Proof Golf Gods Listen: Laying-Up Pays Off At Riviera's 10th!

There's a lot to love about John Merrick's Northern Trust Open win, mostly because the Long Beach-born and still-residing 30-year old is a former UCLA golfer and the closest thing to a native son to ever win the tournament (he passes Oxnard's Corey Pavin by 20 miles and is the first LA County born winner).

John Merrick birdies the par-4 10th in regulation play (click to enlarge)But also because after years of stinking up the 10th hole, Merrick figured out that laying up--a preferred approach to the hole of this website--actually works.

And after a birdie in regulation play and a winning-par on the second hole of this year's Northern Trust Open, Merrick's conservative approach paid off. So did his respect for the hole.

The Golf Gods do work in mysterious ways.

Check out Merrick's post round comments.

Q.  10?

JOHN MERRICK:  10, yeah, I just butchered that hole my rookie year, and a couple years after that, hitting driver and hitting 3‑wood in the traps and finally just laid up.  I actually hit 3‑wood yesterday to the front left flag and made par.  But yeah, I've just been laying up on that hole and I know with a wedge in your hand from the middle of the fairway, I think it's better than hitting wood off that tee, and it paid off.

So I hit 3‑iron and then I had 90 yards and just hit a full lob‑wedge.  I thought it was going to be a little bit closer and just kind of checked left.  I had a straight putt that I thought was going to break left but I kind of just laid it out to the right.

Yeah, and then Charlie hit driver, and it's a tough hole.  It's just from the tee box, you're sitting there and it looks like ‑‑ it looks so easy, looks like you are going to hit it up left of the green and chip on, but it's one of the great, short par 4s that we play on TOUR.

Q.  Charlie had pretty negative feelings about 10 being a playoff hole, just because of the way the hole plays, and I don't think he felt like it's a fairway ‑‑

JOHN MERRICK:  That's what he said?

Q.  He said they should put a windmill on it.

JOHN MERRICK:  (Laughs).

Q.  Thinking about 10, were you confident going into it?

John Merrick's textbook approach in regulation, via ShotLink (click to enlarge)JOHN MERRICK:  Yeah.

Q.  And was that because you had come to peace with what you wanted to do on that hole.


Q.  And did you think your shot had cleared the bunker off the club?

JOHN MERRICK:  Yeah, you know, maybe ‑‑ I think the way I played the 10th hole, maybe that's just a microcosm of how I approach this course and kind of my experience on the TOUR so far.

I think it's one of the great par 4s that we play, short par 4s.  Because when you look at it from the tee, it looks like the most benign hole.  You don't see all the slopes up on the left and everything.  It's so hard to hit a wood and be in great position there.  I mean, there's this little window like a little ten‑yard window where you have to put it to get up‑and‑down.  I think it's one of the great holes.

That 3‑iron I hit, it was kind of cooling off and it was kind of getting a little cold and it was 195 to clear the trap and I hit 3‑iron.  I knew I had plenty of club, but it was just a little further right than I wanted.  I wanted it further left to have a better angle.  I had a better angle in regulation.  But yeah, it just a 3‑iron and you've got a full lob‑wedge where you can take a full swing and put spin on the ball.

Yeah, I think that's the way to play that hole.

Q.  So total confidence on your part?

JOHN MERRICK:  Absolutely.  I knew for sure with that back right flag ‑‑ yeah, total confidence.  Why are you laughing, Doug?

I knew ‑‑ no, I wasn't going to hit wood.  I wanted a full wedge in my hand from the fairway.

How hard was that?

Apparently, too complicated for runner-up Charlie Beljan. I know it's hard to believe that someone so respectful of his President and who doesn't eat for 20 hours at a time during the most important competition of their life might not be the sharpest knife in the set, but if he wants to win at Riviera, Beljan might want to remember the old "attitude is a decision" mantra before he arrives at No. 10 next year.

Charlie Beljan (click to enlarge)Bobby Joe Grooves, the mic is yours...

CHARLIE BELJAN:  The 10th hole, it's been birdie or bogey all week for me.  I've laid up, I've made birdie; I've laid up, I've made bogey.  I've gone for it twice now and made two bogeys.  But the 10th hole, it's a tough golf hole.

