The PGA Tour stays in California this week for the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club. Bill Haas defends the title but a strong field has assembled, including two-time winner Phil Mickelson.

Designed by Captain George C. Thomas, and updated by Tom Fazio in 2008, Riviera is a well bunkered, undulating layout where creative shot-making is key to success. This will be the 50th year Riviera has been the venue for the Northern Trust Open. Back in 1983 Riviera was also host to the PGA Championship.

The event began life as the Los Angeles Open back in 1926 and has been won by some big names over the years including Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Johnny Miller. Riviera became known as “Hogan’s Alley” as the Texan won here three times in the late 1940s.

Last season Bill Haas overcame Riviera specialist Phil Mickelson in a playoff. Lefty won this event in 2008 and 2009 but was outplayed by his younger adversary as Haas made a birdie at the second extra hole to see off both Mickelson and Keegan Bradley.

Riviera is one of the more difficult courses visited by the PGA Tour. In fact it was the second hardest of the par 71s the circuit travelled to in 2012, with a scoring average of 72.622.

It looks like being a good week in terms of weather. Warm temperatures are forecast with no rain to interrupt proceedings. But, the wind could be a factor and that will play into the hands of the shot-makers.

Riviera Country Club, Pacific Palisades, California
Date: Feb 14-17
Course stats: par 71, 7,298 yards
Purse: $6,600,000 Winner: $1,188,000
Defending Champion: Bill Haas (-7)

TV Coverage:
Thursday 14 – Sky Sports 3 from 8pm
Friday 15 – Sky Sports 3 from 8pm
Saturday 16 – Sky Sports 3 from 6pm
Sunday 17 – Sky Sports 3 from 6pm

Player Watch:
Jimmy Walker – Tied third at Pebble Beach and something of a Riviera specialist. He was tied fourth in the Northern Trust Opens of both 2011 and 2012. He’s on a great run at the moment and will look to continue it this week.

Kevin Stadler – Another form player on the PGA Tour, Stadler was also tied third at Pebble Beach. That followed an 11th place in Phoenix. He has a decent record at Riviera – tied 24th last year and 10th in 2010.

Retief Goosen – Just sneaking back towards form, somewhat under the radar. He was tied 9th at Pebble Beach and has said he’s back to full fitness following back surgery. Has never excelled at Riviera but has recorded a few decent finishes in this event.

Key hole:
18th. The 475-yard par 4 is one of the hardest holes on the course. It’s a blind tee shot from below the level of the fairway then a testing approach into a kidney shaped green that sits surrounded by a natural amphitheatre.

Skills required: Experience. This is a course where knowledge of the layout gives a massive advantage. Course management is important to score well at Riviera – placement off the tee and not missing on the wrong sides of greens.

Where next?
European Tour –
Africa Open preview