The PGA Tour stays in California this week for the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club. John Merrick defends the title but a strong field has assembled, including Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose.

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 51st 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 John Merrick came through a playoff against Charlie Beljan to take the title.

Riviera is one of the more difficult courses visited by the PGA Tour. In fact it was the fourth hardest of the par 71s the circuit visited in 2013, with a scoring average of 71.85. It’s a venue where the fairways are notoriously tough to find, last year only 51% of drives found the short grass – that was the lowest recorded on the PGA Tour since 1992 when data collection began.

England’s Justin Rose is making a return to the competitive arena for the first time since he played in Thailand in mid-December. Other Europeans in the field include Joost Luiten, Martin Laird, Lee Westwood, Padraig Harrington, Francesco Molinari and Ian Poulter. Many of the world’s best are using this event as fine-tuning for next week’s WGC-Accenture Matchplay Championship.

It looks like being a great week in terms of weather. High temperatures and very little wind should allow for some good scoring.

Riviera Country Club, Pacific Palisades, California
Date: Feb 13-16
Course stats: par 71, 7,298 yards
Purse: $6,700,000 Winner: $1,206,000
Defending Champion: John Merrick (-11)

TV Coverage:
Thursday 13 – Sky Sports 4 from 10pm
Friday 14 – Sky Sports 4 from 10pm
Saturday 15 – Sky Sports 4 from 6pm
Sunday 16 – Sky Sports 4 from 6pm

Player Watch:
Hunter Mahan – He’s been tied fourth and then sixth in his last two PGA Tour starts and was tied eighth in this event last year – the planets may be aligning for Mahan.

Graham DeLaet – Another man on superb form at the moment, DeLaet has been joint second on his last two starts. In his last four outings, his worst finish has been a tie for seventh.

Kevin Na – He was tied fourth last week at Pebble Beach and will look to build on that resort at an event where he was third back in 2011.

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