LOS ANGELES (AP) — Corey Pavin and Fred Couples made it feel like the 1990s all over again as they worked their way onto a crowded leaderboard at Riviera, the course where they combined to win four times in a six-year stretch.
Turns out they weren’t the only ones who gave a retro look to the convoluted first round of the Northern Trust Open.
Despite pristine conditions – which might be a rarity the rest of the week – no one could do better than a 4-under 67. It was the highest score to lead after one round at Riviera since 1996.
And the leaderboard looked more like a waiting list at a five-star restaurant.
When darkness finally suspended the opening round Thursday, nine players were atop the leaderboard – Robert Allenby, John Senden, Martin Laird, Aaron Baddeley, Ben Martin, Carl Pettersson, J.B. Holmes, Bill Haas and Spencer Levin.
The PGA Tour said it was the largest tie for the lead after any round of any tournament since it began keeping records in 1970. And it could get even larger. Peter Tomasulo was among 14 players who didn’t finish the round. He returns Friday morning to face a 12-foot birdie putt and a chance to join the leaders.
So in some respects, it feels as though the tournament hasn’t really started.
For Dustin Johnson, it really felt that way.
He was on the practice range at 7:32 a.m., working his way through a bucket of balls to warm up, thinking he still had another 40 minutes before his tee time. His caddie, however, thought they teed off at 8:12 a.m. So imagine Johnson’s surprise when a PGA Tour official told he was supposed to be on the tee.
Johnson’s reply: “What are you talking about?”
He was penalized two strokes for not being on the tee at 7:32 a.m. Luckily for Johnson, he raced up the stairs and stepped onto the tee with six seconds to spare before the five minutes ran out and he would have been disqualified.
He shot a 73, which is two strokes worse than if he had known his tee times, still a lot better than if he had been six seconds slower.
Pavin and Couples started beautifully, it was the finish that killed them in different ways.
Couples, a 1990 and 1992 winner at this tournament, is a 51-year-old who has been battling a bad back for the last 20 years. It’s getting bad at the moment, and Couples said he has an MRI scheduled for Monday, followed by some treatment that he described with the following phrases – “little things,” “pretty drastic” and “fun for me to do it.”
That was about as clear as leaderboard.
He mostly hits drivers and fairway metals on the practice range, not wanting to bend over for a short iron shot until he has to. His first short iron of the day came on his opening hole, No. 10, and he dumped a sand wedge into the bunker and made bogey.
The rest of the round went nicely, and he wound up with a 68, one shot out of the lead.
“I played 18 holes and had a great round,” he said.
Pavin played 12 holes and had a tremendous round. Unfortunately, he had to play the last six.
The former Ryder Cup captain, a Riviera winner in 1994 and 1995, made an eagle on the par-5 first hole (his 10th) and a birdie on the third hole that made him the only player to reach 5 under for the opening round.
But he made three bogeys over the last six holes, including the final two, and staggered off with a 69.
“You always want to finish off a round, so it’s a little disappointing in that regard,” Pavin said. “But I just went out there and hit every shot the best I could, and I just didn’t finish the way I wanted to. But if I had said, ‘Take 2 under before the round started,’ I maybe would have taken it. I’m not sure.”
Phil Mickelson got off to a great start with birdies on his opening two holes, only to look suspect with a few irons and a few putts. He wound up with a 71. His hope is that the rain holds off until he finishes the second round.
“I thought it was going to be a great day but I gave a lot of shots back, made too many bogeys,” Mickelson said. “I’ll have a good chance tomorrow morning to get out and try to go low. This afternoon it was tough to make some putts. Even though there were some low scores, I struggled getting the ball to go in. And I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s early round.”
Perhaps it was only fitting that Allenby was among those tied for the lead. He’s used to a big crowd at Riviera, if not in the gallery, then certainly on the leaderboard.
It was 10 years ago at Riviera when Allenby won a six-man playoff that featured two players who are at the Northern Trust Open this week in broadcast roles. From 235 yards in the 18th fairway, he hit a 3-wood into a cold, driving rain to 5 feet for birdie.
So what’s a nine-way tie mean on a Thursday. Not much, even if he had the lead to himself.
Instead, Allenby and the others will return on Friday and see if they can get some separation before the weekend. What they might need is rain gear, for the forecast isn’t pretty the next couple of days. Rain is expected to move in Friday and linger at least until Saturday.