PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- Phil Mickelson made the most deflating birdie of the year in the opening round of the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club on Thursday.
After hitting his 203-yard second shot to inside four feet on the par-5 first hole, he botched his short eagle putt then made the come-backer for a 4. He frowned, walked to the next tee, and put a little extra heat into his drive, which cut nicely off the right side and split the fairway.
Riviera's 503-yard first is a par-5 in name only. It's essentially a par 4. It's just nine yards longer than the longest par 4 at Congressional C.C., which will host this June's U.S. Open, but the first tee at Riviera is 75 feet above the fairway, so you don't have to be a long bomber to hit a majestic drive.
Banjo-hitting Corey Pavin, 51, eagled the hole to get to 4-under through 10 holes. Among the morning leaders, Aaron Baddeley eagled the first while shooting 4-under 67. Padraig Harrington made eagle and shot 68. Geoff Ogilvy hit his second shot within inches, tapped in for eagle, and wound up shooting 69.
The first hole is guarded by out of bounds to the left, on the other side of which is the TV compound, but the players don't seem to mind. It's too far left to make a difference. David Duval pulled his drive into the rough, but not far enough to get into any trouble, and he hit his second to within two inches of the pin: eagle, and 2-under through one.
Jhonattan Vegas split the fairway, had just a 7-iron for his second shot, barely missed the green to the right, and chipped in for eagle from 24 feet. The standard-bearer reached in his little, green satchel and pulled out a red "1" to replace the black "1" next to Vegas's name.
By 4:15 p.m., the first hole had yielded 84 birdies, 13 eagles, only five bogeys and a double-bogey. It was the golfing equivalent of Coaching Principles and Strategies of Basketball, the infamous discontinued class Jim Harrick, Jr., taught jocks at Georgia. ("How many points is a 3-pointer worth?")
Over-par scores at the first hole tended to come with a story. Michael Bradley lost his drive a bit to the right only to learn he really did lose his drive. He and his caddie had thought his ball might be in the clearing between the two lines of trees that border the first and second fairways, but it was gone.
An official gave Bradley a ride back up to the tee, and he split the fairway with his second drive (his third shot after the two-stroke penalty for a lost ball). His fourth shot was true, and came to rest 11 feet from the stick, but he missed the putt for what would have been an all-world par.
At least he'd done better than Dustin Johnson, who was responsible for the only 7 of the day on the hole.
Relying on his caddie's faulty memory for tee times, Johnson was hitting balls on the driving range when he should have been on the first tee. He raced up the hill within seconds of being disqualified, but still was assessed a two-stroke penalty for being nearly five minutes late.
Flustered, he made a par 5, which isn't any good on the hole to begin with but on this day would be a net double. Just like that the shortest cupcake of the entire West Coast Swing had gotten the better of one of the game's longest hitters. Bambi had KO'd Godzilla. (Photo: Ryo Ishikawa teeing off on the first hole during the 2010 Northern Trust Open; Robert Laberge/Getty Images)