Northern Trust Open 2016
Round 4 - Late surge seals win for Bubba Watson
February 22, 2016
Bubba Watson packed plenty of memories from his week in LA. He has a kidney stone as a keepsake. He had a cameo in ''Girl Meets World.'' He received a text Sunday morning from Steph Curry offering shooting tips to Watson's son. And he capped it all with the best memento of all.
''Hold on a second, my trophy is coming,'' Watson said, interrupting his press conference as the shiny prize was placed on the table next to him.
It wasn't clear if passing the kidney stone or winning the Northern Trust Open was more difficult.
Two shots behind with four holes to play, Watson rallied with flawless golf and a pair of birdies over the last three holes to overtake Jason Kokrak and hold off Adam Scott to win at Riviera for the second time in three years and move back to No. 4 in the world.
All week long, Watson spoke of the importance of making putts at Riviera, and he needed all of them - the 10-footer for par on No. 10 to stay in the game, and a pair of birdies to twice tie for the lead, from 30 feet on No. 11 and from 5 feet on the par-3 16th.
And then he took the lead with a birdie that was pure Bubba.
Both feet came off the ground as he hammered a drive 334 yards on the 582-yard 17th hole, and then he hit 2-iron to the back of the green that led to a two-putt birdie. He closed with a 3-under 68 for a one-shot victory over Kokrak and Scott.
''The highlight is definitely winning,'' Watson said. ''When you come to Hollywood, there's a lot of things you can do. It's fun. And winning is the cake.''
It was a bitter taste for Kokrak, going for his first PGA Tour win and making it look like it was his time when he fired at a dangerous pin on the 13th and pulled it off for a short birdie putt that gave him a two-shot advantage.
But he made bogey from the fairway on the 15th, had to scramble for par on the next two holes and narrowly missed a birdie on the 18th that ended his chances.
''You've got to eliminate the mental mistakes,'' Kokrak said after a 68. ''Hitting it in the middle of the green on 15 is just ... I had a two-shot lead at the time.''
Scott raced off to a big start with an eagle and three birdies over his opening six holes. He missed a pair of 4-foot par putts on the back nine, only to bounce back with a key birdie on the 17th and a chip-in for birdie from behind the 18th green for a 67 that tied him for the lead, but only briefly.
Watson, two groups behind him, two-putted from 40 feet for his go-ahead birdie.
''A guy like Bubba, he's very tough to beat,'' Scott said. ''He's proving tough to beat from that position. He's wearing the course out on the toughest day.''
Six players were still in the mix on the back nine until the final few holes.
Rory McIlroy was not among them.
McIlroy tied for the lead with an eagle on the par-5 opening hole, then made nothing but pars and seven bogeys until a meaningless birdie on the final hole for a 75 that put him in a tie for 20th. He loved Riviera and said he would be back. He just didn't like the way his week ended.
''I turned a chance to win into a top 20 at the end of the day, so that wasn't too good,'' McIlroy said.
Watson won for the ninth time in his PGA Tour, but rarely on a week with so much activity.
He said he passed the kidney stone on Monday, and then took 3-year-old Caleb to hang with Justin Bieber. He taped a ''Girl Meets World'' show, and even was given one line (that required four takes). And then he rushed out of Riviera with a one-shot lead Saturday night to hang at Staples Center for a Clippers-Warriors game. He said Curry sent a text about 15 minutes before he teed off Sunday offering some shooting tips to Caleb.
And then he wound up a winner at Riviera again, a course he loves because of the history and because it changes so little over the years.
The timing couldn't have been better.
Watson was still stung by his week at the Phoenix Open, when he was booed for comments earlier in the week that he didn't like the changes to the TPC Scottsdale. He said that was misconstrued into a headline that he didn't like the tournament, and he said the verbal abuse was so bad that at least two players complained on his behalf.
But when asked earlier this week if he was going back to Phoenix, Watson replied, ''I'll be the first one to sign up.''
