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8:00AM

The Sports Xchange: Kokrak leads Northern Trust after two rounds

By Art Spander
The Sports Xchange

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — The PGA Tour chooses to describe golfers' skills with a tidy phrase: These guys are good.

That might be an understatement. As the leaderboard of the Northern Trust Open verifies, these guys are fantastic.

Read the full story here.

Copyright 2016 The Sports Xchange

7:45AM

S.F. Examiner: Crisis? Johnson bids for Claret Jug after U.S. Open crash

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — The specter of disappointment was lurking, haunting Dustin Johnson, or so we thought. What Johnson thought, or so he told us, was, hey, he can’t do anything about the past, about the way he squandered the U.S. Open.

“I did everything I was supposed to do,” he said of his final-day putting disaster at Chambers Bay. “It wasn’t difficult to get over it. But you know I was definitely happy the way I played.”

Read the full story here.

©2015 The San Francisco Examiner

9:28PM

Bleacher Report: The Dustin Johnson Roller Coaster Is on the Upswing Again at 2015 U.S. Open

By Art Spander
Featured Columnist

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. — It’s not always what you’ve done lately, especially for Dustin Johnson, whose present will always be linked to the past.

Here he is, tied for the clubhouse lead after Thursday’s first round of America’s golfing championship, the U.S. Open. Yet the questions that surround him deal as much with what he has done as what he might do.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2015 Bleacher Report, Inc. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.

8:50PM

Riviera: Where golf and Hollywood history reside

By Art Spander

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — So far from Sochi, but not from reality. This is the other side of the sporting world, the place of eternal spring.

This is the other side of Los Angeles, where, contrary to traffic jams and constant change, one finds a comforting stability.

Up there on the hill, the stucco clubhouse, in the hallways, photos remind what used to be, Ben Hogan, Katherine Hepburn and a Hollywood of evening clothes and Champagne.

Out there on the course are representatives of what is, the Dustin Johnsons and Jason Dufners, the present and future — yet linked inextricably to the past.

Riviera Country Club, off the circuitous wandering of Sunset Boulevard just before the road arrives at the Pacific, is where history resides.

Where there’s a statue of Hogan on the edge of the practice green. Where Howard Hughes once took lessons. Where Humphrey Bogart sipped whiskey from a Thermos while watching Sam Snead and Byron Nelson hit shots.

Where Tiger Woods never has won.

And where Fred Couples plays on and on.

So little is permanent in southern California. Always another freeway, another subdivision.

Riviera is of an earlier time, the 1920s. Bobby Jones played at Riviera. “Very nice,” he said, “but tell me — where do the members play?”

Riviera is of the current time. “I love this course,” said Justin Rose, who last summer won the U.S. Open. “It’s got a very unique look to it.”

Fred Couples has a unique look, a unique game. He is a senior, a player on the Champions Tour. But he isn’t too old to play at Riviera in the Northern Trust Open.

“I’m lucky,” said Couples, who received an invitation. “This is my favorite tournament.”

This is the 32nd time he’s been in the tournament that in typical L.A. fashion has gone through several names, from the Los Angeles Open to the Nissan Open to the Northern Trust Open.

Couples is 54. One of his playing partners in the first two rounds is Jordan Spieth, 20, who wasn’t close to being born when Couples first came to Riviera in 1981. In Thursday’s first round, each shot a one-over-par 72. 

“My goal,” said Couples, who now lives about a mile from the course, “is to hang with these (younger) guys.”

Someday Couples’ photo may hang near those of Hogan and the entertainment personalities who through the decades were as much a part of Riviera as the par-3 sixth hole, the one with the bunker in the middle of the green.

That headline from the Jan. 7, 1947, Los Angeles Times calling Hogan a “Tiny Texan” is a classic. So is the picture of Hepburn and the great Babe Zaharias, a consultant for the film “Pat and Mike,” which naturally was shot at Riviera.

“Riviera member” Gregory Peck is shown swinging a club in another photo. And a picture from 1953, taken during the production of the movie “The Caddy,” matches Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.

How wild it must have been at Riviera 70, 80 years ago. Errol Flynn was arrested during one dinner party for attempting to steal a badge from an off-duty policeman. The comedian W.C. Fields, a member, said the only easy shot was the first at the 19th hole.

“There are great courses that people like,” said Couples, who surely likes Riviera, where he’s won twice, “and there are some that don’t, but I don’t know anyone who would not like this course. It’s very fair, and it’s going to be, what, 80 degrees this week?”

