Dustin Johnson takes lead at Riviera

Dustin Johnson was determined to get off to a good start in the

Northern Trust Open, so for the first time, he decided against

trying to drive the 10th green at Riviera and instead laid up with

a 4-iron.

He made par, which never hurts. And then he took off.

Johnson birdied three of his next four holes, one of them with a

65-foot putt, and he kept bogeys off his card during a cool, gentle

morning for a 7-under 64 to build a one-shot lead Thursday over

Andres Romero and Kevin Stadler.

“Had good vibes going all day, and just hit the ball really

good all day long,” Johnson said.

Romero had good vibes going for most of the day. The dynamic

Argentine had eight birdies to offset a double bogey on the ninth

hole when he didn’t listen to his caddie. Romero finished with four

straight birdies for a 65. Stadler had the best score among late

starters, opening with a 30 on the back nine. He played the final

eight holes in 1-over.

Brandt Snedeker, coming off a runner-up finish last week at

Torrey Pines, and Ricky Barnes were at 66. Steve Stricker had a 67

despite a three-putt bogey at No. 3, missing his par putt from 2

feet when he couldn’t get the sound of a nearby jackhammer out of

his head.

David Duval and Ernie Els were in the large group at 68.

Phil Mickelson thought he might be among the leaders. Going for

an unprecedented third straight victory at Riviera, he was 3-under

midway through his round. He finished with three bogeys over his

last four holes — the exception was a 6-foot birdie putt he missed

— and wound up with a 1-over 72.

“I had it right there with five or six holes to go, and I let

it go,” Mickelson said.

Mickelson took the Ping Eye2 wedge with square grooves out of

his bag this week, although one wish was fulfilled when two players

continued using it — Hunter Mahan and Fred Couples, who had a

69.

The wedge is approved for play under a legal settlement from two

decades ago.

Couples was inspired by the fuss from last week, generated

mainly by Scott McCarron saying it was “cheating” for players

like Mickelson to use it. He also was impressed that Mickelson,

given his stature as the top player in golf while Tiger Woods is

away, was willing to take any criticism by using the club.

“I said, ‘I think that’s strong, and I’m going to use one next

week,”’ Couples said. “He said, ‘Man, I think that’s great.’ I

get out here and he’s not using it.”

Couples said the Ping wedge is the best one he has, although he

suggested he would look at others as he played more

tournaments.

Mahan said he never considered anything wrong with a club that

was approved under the rules.

Mickelson’s reason for using the wedge was to call attention to

the USGA’s process of changing rules, which he has referred to as

“ridiculous.” Mahan’s reason was different.

“It spins a little bit more,” he said.

Even so, it didn’t help on the 10th hole, when Mahan went

bunker-to-bunker and made double bogey. Heading down the 11th

fairway, John Wood, his caddie who found the old Ping wedge, said

with a laugh, “If we had V-grooves, we would have had to hit four

times instead of three.”

The par-4 10th hole is among the most famous in golf, and one of

the best tests among short par 4s anywhere in the world. It

measured 303 yards for the opening round, with an emphasis on

angles more than how far the ball is struck.

Johnson is ample long, but this time hit 4-iron to about 85

yards, a safe wedge to some 18 feet and two putts for par.

“I didn’t make birdie, but it was an easy 4,” he said. “And I

wanted it to be easy.”

He made the rest of his round look that way. He was on or around

the greens on two of the par 5s, received a gift with the monster

putt on No. 12, and the only time he came close to a bogey was at

the par-3 fourth, when he went long and chipped to 8 feet.

Romero, coming off such a poor year that he’s not eligible for

any of the majors, also had an easy time except for the ninth. From

a fairway bunker, his caddie wanted him to hit 7-iron short of the

green and get up-and-down for par.

“I’m so stubborn, I stayed with the 6-iron,” Romero said.

“And it buried in the bunker.”

He took double bogey, then followed with his burst of birdies at

the end. Romero tied for third at Riviera a year ago.

DIVOTS: The field for the Northern Trust Open is

132 players, down from 144 players last year, because of a

30-minute loss of daylight. The tournament is being held two weeks

earlier than last year. The Phoenix Open, which moved from early

February to the end of February this year, will have its field

increased from 132 players to 144 players. The field sizes return

to normal when those tournaments resume their regular spots on the

schedule. … One week after his runner-up finish at Torrey Pines,

Michael Sim bogeyed his last four holes and opened with a 77. …

Despite the shorter field, three players failed to finish. That

included Rickie Fowler, who was 1 under playing the ninth hole.