And he'll be back at Riviera, the course that still makes him nervous over every shot (especially on No. 10) and every putt. He still managed to win.
Round 3 - Bubba Watson edges ahead
February 21, 2016
Bubba Watson has the 54-hole lead at the Northern Trust Open, and that might not even be the most fun he's had this week.
He took his 3-year-old son to hang out with Justin Bieber. The two-time Masters champion had a small part - one line that he said required four takes - in Disney Channel's show ''Girl Meets World.'' And he couldn't wait to leave Riviera on Saturday so he could get to an NBA game between the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors.
''That's the advantage is that I'm friends with a lot of the guys, friends with Steve Ballmer - I don't know if you know him, he's the owner of the Clippers,'' Watson said.
Winning at Riviera for the second time in three years? That might be gravy.
Watson put himself in prime condition on a gorgeous afternoon along Sunset Boulevard with a 4-under 67, which included an efficient up-and-down for birdie on the par-5 17th to break out of the pack and a par save from the concession area down the hill and to the right of the 18th green.
Navigating the final 18 holes against a strong pack of contenders might be tougher than traffic on the 405.
Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama were all among the 10 players within three shots of the lead going into the final round. Watson was at 12-under 201, one shot ahead of Johnson, Jason Kokrak and Chez Reavie.
''We all feel good about our chances, even the guy that's five back,'' Watson said. ''For me, I'm going to go out and try to do the same thing, keep my head down, try to take deep breaths and try to slow it down and hopefully it works out.''
Watson hit more fairways on Saturday (10) then the opening two rounds combined. He's not bothered by being in the short grass as much as having the right angle to the green, and what has really left him at ease - as much as Watson is ever at ease - is making the short putts. He has made only three bogeys in 54 holes.
''Knowing that I've won here and knowing that I can play around here, obviously I have a little bit of an advantage on the guy that probably hasn't won here,'' Watson said.
Kokrak, the 36-hole leader, made three birdies on the back nine to salvage a 70 and remain in the final group. Reavie had a three-shot lead at one point on the back nine, courtesy of a perfectly placed drive that led to eagle on No. 2. But he missed a pair of 8-foot par putts on consecutive holes and had to settle for a 69.
For all the birdies, the final round was shaped largely by pars on the 18th hole.
McIlroy, making his debut at Riviera, made three birdies on the back nine to reach 10 under when he pushed his tee shot too far right on the 18th for the second straight day. This time, he played too much of a fade around the eucalyptus trees, and it tumbled down the hill next to the concessions stand. His chip raced by the hole, leaving a downhill par putt form 18 feet that he made for par.
''That's one of the loudest cheers I've had in a while,'' McIlroy said. ''It would be nice to hear something like that again tomorrow.''
He shot 67 and was two shots behind, a group that included Scott (67), UCLA alum Kevin Chappell (66), the resurgent K.J. Choi (67) and Marc Leishman (68).
''Everyone is playing good, and it's whoever probably wants it the most tomorrow makes it happen,'' Scott said. ''Not everyone is just going to fade away. It's not that brutal hard and fast stuff where your slight miss is really punished and you can't get it up-and-down.''
Watson's par from about the same area was even better. He was able to clip the ball perfectly, and it checked up just 3 feet above the hole.
Matsuyama, who won in Phoenix two weeks ago, made five birdies on the front nine to get into the mix, only to put four 5s on his card on the back nine. He shot 68 and was three shots behind, along with Troy Merritt (70).
It's still wide open, even with the experience at the top of Watson and Riviera, and the experience of winning anywhere by McIlroy, who's at No. 3 in the world.
''It's one of these golf courses, if you just stay around, hang in there and not make too many mistakes, stay patient, your time will come and it will present itself with a few opportunities,'' McIlroy said. ''And thankfully on the back nine, I was able to take some of them.''
Round 2 - Jason Kokrak takes lead, Jordan Spieth misses cut
February 20, 2016
Jason Kokrak sensed something special was about to happen, and he could point to his name atop the leaderboard Friday in the Northern Trust Open.