I don't really have anything good to say about the 10th hole.  I think it's a funky golf hole.  Obviously that's what Riviera, they are kind of known for the 10th hole.  It is a great, short par 4.  The green just needs to be a little more receptive.  I'm glad that hole is not at TPC Scottsdale around the stadium where you see people making a big‑time fool of themselves.

Q.  Merrick puts himself in really good position off the tee on 10, and you took a while to think about it.  What were you thinking about and what happened on the swing itself?

CHARLIE BELJAN:  I wasn't that upset with the drive I hit.  I just knew I had to keep it left because he hit it right; I didn't think Merrick was in good position off the tee.  I don't think there is a good position on No. 10.  The only good position you're at is yesterday when I hit 2‑iron onto the front edge of the green and I got to 2‑putt for birdie.

Other than that, I don't think there is a good position on 10.  Anything could happen.  He hit a beautiful shot in there.  It carried the bunker by a foot and it barely stopped from going in the other bunker.

So that's how it goes.  My caddie and I was thinking about going for it, but to hit it in that little spot, there wasn't much chance.  I hit a tough chip out of there.  I hit a beautiful putt up there, and then I hit a good 4‑footer that when it left the face, I thought we were going to the next hole and it just broke more than I thought.

Q.  They talk about local knowledge being so key here.  Was there one shot or stroke in the playoff where you feel not having played here before made a difference?

CHARLIE BELJAN:  No, not at all.  I think you could play here 10,000 times and still not know how to play No. 10.

18 is a great golf hole.  You know, I just find it tough that we go to No. 10.  To play a playoff hole, I think it's a great hole, don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking it, but it's just a tough hole to have a playoff on.  We might as well go and put a windmill out there and hit some putts.

Shocking he lost the playoff, isn't it?

Nice work Golf Gods, nice work.

2013 Northern Trust Open Final Round Comment Thread

Somewhere between Hawaii Five-O plugs, shots of nearby college campuses and private golf courses that host the CBS team, and anything else they can think of not associated with golf, my sources confirm that CBS will have several segments showing more than three shots during the Northern Trust Open final round.

Then again, the way Bill Haas is playing he may be tough to catch. But if he falters, there is an interesting cast ready and willing.

Golf Channel broadcasts from 10 am PT to 11:30, CBS picks up some time after noon following Ohio State and Wisconsin.

Shot Of The Day From Riviera: Luke Donald

Northern Trust Open third round leader Bill Haas' workmanlike 64 was spectacular under the firm conditions and tough hole locations. But other than a pitch-in on the short 10th, his round yielded few must-see shots.

Except there was Luke Donald on 13.

Television didn't convey just how hard this shot is to draw around the tree and then get to sit quietly once it nears the green, nor was CBS able to get in a replay of the shot in between its laundry list of promos.

Donald posted a 70, leaving him at -8 and four back of leader Haas.

Hasn't This Ritual About Run Its Course?

The PGA Tour puts an American flag atop a flagstick now and then, thus requiring said flag to never touch the ground. So to show their appreciation for the men and women serving our country, members of the military are enlisted to save the flag from touching the ground, players and caddies stop to shake their hands and gallery hearts skip beats.
Read More

10th Hole Scatter Chart Autopsy, Northern Trust Second Round

What stands out as the 311-yard hole played to a 4.138 scoring average?

Probably how many more guys are trying the lay-up up compared to last year. And based on the scores, that's not helping them score any better. The 10th is currently the 8th toughest hole at Riviera for the 2013 Northern Trust Open.

Click on the image to enlarge:

Phil Mickelson's otherwise excellent 67 was marred by a double bogey on 10. He talked about it after the round:

Q.  Didn't see your second shot on 10.

PHIL MICKELSON:  I hit a drive way left and hit it in some of the trees there; I hit somebody; kind of fatted it into the chipping area.  And the chipping area is so tight, I couldn't get a wedge underneath it, bladed across the green in the bunker.  Hit a bunker shot to six feet and missed it.

Q.  You know you couldn't get a wedge underneath it?

PHIL MICKELSON:  It was a really precise shot.  I mean, as tight as these areas around the green that are shaved, it's tough to get a wedge underneath it, I really didn't have a chance.  I could have putted it 25 feet to the side.  Looking back, it would have saved me a shot but that's not really how I like to play.

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.