Aaron Baddeley watches his tee shot on the 10th hole during the final round… (Stuart Franklin / Getty…)
Fred Couples says the unrelenting pain in his back is "like a toothache." For the rest of the golfers in this week's Northern Trust Open, the same could be said about the 10th hole at Riviera.
Of the six players in the final two groups Sunday, from which the likely winner would come, only Aaron Baddeley managed a birdie.
Kevin Na and Couples played in the last group with Baddeley and each made bogey. Vijay Singh, Ryan Moore and John Senden were in the group immediately ahead. Singh and Moore made pars and Senden a bogey.
Guess who won the tournament?
If you think there is no connection between conquering No. 10, as Baddeley did, and surviving Riviera, think again.
No. 10 at Riviera is a par four that plays 315 yards. It might as well be 640, into the wind.
It is protected about 200 yards out by a semicircle of traps. If the green were a castle, these would be its moat. If you hit it over the moat, which all these players can, you run the risk of three more traps spread strategically closer to the putting surface. Also, lots of rough left and right.
This green is better secured than President Obama. It is also barely the size of a two-car garage. Keeping a golf ball on it is like trying to toss an orange at a brick wall and getting it to stick.
Riviera plays a monstrous 7,279 for the tournament pros. They are used to 475-yard par fours, to standing over every shot with the feeling that they have to crank it. And then the course tosses in little No. 10, and it becomes an annoyance, a bug in their eye. Muscles need to give way to fine motor skills. Ceiling painters must become Picassos.
On this tournament Sunday, as expected, they put the pin about eight feet from the back of the green and it became an itch in the middle of the golfers' backs. They couldn't get to it. Hitting approach shots became more like threading needles. If they were inches short, the ball dribbled into a trap. Inches long, the same thing.
Singh, Senden and Moore arrived at No. 10, each still with visions of grandeur about speaking later at a trophy ceremony.
Singh drove his tee shot well left, under three big palm trees, and had to pitch over some bushes to the green. He wasn't close, of course, and was probably relieved to two putt for par. Moore hit a perfect short iron from about 80 yards and watched it roll long and settle into just enough fringe to make his downhill, sliding eight-foot putt impossible. He, too, likely celebrated the "4" on his card.
Senden played the hole delicately, too, and it rose up and bit him. His perfect-looking approach bounced near the pin and rolled into the trap at the back of the green. Now, needing surgeon-like precision to get close and save par, he opened the face of his sand wedge and bladed the ball 25 feet past the pin and onto the fringe. It was a shot you see at Azusa Greens on Wednesday afternoon, not tournament Sunday at Riviera. Senden chipped back close enough to make bogey and forget his illusions of grandeur.
Up marched the final group. Couples and Na left tee shots short. Baddeley hit a driver over the front of the green and down into a little collection area 30 yards or so from the pin. It is where most of the pros try to land and few do.
Na chipped short and it settled in the fringe. Couples' pitch dribbled down into a side trap. Both were within 25 feet of the pin in two and knew that they were looking at bogeys. From where they were, this was a gym floor, not a putting green.
And bogeys they got. Na three-putted and Couples got out of the trap to five feet, but was in the fringe and behind and above the pin. He needed radar, not a putter.
Baddeley, chipping from the one soft spot No. 10 has, got it to three feet and made his birdie.
"I hit driver there every day," he said. "I aim at the palm trees to the left and then I can use the slope for my chip."
The threesome had begun the hole with Couples nine under, Na eight under and Baddeley 12 under. Now, the young Aussie was five shots in front of crowd favorite Couples and enough ahead of the other challengers to breathe his way comfortably around the last eight holes and win by two.
There were a few other twists and turns after that, but No. 10 had probably made the difference again. On a course of monster holes, the midget had delivered one of the big punches.
It is not to be messed with.
During the tournament, one player, Brendon de Jonge, managed an eagle on No. 10 by sinking a shot from 81 yards Saturday. Three players — Rickie Fowler, Robert Karlsson and Harrison Frazar — successfully drove the green. None of them ever contended.
A total of 187 other players actually went for the green and failed.
There are lessons there.