Ask any player and/or caddie in the field at this week’s Northern Trust Open about Riviera Country Club and chances are he’ll gush over the par-4 No. 10. Measuring a mere 315 yards, the short hole yields just as many birdies as bogeys. Many will pull out driver (or 3-wood for the bombers) and take a shot at the narrow, slippery green guarded by bunkers front, back and right. The danger is missing it short right, where in the words of one caddie, “You’re screwed.” Playing it “safe” and laying up isn’t necessarily the “smart” move because you might not even have a shot with a wedge into the green. Simply put, No. 10 is a great strategy hole.
“It’s one of the best holes in golf,” said Hunter Mahan, who finished second at last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am (and opened this event last year with a triple-bogey 7 on the 10th).
“You don’t ever have to touch (the design),” he said in between hitting balls at the range on Wednesday afternoon. “If you do, you’ve messed up.”
Asked if he planned on hitting driver, Mahan’s caddie, John Wood, said it depended on the angle of the pin, along with the conditions, because you have to be in the right position to knock the approach shot close. Hunter smiled and said, “I like going for it. I don’t know…I’ve seen bad things happen with people laying up and making double.
“It’s wet and soft (with the rain this week), so I think a lot of people will go for it. When it’s dry and firm and if the ball bounces behind the green, you’re in trouble.”
When I approached Charley Hoffman’s caddie, Miguel Rivera, to get the lowdown on the course in general (since it’s my first time at Riviera), he almost immediately brought up No. 10, calling it one of the best on Tour.
“You can hit driver and not have a shot (into the green), same with a wedge,” said Miguel. “If you’re short, left of the green, you can get to all the pins. Unless the pin is up front, you won’t have a shot if you go past the hole. The right is the dead zone. The green goes away and slopes to the left. If (conditions) soften up with the rain, you can miss it in the front-right bunker.
“People lay up and think they can knock a wedge close, which isn’t always the case. But the greens are soft right now, so that can help with control.”
Team Hoffman’s strategy right now? Hit driver.
During Wednesday’s pro-am, I hobbled over by the green to watch a few groups. First, I caught Fred Couples knock it just off the green and chip up from the right rough. Freddie shot 6-under, the best score of the day.
Brandt Snedeker laid up to 50 yards on the left side of the fairway and hit a beautiful shot to inside three feet.
J.B. Holmes, who finished T3 last year, drove it to about pin high to the left of the green (see the ball in the picture above). Asked if he was planning for a similar play during the tournament, he said it depends on the pin.
“If it’s in front, I might go for it, but it depends on how I’m hitting my driver that day,” said Holmes, who shot 3-under in the pro-am, as he approached his ball. “I’m not hitting it straight today.
“If the pin’s in the back, I might lay up with a hybrid or 3-iron to around 80 yards.”
Rookie Keegan Bradley raved about Riviera, but specifically mentioned No. 10 after his practice round on Tuesday. “It’s unreal,” said Keegan, who planned to play in the Monday Qualifier until he received a phone call that morning offering him a sponsor’s exemption. (He’s made four cuts in four starts, with three top-25s, including one top-ten.)
“It’s the ultimate risk-reward hole. If you hit a good shot, you got a great chance to make a 3, even a 2. But if you hit it right, you’re in trouble and a lot of numbers come into play. I’ve never in my life seen a green like that.”
The green is 35 yards deep hitting on angle from the layup area and at it’s narrowest it’s about 7 yards. About halfway back in between the front and back bunkers it narrows to 7 yards and then widens to about 10 yards in the back right.
Meanwhile, Michael Putnam decided the best option for him is to layup. “I’m a big wimp,” he said. “I’m going 9-iron, 9-iron…I didn’t want to be 70 yards away because if the conditions are firm, the ball bounces off the green.”
Mike failed to mention his experience during Tuesday’s practice round with the Callaway trailer, which was parked in the left rough near 10 green (about 50 or so yards short of it). The Callaway guys said his drive bounced off the entrance to the back of the van and almost into it. Because of the rain, the awning was raised, which protected the reps standing underneath from getting pegged.
“Because I almost killed people, I’m going to layup,” joked Mike when I followed up with him. “That’s also why I’m working on my alignment.”
Here now, thanks to Mike Christenson, who loops for Kevin Streelman, are photos of No. 10 from the official yardage book:
A closer look at the very narrow, severely sloping green:
Since No. 10 isn’t a tough limp, I might spend some time out by the green this week. If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll even snag a ride. And catch an eagle or two.