Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Genesis Open: Inside the Course (Riviera Country Club)

"Ladies and Gentlemen, already 19-under par for 26 holes, just playing his normal game, the leader - Tiger Woods!"  That was Woods in 1992 at Riviera Country Club, playfully enacting a brief fantasy before becoming the youngest player to ever tee it up in a PGA Tour event.  Massive crowds will again follow Tiger around this week as he makes his second start of the year, and it will be interesting to see how he manages expectations as well as his game.  Woods is winless in 12 previous appearances here. 


Riviera Country Club is an architectural masterpiece designed by George C. Thomas Jr. in 1927.  Thomas believed "strategy of the golf course is the soul of the game," and Riviera is the quintessential thinking man's course - demanding a variety of shot-making skills and constant strategic calculations. 

Avoiding trouble spots is just as important as hitting quality shots to the correct positions.  It will test player's discipline, feel, and patience.  There’s no let up anywhere on the course, and it doesn't favor one style of play over another.  Ben Hogan won here by never missing a fairway.  Phil Mickelson won here by barely hitting any. 

"The Riv" has added a bit of length over the years, but the par-71, 7,322 yard track is not a course players can overpower.  Power is rewarded, but placement is of paramount importance.  Miss in the right spots and there's a chance to get up and down.  Miss in the wrong spots and you won’t even have a shot. 


With a great collection of long and short par-3s, par-4s, and par-5s, Riviera has produced winners known for their precision iron play, others who were scrappy scramblers, and still others who built their careers with the putter.  Long hitters, medium hitters, and short hitters will all have their egos and instincts tested by this classic gem. 

Signature Hole 
The par-3, 199-yard, 6th hole at Riviera features one of the most recognizable putting surfaces on Tour.  An often bemoaned pot bunker cut into the back-center of the green divides the putting surface into four quadrants. 


Back left is the most difficult pin position, but each quadrant poses a uniquely different challenge, and can leave players with a confounding decision to chip over the bunker or putt around it. 

Birdie Watch 
Weighing in at 590 yards, the par-5 17th hole is the longest hole on the course, but it benefits from a prevailing tailwind.  The only real trouble off the tee is a large right-side fairway bunker.  On second shots a horde of bunkers protecting the left side optimal layup area must be avoided. 


The toughest challenge however, is on approach. Because the two-tiered putting surface falls steeply from back to front, staying below the hole is crucial to avoid treacherous downhill putts.  An imposing bunker flanking the right side of the green will see a good share of action on back-right pins. 

Bogey Alert 
Riviera's par-4, 315-yard, 10th hole shouldn’t be complicated, but this masterful shorty has perplexed golfers for more than eight decades.  The genius of this hole is that the shortest line to the green isn't necessarily the smartest line. 


Because the putting surface is extremely narrow, and slopes treacherously from right to left, the safe play is a long iron or hybrid down the left fairway.  The temptation to go for the green in one however, remains irresistibly tantalizing, and only a perfect drive will hold the green.  Misses in the right rough or bunker generally result in round-deflating bogeys or worse.

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