Riviera Country Club is one of Johnny Miller's favorite golf courses. But for a while during the second round of the Los Angeles Open Friday, he was ready to give it to the birds--or the mudhens, or maybe even some nearby construction worker.
There was a time during the round when Miller was challenging for the lead, but he had a bad run in the middle of his 18 and finished with a 73, two over par. At 142, he is six shots off the lead but not out of contention, by any means.
Miller, who will be 39 in April, is the standard bearer for the old guard of the PGA tour this week. Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson are not here, so it's up to Miller to battle the many talented youngsters on the tour, alone.
After shooting a 69 Thursday, Miller began Friday on the 10th hole. Coming into the 18th, he was two under for the round, four under for the tournament and only two strokes out of the lead.
Then he bogeyed four of the next five holes, recovered to get a birdie on No. 7, his 15th, then, on 9, he gave the stroke back after hitting one of the worst shots of his career.
His drive on the 417-yard, par-4, would have been called a shank, if he had been using an iron. As it was, the ball shot out to the right, hit a tree and dropped down only 60 yards from where he had teed off. Even so, he just missed saving par.
"I lost four shots in three holes and that really knocked me out," Miller said. "On 18, I was in the mud on my drive, and hit a ball that didn't go anywhere. I bogeyed.
"On 1 (a par 5), I was just off the edge of the green in two shots. As I was in my swing, some guy banged a hammer, I flubbed the shot and, instead of getting a birdie, I wound up with another bogey. When I three-putted from just off the green on 2, I had blown four strokes in a hurry."
Although he didn't complain about it, playing a five-hour round also took its toll. He likes to keep moving. He did a lot of pacing. Despite his problems, he was affable and talkative after the round.
"Riviera is one of my favorite courses," he said. "It forces you to make good golf shots. On some of the courses, you can stray off course, then sink a 30-foot putt for a birdie. If you make bad shots here, it costs you.
"It is really playing tough now. It is playing long, it is muddy and they have the tees way back. The greens, especially late in the day are bumpy.
"The mud is the big problem, though. If Fuzzy (Zoeller) and the others had not complained at Pebble Beach, they probably would have used winter rules here, allowing the balls to be picked up and cleaned. It has been a long time since we had to play under these conditions.
"I knew right away there wouldn't be any 21 under, the way Lanny (Wadkins) did last year. In addition to the mud, there is a high rough, also because of all the rain.
"It should make for an interesting last two days and I'm not out of it yet.
"I came here this week thinking I have to win. I'm still not sure how I'm going to do it."
Miller, a California native who lives in Utah, joined the tour in 1969. Most of the golfers ahead of him at the halfway mark are considerably younger. But not many have had the experience or the success at Riviera.
He won here in 1981 and the next year lost on the third hole of a playoff with Tom Watson. On four other occasions he finished in the top 10. Last year was one of his poorest when he was tied for 50th place.
This is his fifth tournament of the new season and he has made the cut in all of them. He has had only one bad round, an opening 77 at Pebble Beach. He rallied to finish 17th, his highest finish of the year.
"I used to shoot three rounds like I have been this year, then throw in a 63 or a 64. But I don't seem to be doing that these days. That's what it will take for me to win."