Kevin Stadler breaks into a smile on the 13th green during the first round… (Reed Saxon / Associated…)
Growing among the magnolias and azaleas at the Masters this year will be a new story angle. It has two months to take root, so expect television to fertilize it freely.
Kevin Stadler, half of the story, gave it a boost Thursday at Riviera.
He shot a two-under-par 69, leaving him in a comfortable spot on the leaderboard of the Northern Trust Open and attracting a gathering of reporters that, for much of his career, has walked past him.
He won his first PGA Tour tournament two weeks ago at the frat boy party in Scottsdale, Ariz., also known as the Waste Management Open. It is the stop on the tour that features record attendance — 563,008 this year — and a boisterous par-three hole surrounded by bleachers that seat thousands and, occasionally, a sober spectator or two.
It now is also the place that produced this new big story in golf.
When Stadler won there, after Bubba Watson missed a five-foot putt that would have brought a playoff, it qualified him to play in his first Masters. And when it qualified him to play in the Masters, it assured him of his own little niche in golf history.
When he tees it up April 10, at Augusta National's cathedral of golfing pain and purity, it will mark the first time a father and son have played in the same Masters tournament. Eight other father-son combinations have qualified to play in the Masters, but none have done so in the same year.
Also teeing it up that day will be Kevin's father, Craig. Perhaps they will be teeing it up together. It is difficult to know just how much Masters officials will want to milk this story. If they listen to TV, lots.
Craig has 13 PGA Tour titles and nine Champions Tour titles. His biggest moment was his 1982 victory in the Masters. That qualified him to play there as long as he wants, or can.
Kevin just turned 34 last week. Craig will turn 61 in June.
Making their story even more compelling is that it will be, as they say in hockey, a one-timer.
"He's been giving me a little bit of grief, trying to hurry me," Kevin said Thursday. "…He's getting a little old to compete around there, and I think it is beating him up a little bit the last few years.
"He's going to be very happy to play his last go-around there this year."
Kevin Stadler's first Masters will be Craig's 38th. It took Kevin until his 239th tour start to win and qualify for it.
Both played at USC, and Kevin said that, were he to be in contention at Riviera on Sunday, he probably will wear something cardinal and gold.
Riviera is also somewhat of a home course for him, because USC players get in many rounds on the course through alumni memberships.
Stadler said he has played at Riviera "probably safely more than any other tour event we play, just going to college here.… I'll gladly play here every year."
His golf prominence has been helped, or possibly overshadowed, by being the son of.
For his first sanctioned pro victory, in a non-PGA Tour event in 2002 called the Colorado Open, Craig was his caddie. Another time, when Kevin won a Nationwide Tour event, Craig won a regular tour event the same day and the story became them more than him.
Besides his 37 Masters, Craig has played in 18 U.S. Opens, 17 British Opens and 23 PGA championships. Kevin played in the U.S. Open in '04 and '06, missing the cut in '06; finished tied for 51st and for 58th in his two British appearances in '07 and '08 and has missed the cut in both his PGA starts. He will get another shot at the PGA this year, but still must qualify for the U.S. and British Opens.
Kevin was 2 years old when Craig won the Masters. He says he has never really seen a film of it, but that "we have some still pictures around."
Most players on the tour, even those who don't make the tournament, find ways to play lots of practice rounds at Augusta National.
"I played there once," Kevin Stadler said. "It was with my dad, when I was in college."
His boost in prominence showed in the Northern Trust pairings, those groupings assigned to attract galleries. His playing partners were the last two champions here, last year's John Merrick and 2012's Bill Haas.
Stadler went out in 33, then went birdie, bogey, birdie, bogey before parring the legendary 18th, staying at two-under and leaving himself in nice position for a run at another title.
For Stadler, a win at Riviera would be huge.
Of course, prominent in stories about that would be that his father had won here in 1996.