Saturday, February 21, 2009

2009 Northern Trust Open: Los Angeles, Riviera C.C.

The Thursday and Friday rounds at Riviera offered both player and spectator alike a fair chance at gratification and excitement. With the predominant ocean breeze more of a factor on Day One, how remarkable was the chance of Hole 4, the redan-style classical Par 3, yielding any two's, let alone the three in two groups seen when Harrington flagged it with his hybrid, followed by Mickelson inside it with his four-iron. Immelmen's twenty footer completed the hat trick. The new stands behind the green held loose 70 or so souls, rewarded with "giveaway" cards for birdies on 4. Once redeemed, in the last tent before the exit, the patient spectator chose a swag item: water bottle, cloth bag, sunglass clip or notepad.

Retief Goosen looks fit and if he can shake the broom may be poised for a return-to-form year.

Luke Donald is a fine iron player but is out length-end at Riviera. If he was stronger he would win a lot.

Ryo Ishikawa is a 17 year old Asian tour two-time winner, ranked in the top 70 in the world. Hello! His exemptions so far this season on the PGA Tour include here, Bay Hill and The Master's, Augusta National's Easter blessing. He had a large gallery following him, before packing up on Friday night.

There is no more interesting player to watch than Podraig Harrington for his attention to the inner game manifest in his movements thru the course of play, on the course of the day. Seemingly innocuous to any outcome, he displays an obviously graceful respect for the game, and seemingly by extension, the manner of life he lives because of it. Harrison Ford displays the same quality, rarely excepted, in his acting. Tommy Armour III is tearing it up, his grandfather finished 2nd to Macdonald Smith at the first Los Angeles Open, in 1929 at Riviera. Bobby Jones filmed here; Ben Hogan drew and rolled his way to golfdom's highest peak here. Golf grew a thicker skin because of Riviera. It's not particularly long but the terrain's elevation changes challenge the unfit, and the grabby nature of Poa Annua and Ziosa (sic) grasses brought by Will Rogers to populate the nearby mountain meadow Polo Fields have turned the land into a living tapestry of unexpectedness.

I once had a round of a lifetime in my grasp, under par most of the day needing pars on 17 and 18 to stay there. It not the place to chicken count; for when my safe hybrid, instead of iron, popped up from fairway left's first cut and a missed put counted double-bogey 6 on the eighteenth, my 73 felt more spiked than smooth.

The round at Riviera leads you, the player. Every hole has a mainstream, and woe is the merchant traveler who doesn't take it at the flood.

Phil Mickelson shot a third-round 66 last year that belongs in an Art Museum. Effortless, technically marvelous and brutal was the way he lunged and parried. He is therefore this year's defending champion. The previous year he almost won it, some blaming the Rancho Santa Fe commute on his dulled few final holes. He shot 63, minus 8, on Friday. That's eight birdies. His gallery growing larger by the minute, he did me a nice favor by stiffing it on 7 allowing me to move on, staying ahead of the crowd. I fancied as much of Harrington, Johnson (Zach), and Goosen as I could get, and they were always one hole in front. Phil is very strong. He gets the best equipment, and is skilled at tinkering. When he achieves the correct alchemy he is the best in the game. He doesn't have Tiger's, or Jack's, will force which makes them Immortalis Moderne, but he is one of the greatest ever we will see at conjuring up his imagination's perfect solution. He must hit it close to the hole to dominate. When he does, he does.


Note: this article was written and posted after completion Saturday's third round and, as it is reportage of the two previous day's play, makes no mention of Mickelson's 62 which puts him four shots ahead moving into Sunday. Weather-permitting, good viewing is on offer with a good man conducting his own symphony.

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