Column: Even for Riviera’s 10th hole, this was pretty amazing

Sergio Garcia, of Spain, climbs out of a bunker on the 10th hole after hitting his ball back to the 13th fairway during the third round of the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club on Saturday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

It was a little past high noon Saturday, when the most fascinating of golf bullets started flying around the 10th hole at Riviera Country Club.

They call this the Northern Trust Open. For a while, it was golf’s Wild Wild West.

Walk along with us inside the ropes.

The final threesome of the day, the leading group going into the third round, was waiting on the 10th tee. As usual, they faced one of the bigger mysteries in golf, Riviera’s short par-four No. 10.


If the hole were a game of Sudoku, it would be rated diabolical.

Pros can drive it, but if they do, the green just spits their ball away. A circle of protective bunkers makes laying up questionable because approach chips are just far enough to land hard and also scoot away. It is the clown’s mouth behind the windmill at your local pitch and putt, only with hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake.

Bubba Watson, tournament defending champion and a two-time winner of the Masters, said earlier this week that he had no idea how to play the hole. If you have conquered the slippery slopes of Augusta National’s greens twice, and you are bedeviled by Riviera’s No. 10, that says a lot.

This time, with the hole playing 286 yards, Watson had done about as well as anybody can. He had driven the ball to the front of the green and held it in short grass 15 feet off the putting surface. He had a shot at eagle.

But first, Watson, Angel Cabrera and Justin Thomas stepped to the side of the green for the next group to hit up. They play No. 10 like it’s a par three.

Soon, the tee shot of Ryan Moore, playing with leader Retief Goosen and Graham DeLaet, landed and began to roll toward the pin.

Oh, my. Was this to be a rarest-of-rare hole in one on a par four?

Nope. No. 10 at Riviera does not allow such things. It has a reputation to maintain. Moore’s shot rolled slowly toward the pin, grazed it and slipped to the side.

OK, so he would have a tap-in eagle.

But wait. The ball kept rolling. No. 10 was not yet done with Moore. It crept left, seemed to stop, crept more and seemed to stop again. All too soon, the groaning gallery knew. This was not only not going to be a hole in one, or a tap-in eagle, or even a makable birdie. It stopped 35 feet away, down a hill in a collection area. Moore tossed his club from the tee box.

After Watson made birdie and headed to the 11th tee and Moore walked toward his ball in disbelief, Goosen and DeLaet chipped just short of the green.

Now it was Moore’s turn, from down the hill. He went through his pre-putt routine and was about to pull the trigger when a golf ball flew into the trap only a few yards to his left. Thump.

Where had it come from? Had a fan tossed it? Where Moore stood was not in the line of any possible golf shot. Or so it seemed.

The real wild stuff had just begun.

Moore gathered himself, putted up the hill and then missed his birdie putt. He now had posted one of the worst-luck fours of all time.

Goosen putted his third shot slowly and smoothly to the right and high side of the pin. It appeared to be a perfect lag. But then, it gathered speed and rolled all the way down the hill to the exact spot of Moore’s first putt.

Goosen made bogey from there. Had he made par, his lead going into Sunday’s final round would have been three shots. Had Moore’s tee shot dropped in, he’d be one behind going into Sunday, instead of four.

Game of inches?

As the threesome headed to the nearby 11th tee, Sergio Garcia suddenly appeared. He was four threesomes ahead and two fairways over, but, lo and behold, it had been his ball that buzzed Moore and ended up in the trap.

His drive on the 13th tee had sliced so badly it cleared the trees guarding No. 11 and carried into the greenside bunker at No. 10.

A TV stand partially blocked his approach to the 13th green, which was also blocked by trees, garbage cans and strolling fans. You could barely see the 13th green, 220 yards away. Garcia had no chance. In Sunday afternoon duffers golf, you pick that one up and start thinking about No. 14. High-handicappers have a term for what comes next in that situation. It is called BIPSIC — ball in pocket, sulking in cart.

Garcia didn’t have the luxury of BIPSIC. After discussions with his caddie and officials, they moved the tee sign on No. 11, as well as a couple of garbage cans. If you squinted, you could see a little opening between two trees and under a branch.

“I had a couple of yards,” Garcia said later.

He climbed into the trap. The ball was slightly above his feet. In his hands was a three-iron. Only single-digit handicappers can effectively hit three-irons off perfect grass from the fairway, much less off a sidehill lie, from fluffy sand, with a bunker lip knee-high in front of you.

Garcia swung, the ball rocketed through the little hole, ticked a leaf, stayed left of a trap 50 yards from the green and stopped about 10 yards shy of the putting surface in ideal shape to get up and down.

As colleague Chris Dufresne opined, what Garcia had done was like throwing a football through a tire.

Garcia fatted his chip shot, leaving himself 25 feet shy, but sank the putt for the most amazing par you’ll ever see.

“I’d put it in my top three,” Garcia said afterward.

A PGA Tour commercial that once told us “These Guys Are Good” turns out to be a classic understatement.