SI Vault
Keith Lyford
February 25, 2002
Scott McCarron lost the Nissan Open when he fell victim to Riviera's curse of the kikuyu
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February 25, 2002

Big Play

Scott McCarron lost the Nissan Open when he fell victim to Riviera's curse of the kikuyu

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Having played in the 1981 and '82 L.A. Opens, I've seen enough of the Riv to know the course's cardinal rule: chip over, not through, the kikuyu grass. Kikuyu is as thick as Brillo, which makes bump-and-run shots virtually impossible. Scott McCarron should have known that—Riviera was one of UCLA's home tracks when he was a Bruin in the mid-'80s—but on Sunday he landed his chip at 17 in the kikuyu, and his ball checked up 10 feet short of the hole. He then missed a crucial birdie putt. On the final hole, tied at 15 under with his playing partner, Len Mattiace, McCarron pulled his approach 25 feet from the flag into the second cut of rough. Although his ball was sitting down, he pulled his long putter instead of a wedge, and his putt bounced left off a tuft of grass and, after rolling through the kikuyu fringe, stopped seven feet short (above). After McCarron missed his par putt, Mattiace tapped in for his first victory in eight seasons on Tour.

Sure, McCarron gagged, but Mattiace didn't back into this one. He stayed on McCarron's heels with a run of four birdies in five holes, capped by the spectacular shot he drained for bird from a deep greenside bunker at the par-4 12th. He displayed the savvy of a veteran on the last five holes, avoiding the curse of the kikuyu by firing approaches to the middle of the greens.

The 2008 U.S. Open auditions are over, and selecting a winner is a no-brainer. The retooled Riv was supposed to play longer and harder, but the winning score (15 under) was three shots lower than the champions' average score in the 10 previous Nissans. The bluecoats won't care for that, but I bet they loved Tiger's 77 at Torrey Pines during the second round of the Buick Invitational. Other bad news for Riviera: Pros were punching eight-irons to the Riv's outdated 18th last week, while Torrey's closer is a three-shot par-5 that's easily converted into a backbreaking, 500-yard par-4. As much as I love the Riv, my vote goes to Torrey.