, is that Mediate made the cut and will play two more rounds today and Sunday.

Only 18 days ago, after he dragged the knee around the Sunday round of the FBR Open in Scottsdale on Feb. 1, Mediate had surgery done by Dr. Tom Knapp of the Santa Monica Orthopedic Group. Immediately thereafter, his physical therapist, Cindy Hilfman, took over.

The goal was to get him ready to play at Riviera, his "favorite track," according to Hilfman.

Asked Friday what it would have taken to keep him out of this tournament, Mediate said, "Death."

Greetings From L.A., Cut Day This And That

Just another warm, sunny day with Junior Chamber of Commerce weather at Riviera.

Question: will we still get these glorious days when PGA Tour Championship Management takes over operations from the Junior Chamber?

Crowds were larger Friday, though still not nearly the size or exuding the energy level of past Friday afternoons. Players continued to respond with excellent play despite firming greens and a little afternoon wind. Phil Mickelson suffered from the usual post-incredible-round blues, posting a 72 and struggling most of the way. Still, he's only three back heading into the weekend with a nicely stocked leaderboard.Mickelson blasts out of the bunker on 11 and knocks it three feet even though a shutter went off way early and turned Bones into Stevie for just a second (click to enlarge)

The sponsor exemptions played admirably but not well enough for the weekend. Sifford exemptee Vincent Johnson impressed many, Pepperdine's Jason Gore is positioned for a nice check, and most observers feel Ryo Ishikawa has a ways to go in the course management department. In other words, he's no Rory McIlroy. ;)

Friday's "Where's Marty Hackel When You Need Him?" Award Winner (click to enlarge)I bounced around the course and took in a variety of groups, mostly hovering near the 10th hole when possible. Naturally it did not disappoint even with more guys laying-up today, but they still don't seem to want to lay-up left, meaning there were still plenty of things just won't see anywhere else in golf. Look for a juicy hole location Saturday to spice things up even more.

It was great seeing Peter Kostis, CBS analyst, former Titleist something-or-other and overall fan of all things this website, reunited with a Titleist bag while shooting some segment that most will TiVo right on by.Love the Titleist bag Peter! (click image to enlarge)

A strange, you-had-to-be-there highlight of the day came while watching Johnson Wagner in the trees off No. 13, asking marshals to fuss with ropes, lemonade stands, pretzel cards and anything but the trees themselves. After a host of requests for the team of marshals on No. 13 and changing his mind on where to pitch out, Wagner finally decided on a simple chip out (therefore rendering all previous requests pointless).

After the shot he smiled sheepishly, blushed and said "So sorry" to the devoted volunteers. They of course said they were happy to oblige, but it was just one of those nice little gestures you don't see enough of from today's pro: an acknowledgement of the men and women in green who make the tournament a reality. 

Phil To Marty Hackel: How About That Contrast!

Defiant to the end, Phil Mickelson appeared Friday in his all black, white belt/hat ensemble that just weeks ago drew an all caps "DO NOT HAVE CONTRAST" observation from intrepid Golf Digest fashion guru Marty Hackel. I say the white belt does a wonderful job bringing out his upper arm-tan lines. Frankly, more offensive than the white belt may be the mariachi polo.

Greetings From LA, It's-75-And-There-Are-More-People-At-Most-Nationwide-Events-Edition

Let's get the important stuff out of the way on what was an otherwise slow news day: media dining has taken a considerable leap this year. I know you were worried.

After years of mystery meats on beds of kikuyu cream sauces, the vaunted Riviera chef's best creations have made their way to our little hanger between the first and second fairways. Today's superb Butternut Squash soup topped yesterday's Chicken Gumbo, something I never could have imagined.

In less important news, the golf was splendid. Unfortunately few were there to see it.Ernie Els on Thursday (click to enlarge)

The players took advantage of breathtaking 75 degree weather and no wind to light up Riviera. The course setup saw only 3 hole locations four paces from the edge and just five-five pacers. The rest were all sixes and sevens, a far cry from recent years when threes and fours dominated and round 1 never came close to finishing. Pace of play was still wretched Thursday, but most afternoon groups got around in under five hours, allowing the near completion of first round play.

More disturbing for the future of the event was the Nationwide-like feel to the day. Even with amazing weather fans are staying away. And while the economy is in part to blame for the dearth of spectators, I would also chalk the low attendance to increased ticket prices ($30) and the disappearance of the various ticket giveaways that brought such great crowds out in year's past (test drive a Nissan, spent $25 on Vons groceries, etc...). Hopefully PGA Tour Championship Management will consider bringing back some of these fan friendly issues next year when they take over, but from what I've seen with things like the 18th hole scoreboard and the overall obsession with trying to make the event more upscale via sterile signage, I'm not optimistic.

Perfect day, great pairing, no fans (click to enlarge)I trailed the Ogilvy-Els-Imada threesome and by the time they reached the 17th hole, there were about 100 people around. It was 4:30 and delightful out. Just a shame.

In pressing fashion news, Ryan Moore won the day's prize for strangest shoes (I'm sparing you the rest of the outfit details). So are these actually sold or did he have Softspikes specially installed? If the latter, that's impressive.Ryan Moore's shoes (click to enlarge)

In Ryo news, I followed the young lad for a few holes and he certainly has a nice game. Even more impressive, he handles all of the hoopla gracefully. Keep in mind that he's dealing with photographers who were seen clicking away at his image on the press-room televisions. These people are disturbed!

Ryo's entourage snapping away as he tees off No. 12 (click to enlarge)In 10th hole news (where they desperately need a grandstand), there was the usual mix of birdies and bizarro bogies, with all sort of strange plays and a few more lay ups left!). After his 63, I asked Phil Mickelson about his approach to the 10th. He's pretty high on his strategic approach...

Q. Back on No. 10, where are you trying to hit it off the tee? What is your actual strategy there from the tee?

PHIL MICKELSON: You know, I've played that hole very effectively the last couple of years, and have played it under par and bettered the field average and I would rather not say what I'm trying to do there. (Laughter).