The world’s top-ranked European golfers have awoken from their hibernation and have arrived in droves to play in the Northern Trust Open this week at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif.
Among the golfers making their debut are Luke Donald, Adam Scott, 2012 British Open Champion Ernie Els, Graeme McDowell and Sergio Garcia.
Riviera has a rich history, having hosted three major championships since it was established in 1926 — the 1948 U.S. Open and the PGA Championship in 1983 and 1995. The course is often referred to as “Hogan’s Alley” due to his dominance at the course in the 1940’s. Hogan won the event in 1942, 1947-48 and the U.S. Open in 1948.
The 7,349-yard par-71 layout was designed by George C. Thomas Jr. and puts a premium on ball striking. In last year’s event, only 53.43 percent of fairways were hit off the tee, and 53.20 percent of greens were hit in regulation. With a scoring average of 72.62 in last year’s event, Riviera was the second most difficult par-71 layout of the year on Tour.
Along with the Euros, a slew of multiple-time winners will be making appearances this week.
Fred Couples, who won the event in 1990 and 1992, will be playing in the event for a record-breaking 31st time. Couples has missed only three cuts since he began playing the event in 1982, carding two wins, three second-place finishes and 13 top-10’s.
Phil Mickelson, who won the event in back-to-back years in 2008 and 2009, is one of the favorites in the field this week. He won the Waste Management Phoenix Open two weeks ago with a record-setting score of 28-under to win by 4 strokes, and was part of an three-man playoff at last year’s event that included Bill Haas and Keegan Bradley (Haas won with a birdie on the second hole).
Both Haas and Bradley will also be returning to Riviera, but Brandt Snedeker, who won last week at the AT&T National Pebble Beach Pro-Am, will not play this week because of soreness in his ribs.
Corey Pavin (a winner in 1994 and 1995) and fellow UCLA Bruin Patrick Cantlay have received sponsor’s exemptions into the event. Cantlay hopes to carry over the momentum he gained last week at Pebble Beach, where he finished in the top 10.
Most top-10 finishers receive an automatic exemption into the following week’s Tour event, but the tournament’s robust field left no room for Cantlay, which is why the 20-year-old amateur phenom was forced to use on the of the seven sponsors exemptions he can accept as a non-PGA Tour member.
By Andrew Tursky, GolfWRX Contributor