Pacific Palisades, California: The fact that British world No. 3 Luke Donald heads the strongest PGA Tour field of the year at this week’s Northern Trust Open should come as no surprise given the popularity of the venue.
The par-71 layout at iconic Riviera Country Club, with its long established links to the movie stars of Hollywood, has long been regarded by the players as one of the top courses on the US circuit.
At 7,349 yards off the back tees, it is not especially long by modern standards but it repeatedly offers a variety of options for shot selection and boasts some of the shrewdest bunkering around.
A glance at the list of former winners proves the fairness of the challenge posed by Riviera, where relatively short hitters such as Mike Weir (twice) and big boomers like Phil Mickelson (also twice) have triumphed.
“It’s a real classic of its type,” British Open champion Ernie Els, winner here in 1999, said on Tuesday while preparing for Thursday’s opening round. “The angles they have with the greens, the way the course flows, it’s just fantastic.
“Riviera also has some of the best bunkering you’ll see anywhere in the world. Even if I hadn’t had a victory here, this would still be one of my favourite golf courses on the PGA Tour.”
South African Els said he could not wish for a more ideal venue than Riviera to make his first appearance on the US circuit this year.
“I’m excited about being back here,” the 43-year-old added. “It’s not been the best start to my year, to be honest, so let’s see if we can step things up a bit and play some good golf. Not many better places than Riviera to do that!”
In his three appearances on the European Tour this year, Els finished joint 18th at the Volvo Golf Champions, tied for 39th at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and placed a distant 73rd at the Qatar Masters.