By RANDY YOUNGMAN
PACIFIC PALISADES – An unscheduled Block party broke out at Riviera Country Club on Thursday during the opening round of the 2013 Northern Trust Open.
Michael Block of Aliso Viejo, the head professional at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo, made an eagle on the par-5 first hole and stayed on the first page of the leaderboard for most of the day en route to posting a 2-under 69 in his first-ever PGA Tour appearance at historic Riviera.
And with a sizeable gallery of family, friends and Arroyo Trabuco employees and members following him around the course and cheering him on, it seemed like a party atmosphere at times. The Block party included his parents, wife Val and their young sons, Dylan and Ethan.
Block, who qualified for the Northern Trust as the SCGA section champion, tied a tournament record with two eagles in a round and added two birdies before a couple of back-nine bogeys stopped his momentum.
“It was a lot of fun out there today,” a smiling Block said afterward, outside the scoring area in the Riviera clubhouse. “Probably the most special thing about it is that it was the first time my boys have ever watched me play in a tournament. It was cool having so many family, friends, peers and (club) members out here watching.”
Block, 36, was the only player in the field with two eagles, tying a tournament record. Interestingly, fellow Arroyo Trabuco teaching pro Bobby Lasken, a UCLA grad in Block’s gallery, shares the U.S. Open record with two eagles in a round.
He easily reached the 503-yard, par-5 first hole in two and rolled in a left-to-right 19-footer for eagle to put him one shot behind early leader Matt Kuchar, who went on to post low round of the day, a 7-under 64.
“I didn’t think I got it to the hole, but it trickled in,” Block said. “Great way to start.”
His second eagle came on the 583-yard, par-5 11th, where he chipped in from 34 yards and dropped his wedge in disbelief as the greenside gallery erupted.
“I practiced that exact shot for 45 minutes yesterday, so I had a lot of confidence in it,” he said. “It came off exactly how I had envisioned it, but I didn’t expect it to go in.”
After his second eagle, Block was 4-under par, good for a fourth-place tie. He dropped a couple of shots coming in – with a bogey on the par-3 14th and a bogey on the par-5 17th, where a third-shot flop shop in the greenside rough squirted right off the heel of his sand wedge into a bunker – but he was still very pleased with his 69.
And why wouldn’t he be? He finished ahead of the three players who were in a sudden-death playoff at Riviera in 2012: Bill Haas (1-under 70), Phil Mickelson (even-par 71) and Keegan Bradley (71).
“I couldn’t have dreamed it, to tell you the truth,” he said. “My caddie (Brett Massingham) kept telling me, ‘We’re just playing golf – it’s not the Northern Trust.’ That’s kind of my mantra: I’m just playing golf, something I’ve done my whole life, like I do once a week now.”
Block is confident in his skills, but he said playing well in a practice round Tuesday, when he won a skins game against tour pros Kuchar and D.A. Points, bolstered his confidence immeasurably.
“I couldn’t believe how much that helped my confidence,” he said. “It was huge.”
So far, so good. Is his next goal to make the cut?
“It’s not so much to make the cut; it’s about not getting in my own way, not letting the crowd or the TV cameras get in my way,” he said, referring to the Golf Channel exposure he got in the opening round. “I have no doubt I have the game for it. Obviously, if I can get through today, I can get through whatever needs to happen.
“I’m not afraid of (not making) the cut. If I don’t, I don’t. Golf is golf. You never know what you have day to day. I just hope I have three more days like this. And I’m excited to get back out there tomorrow.”
So is the Block party.