PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- The now-famous Rule 78 was designed to speed up pace of play on the weekend but what happens when 144 players go off in threesomes in morning and afternoon sessions on a cold, windswept February day at Riviera CC?
They don't finish the round, leaving many to wonder: Are 144 players too many for a West Coast tour stop -- or are these guys just too slow?
Rules officials will tell you it's the former. I put on three layers and went out to watch the last groups on Thursday afternoon, because I wanted to judge pace of play, but also to see this Dustin Johnson kid from Coastal Carolina who has three top-15s so far this year. It wasn't Dustin's fault that his group didn't finish.
Johnson plays fast and was three under when play was suspended, the best round of the late afternoon groups. Playing just ahead of him, perennially strong California player Kevin Sutherland was two under. As they were stuck with holes to play early Friday morning, Fred Couples finished in near dark by hitting 2-iron to 2 feet at the ninth and tapping in for a round of 70. In his group, into that same ninth hole, AT&T Pebble Beach champion Steve Lowery hit 3-wood from 212 yards.
Couples' caddy, Joe LaCava, called it the toughest scoring conditions he's seen at Riviera since carrying Couple's bag. It took their group roughly five hours to get around Hogan's Alley.
There were 17 players on the course when play was suspended at 5:41 p.m. David Duval (neck), and Nick O'Hern (flu) withdrew after teeing off, leaving first alternate Frank Lickliter III heading to the airport for a red-eye flight back to Florida. The Q School medalist might rightfully argue that 144 players weren't enough; he started the week as second alternate, was bumped down the list by four players who finished top-10 at the AT&T National Pro-Am (one of whom was Johnson), then moved back up with pre-tournament WDs. That's a by-product of an incredibly strong Northern Trust field that will be cut to the low 70 and ties on Friday evening -- unless the number exceeds 78.
-- Tim Rosaforte