Riviera is No. 1 attraction

Times Staff Writer

Tiger Woods is not entered in this week’s Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club, but what can you do?

The little white ball tour rolls on.

Woods, the world’s greatest golfer, has never won this tournament -- formerly known as the Nissan Open -- but he’ll be back some day, just not this morning.

“He’s a good friend of mine and I do give him a good time about never winning at Riviera, and he will be back here for sure,” defending champion Charles Howell III said. “You know it is fun when he’s in tournaments. I think everybody likes that. It does add a little more buzz to it. These chairs in the media room seem to be a little more filled when he’s here . . . and when you see this mass of humanity on the golf course, you always know where he is.”


Woods is not here, but the golf course doesn’t know it.

This is still Riviera, a jewel in the crown of golf course design. The views are still breathtaking, starting with the opening-hole panorama from the hilltop clubhouse. It’s still downhill from there for the golfers, a 503-yard, get-the-jitters-out, par-five.

The par-three sixth hole still has a bunker in the middle of the green. Not intimidated by a game now dominated by 300-yard bombers, the 315-yard, par-four 10th still stands the go-for-broke test. The par-five at No. 11 is still eucalyptus-lined and still has a lot of bark, while the finisher at No. 18 remains an uphill, dogleg right, requiring two solid strikes to get on the green in two.

This is still the Riviera where Dean Martin played cards and Greta Garbo once lived above the 13th fairway.

It remains the Riviera that Ben Hogan made famous. Hogan won here three times. Sam Snead did it twice.

Woods is not here, but 17 of the world’s top 20 players are, a testament to a course long revered by players at a time of year when the PGA Tour takes a serious turn.

“It wasn’t built for a housing development,” Howell said of Riviera, which was designed by George Thomas and opened in 1927. “It wasn’t built for golf carts. It was built just for pure golf. That’s a rarity these days on tour.”

Young players still get a kick out of roaming a locker room that has stored the stuff of legends.

“Obviously, you can walk through the clubhouse and look at all the photographs on the wall and the history and the players and the events that have been here,” said Adam Scott of Australia, one of the favorites this week. “Yeah, it’s a classic golf club.”

Woods is not here, but Justin Rose says there’s a “buzz” about this year’s event.

The tournament has been infused with new blood and money. Northern Trust, taking over from Nissan, will host the 82nd edition of the event and has increased the purse to $6.2 million.

Woods isn’t playing, but Phil Mickelson, a three-time major winner, is. He kicked away last year’s event at Riviera and eventually lost in a playoff to Howell.

Mickelson missed the cut last weekend at Pebble Beach, so he’s obviously trying to avoid another weekend getaway.

Vijay Singh?


John Daly?

He’ll tee off, alarm clock willing, at 7:16, on No. 1.

Angel Cabrera, defending U.S. Open champion, is ready to go, no if, ands or cigarette butts. Padraig Harrington, winner of last year’s British Open, is on board and so is Masters champion Zach Johnson.

While Woods is tuning up for the Accenture Match Play in Tucson next week, most of the world’s best golfers will be sparring for pars in Pacific Palisades.

The weather is supposed to be swell. There should be no repeat of the Great Flood of ’05, when Scott “won” a rain-shortened, 36-hole event that literally spilled over to a one-hole Monday playoff.

Scott didn’t get credited with a Tour win, but he got to keep his prize money.

“Yeah, I have the trophy that says I won the tournament,” Scott said. “I get another chance to win this year, officially.”

Tiger’s not here, but it’s still Riviera, it’s still 18 holes and it still starts today. The course measures 7,279 yards. It still has no water holes, and the Riviera vocabulary still includes operative words such as “barranca” and “kikuyu.”

“I think the better golf courses and the better venues lead to better winners,” Scott said.

After his Wednesday practice round, Mickelson described the conditions as radiant. The greens have never been greener, the fairways are firm and fast. Last year’s winning total, 16-under 268, could be challenged.

“Riviera is probably the best I’ve seen it,” Mickelson said.