With winds gusting up to 35mph at Riviera Country Club, Thursday’s first round has been a wild ride — well, for just about everyone besides J.B. Holmes, who had brain surgery last September. Doctors at John Hopkins University Hospital removed quarter-sized chunk of Holmes’ skull to repair a Chiari malformation that gave him vertigo-like symptoms.
Holmes is five-under through 11 holes this afternoon and currently leads by one over Phil Mickelson, who is four-under through 11 and coming off his spectacular win last week at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
(*Update, 4:19pm: Holmes made two consecutive bogeys on Nos. 4 and 5, his 13th and 14th holes of the day, to drop to three-under. Mickelson birdies three of the first four on the back nine and is now alone atop the leaderboard at five-under.)
Jonathan Byrd is the clubhouse leader after posting a three-under 68. When Byrd woke up this morning and went outside of his rental home on a bluff about five miles away, he was already concerned about the difficult conditions at Riviera.
“I was pretty anxious about playing this golf course today because it was howling on top of that bluff, and it whipped all day,” said Byrd in his post-round presser. “I don’t know if I was prepared for it, but my approach to the golf course today was just to kind of keep it in play and kind of have a pretty conservative game plan.”
It was also difficult to hold some of the slick greens, particularly when the hole was playing downwind.
World No. 1 Luke Donald shot a respectable one-under 70. Tough conditions, eh?
“You’re telling me,” said Donald. “This morning it was freezing, blowing a gale, and it was not easy. This course is tough with benign conditions, so with the added wind and the fast greens — they seemed a little bit faster than usual. 11-and-a-half to 12 on the stimpmeter usually makes it really tough out there.”
Overall, Donald said he was happy with his play, but he could improve on his lag putting.
“I’m pretty pleased with what I did,” he said. “The only thing that I struggled a little bit was the pace on the greens. I think some of the longer putts I was struggling with the pace, and they just seem a fraction quicker than usual.”
(Aside: According to Charlie Wi, who teed off at 7:06am, and his caddie, they warmed up in the dark and the sun didn’t rise until they started walking to the tee.)
K.J. Choi, who woke up at 4:30am, was also bewildered by the difficult, fast greens.
“The greens were very hard and fast today, even faster than Augusta at times,” said Choi, who shot two-under 69. “The poa annua grass, it was difficult to determine the grain. Sometimes it was bumpy and sometimes it wasn’t, so you had a tough time putting.”
Choi said he thought a low score was still possible out there.
“Despite the windy conditions, I think a 4- or 5-under par is possible, especially with the wind dying down. So it was kind of a bummer not to score a little lower.”
The wind picked up again and blew steadily early in the afternoon, but it appears to have started to settle down a bit. Tee times in the afternoon wave were delayed nearly 30 minutes because the demanding conditions caused a glacial pace of play.
Other notables on the leaderboard: Sergio Garcia is two-under through 13. Bubba Watson bogeyed his last two holes to shoot one-under. Players who teed off late probably won’t finish the first round today and will have to return on Friday morning.
(AP Photo/Chris Carlson)