Not quite that warm, but it was in the 70s Thursday, and the scores were mostly in the 60s, with Dustin Johnson in front at five-under 66. Johnson was second to Jimmy Walker by a shot Sunday at Pebble Beach, in the drizzle. Now he’s first in the sunshine.

“Ever since the first time I came here,” said Johnson, offering another endorsement of Riviera, “I’ve liked this golf course. It’s a great, great golf course.”

A course that, when constructed in 1926, was the second most expensive course on the planet, behind the course at Yale University. In the days when you could probably buy all of Los Angeles for the price of a Duesenberg, that is saying a great deal.  

The big game then was polo, played on fields where a junior high school now sits near the course.

Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks were among Riviera's first members. Clark Gable and Katherine Hepburn rode horses and took late-afternoon walks on trails that meandered through the coastal canyons.

It’s so very Hollywood. And so very remarkable.

8:11AM

Newsday (N.Y.): Clarke holds off Phil, Dustin for victory

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

SANDWICH, England -- He stepped out of the rain and the pressure to a place  no one except Darren Clarke ever believed he would be, the final green at the British Open -- his nation's championship, as it were -- with a lead impossible to squander.

That he made bogey on the final two holes Sunday was irrelevant. Clarke's journey, the longest ever to an Open victory, was a success, and as he said later, "I certainly had a few thoughts going through my head.''

Clarke, 42, won on his 20th attempt to hoist the Claret Jug; no player had won the Open after more than 15 empty tries. He had given the remarkable little nation of Northern Ireland (population about 1.8 million) its third major champion in 13 months.

Graeme McDowell won the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Rory McIlroy the recent U.S. Open at Congressional and now with a final-round even-par 70 and a 72-hole total of 5-under-par 275 at Royal St. George's, Clarke, in the words of R&A chief Peter Dawson, had  become, "Champion golfer of the year.''

He finished three shots ahead of Americans Phil Mickelson, who  provided front-nine drama and had his best-ever British Open, and Dustin Johnson. Another shot behind at 279 was Thomas Bjorn of Denmark, who had shared the first-round lead. They were the only  golfers under par.

Chad Campbell, Anthony Kim and Rickie Fowler, three more  Americans, were at 280 in this 140th Open, giving the maligned United States five of the top seven.

With Davis Love tied for ninth and Steve Stricker and Lucas Glover tied for 12th, there were eight Americans in the top 14.

Still, it was the sixth straight major without an American winner.

Clarke had not contended in the Open since 2001. He had been put in the shade, as the Brits say, by McDowell, who missed the cut, and the 22-year-old McIlroy, who shot 7-over  287. "But I always believed I would get back,'' Clarke said.

What amounted to a home crowd cheered Clarke all the way, finishing with a mammoth standing ovation as he paraded the 18th fairway.

"It's been a dream since I've been a kid to win the Open,'' Clarke said, "like any kid's dream is, and I'm able to do it, which just feels incredible . . . The crowd were sensational for me all week. It's been a while since I felt that amount of support.''

Clarke, who likes to hoist a few -- "I may not be sober for the Irish Open,  but I will be in Killarney'' -- has been a popular and sympathetic figure. His wife, Heather, died just before the 2006 Ryder Cup. He chose to play, won three matches and was called an inspiration to the overwhelming European win.

Johnson, who started the day a shot behind Clarke, was 1 over on the front and fell to four behind after nine. Mickelson moved into  second with a brilliant 5-under 30 on those holes. But going into 14, Clarke was  7 under, Johnson 5 under and Mickelson 4 under.

Reminiscent of his failures last year in the U.S. Open and PGA, Johnson hit his second shot on  the par-5 14th out of bounds.

Clarke received text messages before the final round from Tiger Woods, whom he counts  as a close friend, and McIlroy, who gained inspiration from Clarke growing up in  Northern Ireland.

McIlroy and McDowell had achieved their dreams. Now Darren Clarke, their mentor, realized his.

At the victory ceremony on the 18th green, Clarke pointed skyward and in remembrance of his wife, said someone was watching over him.

"In terms of what's going through my heart, there's obviously somebody who is watching down from up above there, and I know she'd be very proud of me," Clarke said later. "She's probably be saying, 'I told you so.' "

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http://www.newsday.com/sports/golf/clarke-holds-off-phil-dustin-for-victory-1.3030802
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