By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- Riviera Country Club has long been known as Hogan's Alley. If the eras had been reversed, though, Fred Couples' name, rather than Ben Hogan's, might just as easily have been linked forever to this toney course in the Hollywood hills.
After all, Couples has won the Northern Trust Open two times, finished second on three other occasions and has a total of 14 top-10s. The 53-year-old is making his record 31st start this week, missing only 2007 since his 1980 debut, and don't be surprised if he adds to that legacy come Sunday.
After all, he tied for seventh in 2011 after entering the final round one stroke off the lead, and shared third two years earlier, just eight months before his 50th birthday. In fact, Couples has shot under par in 12 of his last 18 rounds at Riviera and 85 of the 111 total have been at par or better.
"This is a fun week because of my age and I really want to play in the tournament," Couples said. "... Northern Trust has been very, very nice to a lot of players, but me especially to give me a spot."
Couples, who once lived a mile away, shot a 1-over 72 in his first competitive round at Riviera and the then 20-year-old went on to tie for 13th in 1980. Asked what he would have thought as a rookie had someone told him he'd be coming back in his third decade, Couples simply smiled.
"I would have probably said, yeah, sure, sure," Couples said. "... In 1981, if you would have said that, would you like to play here several years in a row, I would have said yes; 31, I would laugh."
With its small greens, Riviera reminds Couples of the course he grew up playing in Seattle. The layout favors a shotmaker, too, and Couples has always been one of the TOUR's -- or Champions Tour's -- best iron players.
Couples, who will captain the U.S. Presidents Cup team later this year, made it clear he wouldn't come to Riviera if he didn't feel he could compete. He finished fourth last month in the season-opening event on the Champions Tour and while he admits he could be a tad rusty, Couples' expectations at Riviera are always high.
"I personally think it's one of our top three courses on TOUR, I really do," Couples said. "I think the TPC (Sawgrass) in Jacksonville is up there, and I think Memorial is one of my all time favorite courses. But I put this one amongst those three, and obviously when you pick majors, it's a different story. Augusta is my all time favorite.
"But I've played every year here because I want to play and I enjoy it."