Viktor Hovland’s alternative route at Riviera’s 15th remains in play this week despite serious discussion to install internal OB

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – Viktor Hovland’s alternate route to play the 474-yard par-4 15th hole at Riviera Country Club down the 17th hole will remain an option – a risky one at that over an electronic scoreboard meant to discourage players – after the PGA Tour considered installing internal out of bounds as a local rule this week but opted against it.

Instead of a power fade to turn the corner of the doglegged fairway and avoid the fairway bunker, Hovland for the past few years has been the most high-profile player opting to play down the 17th hole, which runs to the right of it. It’s a move he originally attempted playing at Riviera in the 2017 U.S. Amateur at the suggestion of his former Oklahoma State teammate Zach Bauchou.

When asked in 2022 if it was his game plan to play the hole in this manner regardless of the flag position, Hovland said, “I think so. … It’s a no brainer.”

Hovland also told Golfweek that his stats maven, DP World Tour pro Edoardo Molinari, advised him that was the best plan of attack for the hole.

“The main reasons to go down 17 is that you take out the right fairway bunker on 15 and you have a wider fairway to hit. It also makes the hole slightly shorter,” Molinari explained in an email.

The tournament’s rules committee, which is headed by chief referee Steve Rintoul, spent considerable time on Tuesday and Wednesday considering whether to install internal out-of-bounds down the entire right side of the hole, primarily as a safety concern for volunteer marshals and fans watching on 17, and in part to protect the architectural integrity of the hole designed by architects George C. Thomas Jr., and Billy Bell, which they never dreamed to be played in this style.

Internal OB has been instituted in recent years to avoid a shortcut down the left side of the 18th hole at Waialae Country Club during the Sony Open in Hawaii, at No. 18 at TPC Sawgrass during the Players Championship, two separate spots at the upcoming Cognizant Classic at PGA National, not to mention at the first hole at Royal Portrush during the 2019 British Open to Rory McIlroy’s everlasting dismay.

“What if a guy tries to play the hole the right way and he’s behind a tree and his only play is to go sideways to 17? We’re taking that option away from that player. There were scenarios that didn’t sit well with us,” Rintoul told Golfweek in a phone interview Wednesday. “To do internal out of bounds at a revered place like Riviera for maybe one or two guys going that way isn’t a prudent thing to do.”

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The option to play down No. 17 exists because eucalyptus trees that used to block that route have died in recent years. The Tour filled the gap with an electronic board to discourage players from taking the route.

“There was a necessity for a scoreboard on that hole but you’d have to be asleep at the wheel to not know that the scoreboard has been placed in that gap,” Rintoul said. “We’re not naïve. But there’s good reason for it.”

Matt Fitzpatrick, who is another player who uses Molinari as a stats/strategy adviser, played his tee shot down 17 during his practice round but didn’t plan to go that way in the tournament.

“I didn’t particularly like the look of it,” he said. “It’s blind for the second shot if you don’t get far enough down.”

He also pointed out that the electronic scoreboard, which is meant to obstruct the view, had been raised between his practice round on Tuesday and his pro-am round on Wednesday and that the risk of hitting the board would prevent players from taking the alternative route.

“They raised it and put a flag or something on top of it to really mess with you,” Fitzpatrick said. “I think it’s ridiculous that they’ve done that.”

Matt Fitzpatrick of England chips on the fourth green during the Pro-Am prior to The Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club on February 14, 2024 in Pacific Palisades, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Rintoul confirmed that the scoreboards had been raised but not in a malicious attempt to cut off the route. He pointed out that the boards are positioned at ground level every week and then raised before spectators are permitted on the course. They were lifted four inches ahead of the pro-am round.

Rintoul noted that according to ShotLink data only Hovland and Taylor Montgomery among this week’s 70-man field have opted to play down No. 17 in the past. Players would be advised to have their caddie forecaddie on this hole should they take the alternative route.

“If there was nothing in that gap, we could have a third of the field play that way,” Rintoul said. “That would force our hand with internal out of bounds.”

Adding to the intrigue of taking the alternative route is the fact that the 15th green, which Geoff Shackelford of The Quadrilateral describes as “one of the largest and most artfully constructed greens by Thomas and Bell,” underwent minor renovation since last year’s tournament that flattened the back right of the green. As a result, there’s an additional right-hand hole location on the green this week.

“I believe those flags (on the right side of the green) would be easiest to access from the 17th hole,” Rintoul said.

The long-term fix seems obvious: to add two large eucalyptus trees. It’s been discussed but it’s an expensive proposition that needs to be budgeted for in the future. For now, Hovland and potentially other players will continue to go bombs away down the 17th hole and the Tour will closely monitor the situation.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek