The TOUR tees it up this week at one of the best regular venues in all of professional golf – Riviera Country Club. Riviera is without a doubt major championship caliber, but lacks the ability to accomodate the large crowds that major’s demand. The old river basin makes for a unique setting and provides a great natural amphitheater on the eighteenth hole.
After playing there for the first time last year, I can now see why it is many players favorite venue all season. Having played a few major championship courses in my life, I can say that there is no doubt that Riviera is a major championship course. The only problem is that it lacks the ability to accomodate the large crowds that major’s attract – not to mention the mass amounts of media, swing coaches, trainers, etc. A lot goes into hosting a major besides a challenging golf course, and it is a shame that Riviera may never host another major because it would be fun to watch the pro’s play a U.S. Open there.
George Thomas’ design features a great mix of holes that forces players to think their way around the course at all times. Thomas does a good job of designing the opening hole so that players can have a chance to get their round off to a good start on a straightforward par-5. With a good tee shot, players will likely have a good look at birdie and maybe even eagle. But he counters the straightforward opening hole with one of the hardest par-4′s on the course on the second. It is nearly the same length as the first hole if you take into consideration the elevation change. Long to mid-iron approaches to a small green and undulating green make it a “play for par” type of hole. The rest of the course is right in front of you, yet puts a premium on positioning off of the tee. Many holes go out to the right or left and then back the opposite direction on the approach, making for difficult recoveries from errant tee shots. The finishing holes are up there with the best in golf, and really require patience and a careful strategy. No lead will be safe heading into the final six holes on Sunday.
It wil be tough to top last years finish, when playing partners Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley both birdied the final hole to force a playoff with Bill Haas. Haas went on to win the playoff by sinking an unexpected 30-footer on the tenth green after a poorly positioned tee shot. I would look for a consistent and patient player to win this week. Dustin Johnson has looked great so far this season – and I think that he will certainly contend. Other players that may contend this week include Ryan Moore who played well last week at Pebble Beach; Luke Donald and Grahame McDowell, who are both making the first starts of the 2013 season; Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson – who both seem to play well at classic courses like Riviera; Sleeper picks include Chris Kirk and Jimmy Walker – who have both gotten off to hot starts in their 2013 seasons on the PGA Tour. My pick to win this week is Aaron Baddeley. Baddeley won this event in 2011 and has had a great start to his 2013 season.
Be sure to tune in on Thursday to soak in some live coverage from Riviera. It is one of the best settings in all of golf.
Thursday & Friday: Golf Channel: 3-6pm ET, 8:30-11:30pm
Saturday: Golf Channel 1-2:30pm; NBC 3-6pm ET
Sunday: Golf Channel 1-2:30pm; NBC 3-6:30pm ET