For so many others, Friday was something out of the ordinary.
Jordan Spieth, the world's No. 1 player, made eight birdies and missed the cut by five shots. Charl Schwartzel made a double bogey and a triple bogey - the latter when a shot hit him in the hand - and still shot 68 to remain in contention. Padraig Harrington realized during the round he was wearing someone else's right shoe. Brendon de Jonge was penalized four shots because he left a wedge in his bag that had been damaged the day before.
Kokrak made birdie on all the par 5s at Riviera on his way to a 7-under 64 to build a one-shot lead over Chez Reavie (67) going into the weekend. Kokrak has never won on the PGA Tour, though power can go a long way on this course under these conditions and he has plenty of it.
''It's been a struggle to learn how to play this golf course,'' said Kokrak, who has not finished in the top 30 in his four previous tries. ''It's old school. It's very hard. But it's right there in front of you. If I can hit the driver a little bit straighter and keep it in the fairway, it's a huge advantage for me.''
He was at 10-under 132.
There was plenty of power around the top of the leaderboard.
Dustin Johnson (66) and Bubba Watson (68) were in the group at 8-under 134. Johnson has been the runner-up at Riviera each of the last two years, while Watson won the Northern Trust Open two years ago with a 64-64 weekend. Rory McIlroy (69) and Adam Scott (68) were four shots behind.
Johnson was hitting the driver so well that after a high cut that went 332 yards on the 12th hole, he decided to try the same shot on the 13th. He took it over the eucalyptus trees on the 458-yard hole, leaving only a sand wedge from 116 yards. He wound up making par, and making an impression on Adam Scott.
''Fourth hole of our day, he's swinging like it's 95 degrees and midday somewhere,'' Scott said. ''I was looking for another cup of coffee and he's piping it over the trees on 13. The way he drives the golf ball is just unreal. He's an incredible talent and fun to play with, fun to watch.''
Watson was far more boring. He opened with two birdies, added another on the par-4 eighth and filled his flawless card with 15 pars. He doesn't mind boring as long as he's not making bogeys, and that was quite a feat in the afternoon when the poa greens are so bumpy that putts roll like they have mud on the ball.
Schwartzel was anything but boring. He had seven birdies and an eagle, which helped soothe the aggravation of two holes. He caught a plugged lie in a bunker on the treacherous 10th to start his round and made double bogey. He followed with three birdies and an eagle at the par-5 first, only to make triple bogey on No. 2 when his tee shot hit a cart path and was next to the out-of-bounds fence. Trying to chip out a few yards, the ball bounced up and hit him in the hand.
''Those two holes were just out of the blue,'' Schwartzel said. ''I don't feel like I did that much wrong with them. And if it wasn't for them, I'd probably be top of the leaderboard again.''
He is coming off a victory last week in South Africa, and the 10-hour time change explains why he was a bit groggy for his afternoon tee time. Even so, he was in the large group at 6-under 136 that included McIlroy, Scott, Hideki Matsuyama (67) and Justin Leonard (69).
McIlroy had a few careless three-putt bogeys, but he atoned for that with a majestic 3-wood up the hill from 285 yards to 20 feet for a two-putt birdie on the par-5 17th.
Spieth was a long shot to make the cut after opening with a 79, but he at least made it interesting with four straight birdies around the turn. That ended with a bogey, and he left California in good spirits. ''We'll be fine,'' he said.
As for Harrington?
He shot a 70 in white, classic-style Foot-Joys. They looked the same. The fit the same. But only when he went to clean off the sole and noticed a different set of spikes did Harrington realize the right shoe was different from the left.
It didn't affect his play, although he surely left Riviera wondering who was wearing his other shoe. Or if the other player even noticed.
