Suffice it to say that Riviera Country Club has aced the test of time. Oh, sure, there have been moments in recent editions of the Northern Trust Open when modern talent has solved the 90-year-old track in Pacific Palisades, California, but through proper upgrades and an evergreen requirement to cherish every stroke (and stroke saved), the historic venue has held as one of the toughest on the PGA TOUR schedule.
With a scoring average of 72.592 last year, Riviera was the most challenging par 71 in 2014-15. That clip also serves as a reminder as to why Lanny Wadkins’ 20-under 264 in 1985 remains the tournament record. The greens on the 7,322-yard track (down 27 yards from last year, all at the par-4 eighth hole) were the hardest to hit in regulation, too. Last year’s field of 144 averaged just 9.25 GIR per round (or 51.38 percent).
But what makes Riviera so doggone formidable is just getting the ball into the hole. It’s ranked as the most difficult from three feet and in for five consecutive seasons. Last year, there were 72 whiffs inside that range. Of the 38 courses measured, none of the others had more than 46 misses. What’s more, Riviera’s splits from 4-8 feet and inside 10 feet were also TOUR lows.
Sergio Garcia’s reputation is that of a premium ball-striker, but it was that asset that let him down at the end of regulation last year. Pulled tee balls at the par-5 17th and par-4 18th led to title-crushing bogeys after he led outright with those two holes to play. Ironically, the Spaniard was perfect on 43 tries from three feet and in for the week.
James Hahn is defending his lone TOUR title this week. He survived a playoff with Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey that went three holes. Hahn ranked outside the top 25 in both fairways hit and GIR, but just above the field average in both. And while he lost 0.201 strokes to the field in putting for the tournament (ranking 50th), he placed second in strokes gained: tee-to-green. Plain and simple, he got the job done on the par 4s, which were the second-hardest of all non-majors last season at 4.20. Hahn led the field with scoring average of 3.93 on the set. He played the drivable 10th in bogey-free 1-under in regulation and added a masterful up-and-down 3 there on the second hole of the playoff.
Come 2017, Riviera will be hosting the U.S. Amateur for the first time. Northern Trust will be shifting its sponsorship to The Northern Trust to lead off the FedExCup Playoffs (replacing Barclays as title sponsor). Hyundai will be assuming the vacated sponsorship at Riviera. The U.S. headquarters for the South Korean automaker are in Southern California.
Scores at Riviera should drop a bit as compared to last year when it was cool throughout the tournament. Gradually warming high temperatures into the upper 70s will ride along with crowning this week’s champ on Sunday. Winds could be moderate. If rain falls on Wednesday, the course may be a bit slow on Thursday when the field of 144 can attack.
ROB BOLTON'S WRITING SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM's Fantasy Columnist will be filing his usual staples leading up to this week's event. Look for the following features later this week:
MONDAY: Power Rankings
TUESDAY: Sleepers, Fantasy Insider
WEDNESDAY: One-and-Done, Comfort Zone
THURSDAY: Most-picked players