Feb
13
2014
Thursday at the 2014 Northern Trust Open: Dustin Johnson really likes playing in Cali
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour
DJ leads the pack
On yet another gorgeous day at Riviera in the Los Angeles area, with temperatures in the high 70s and hardly any wind, Dustin Johnson fired a five-under 66 to take an early one-shot lead in the first round of the Northern Trust Open.

Play was suspended due to darkness at 5:42pm and the 15 remaining players yet to finish will return on Friday morning at 7:30 to complete their rounds.

 

Johnson, who shot a final-round 66 to finish T2 last Sunday at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, kept his mojo going from the northern part of the state down to the southern half. The only similarities between this week and last are the scores, but when you’re feeling good about your game, the conditions and venue generally are irrelevant. 

“Well, I mean, it was cold, windy and wet at Pebble on Sunday,” said Johnson. “Here, it’s not a lot of wind and perfect conditions.  It’s sunny and really nice temperature.  It’s still golf, though.  You’ve still got to adjust no matter what you’re doing.”

Thanks to the dry weather in LA as of late, Riviera is playing at its best — firm and fast. I was actually quite surprised by the number of low scores since it’s playing pretty tough, but it’s likely because the rough is thinner than it has been in past years due to the dry conditions. As the greens become even firmer as the week progresses, it’ll only become a harder test of golf.

DJ isn’t the only player who has carried over his fine play from last week. Jimmy Walker is in the cluster of 11 players (one of which has two holes left), trailing by just one stroke at four-under.

Walker, who captured his third win of the season at Pebble Beach, has had success at Riviera the last few years after struggling his first several times around the classic and challenging track. He’s had two top-5s in the past three years, and he’s clearly not easing up despite his hat trick of victories that he’s already earned.

“I was very excited to come this week,” said Walker. “Like I said, I’m always excited to come here.  It’s a great old‑style golf course and I love how the tee boxes are all squared off and green complexes are really nice, and the golf course is in great shape.  I like it when it’s firm and fast and it always excites me to come here.”

The energy surrounding Walker has also become more electrifying due to his early success. There’s more buzz in the gallery and he’s no longer just another ambiguous golfer — fans actually recognize him and actually seek him out.

“You can feel it,” said Walker of the energy. “I can feel it.  I can hear it.  It’s different.  It just is.  It’s really fun to have everybody watch last week and said good job and way to win and keep it going, and so it’s fun.”

Meanwhile, Harold Varner III, the African-American golfer who received a sponsor’s exemption to compete this week, had a good day, posting a two-under 69, which currently puts him at a tie for 19th.

“Good start, you can lose it today but you can’t win it today,” said Varner. “Just got to keep driving the ball well and I’m putting well.  Just have to play a little bit smarter out there.”

******

Notes…

Through the Waste Management Phoenix Open, seven of the 11 PGA Tour winners (representing eight wins) from the 2013-14 season are in the field:

Player                         Tournament                                               Northern Trust Open 1st round score/standing

Jimmy Walker              Frys.com Open, Sony Open in Hawaii,        4-under, T2

     AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am

Webb Simpson            Shriners Hospitals for Children Open          1-under, T35

Ryan Moore                 CIMB Classic                                             2-under, T19

Dustin Johnson           WGC-HSBC Champions                             5-under, 1

Harris English              OHL Classic at Mayakoba                          1-under, T35

Scott Stallings             Farmers Insurance Open                             4-under, T2

Kevin Stadler               Waste Management Phoenix Open             2-under, T19

Kevin Stadler shot an opening round 2-under-par. Stadler, who won his first PGA TOUR event at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, is hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps at the Northern Trust Open. Craig Stadler won the event in 1996 and finished runner-up the following year (he totaled 11 top 10s in 28 starts).  Kevin has seen some success at The Riviera Country Club, finishing T10 in 2010 and T12 in 2011.  As a USC grad, Stadler will find tremendous support on Friday, which is USC Day in the Palisades Club.  Thursday was Pepperdine University Day; and Sunday is UCLA Day.  Here are alums in the field this year:

Michael Putnam Pepperdine University 71 T59
Jason Gore Pepperdine University 71 T59
Kevin Chappell UCLA 71 T59
John Merrick UCLA 72 T85
Kevin Stadler University of Southern California 69 T19