Round 1 - Camilo Villegas leads, Jordan Spieth shoots 79
February 19, 2016
Camilo Villegas hasn't make a cut all year and has only broken 70 one time in four previous trips to Riviera, so it was mildly surprising to see him with an 8-under 63 to build a three-shot lead Thursday in the Northern Trust Open.
That wasn't the biggest surprise.
One spot from the bottom of the leaderboard was Jordan Spieth, the world's No. 1 player who shot an 8-over 79 on one of his favorite courses. It was his worst start ever as a pro, and his highest score since an 80 in the third round of the 2014 Tour Championship.
''In the course of a career, I imagine it's going to happen,'' Spieth said. ''Just unfortunate when it actually does.''
And there was one more surprise for everyone. Riviera, which played so fearsome during the practice rounds under a hot sun, was softer than usual after a steady overnight rain that never cleared until moments before the first round began.
Spieth said he couldn't trust how the course was playing. Villegas also was stunned when he heard players from the morning round talk about 4-irons stopping on the green, instead of taking a hard bounce.
''You don't really shoot 8 under around this place not playing good,'' Villegas said. ''Obviously, the rain yesterday made the golf course a lot more accessible.''
Bubba Watson, who won at Riviera two years ago with a 64-64 weekend, opened with a 66 along with Chez Reavie and Luke List.
Rory McIlroy, making his first PGA Tour start this year and his debut at Riviera, opened with two quick birdies and added two more on the front nine for a 67. He was in a large group that included 22-year-old Charlie Danielson, the Illinois senior who earned a spot in his first PGA Tour event by winning a collegiate qualifier on Monday.
''I just went out and tried to enjoy the day,'' Danielson said. ''I had no idea if I would shoot 80 or 66, so I just went out with no expectations and it worked out.''
Spieth didn't have any expectations of a 79 - or worse. Still to be determined is whether his ball moved before hitting a chip on the ninth green. Spieth asked rules officials to review the video. He said he was fairly certain it didn't move, but wanted to be sure. A decision was not expected until Friday morning. It would be a one-shot penalty under Rule 18-2 if the ball did move.
That was the least of his worries. The round got away from him on the back nine when he kept missing greens and leaving himself short par putts that are difficult on poa greens in the afternoon. Spieth dropped six shots over the last seven holes, including a three-putt double bogey from 8 feet on the 18th.
''I'm not throwing this tournament away,'' Spieth said. ''I'm not packing it in by any means.''
Only one other player in the 144-man field shot worse than Spieth. The Masters and U.S. Open champion was the last man on the practice range Thursday night when the first round was suspended by darkness. Fourteen players did not finish the round.
Villegas didn't want it to end.
He opened with a pitch to tap-in range for birdie on No. 10, far less fearsome with slightly softer conditions. But his round really took off on the front nine when he ran off four straight birdies starting at No. 5 when he holed a 25-foot birdie putt. He hit his tee shot to 3 feet on the par-3 sixth, and holed a pair of 15-foot putts on the next two holes. Villegas needed one more birdie at No. 9 to match the course record of 61 that Ted Tryba set in 1999.
He missed the green to the right and chipped to 4 feet, missing the par putt and settling for a 63.
''I got on fire there for a little stretch,'' he said. ''And obviously, a little mishap on the last hole. But man, I thought I made the chip, too. It was a good day out there. Fun.''
McIlroy started birdie-birdie, and his lone mistake was a tee shot into a deep bunker on No. 15, leaving him no chance at reaching the green. Even so, he was happy to take advantage of the conditions.
''Put myself out of position a couple of times, but with the way the conditions of the golf course were, it didn't punish you as bad as if it would have been as firm as it was the last couple of days,'' McIlroy said.
Villegas figured it out quickly and played more aggressively, going at pins instead of planning for a big bounce.
''I would say I was a little surprised with my 8 under to be honest. This is a golf course where it's not easy to shoot 8 under,'' Villegas said. ''I didn't know Jordan shot 8 (over), but obviously he must have had a bad day. But again, everybody has bad days in this sport, man.''