After a mind-numbing week of celebrity interviews, target golf and weather delays, it comes as a great relief to see the PGA Tour return with a proper event on a grand old course. Riviera CC has been hosting an annual fixture since 1973, as well as the 1995 USPGA won by Steve Elkington, and has been a particularly happy hunting ground for overseas players, with six of the last ten renewals going to non-Americans.
This is an old-fashioned test of golf, requiring the full range of shot-making skills. The greens are smaller than usual, and register very fast at 12 on the stimpmeter. All things considered, the most essential attribute is tee to green accuracy in order to avoid trouble, though in recent years the big hitters have enjoyed an advantage.
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Notably, several top players have never managed to get to grips with Riviera. Most famously, Tiger Woods has never won here in eight visits, his worst record by far on any course. Ultra-consistent Vijay Singh has never bettered 18th in six tries, while former Open champion Justin Leonard has a best of 15th from nine visits. The worst record of all the top stars is held by Kenny Perry, who has never made the top-30 in nine attempts.
That would appear to make the process of elimination a little easier than usual, and so it proved. Furthermore after another miserable effort, one of the few top stars who would normally have made the shortlist, defending champion Phil Mickelson, is confidently written off. Having also finished 2nd the year before, Lefty clearly has the game for Riviera but will need to improve enormously on his 2009 efforts to date, with last week’s ranking of 109th for driving accuracy the norm so far.
The biggest dilemma was whether to give Padraig Harrington another chance, after the Irishman missed the cut at Pebble Beach. He calls Riviera one of his favourite courses, and has looked a surefire future winner of this event with 7th and 3rd placed finishes on his two previous visits. However last week’s massive disappointment when carrying this column’s money made it 21 months since his last win in a non-Major, a statistic that can’t be overlooked when considering he is close to favouritism.