PACIFIC PALISADES, CALIFORNIA | So much history at Riviera Country Club: the scorecard from Ben Hogan’s win in the 1948 U.S. Open; a photo of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis; a ticket to the 1932 Olympics; a program cover with a painting of Charlie Sifford, and, of course, his cigar. So much mystery: The unanswered question why Tiger Woods does not enter the Northern Trust/Los Angeles Open and try to gain his place among the other greats and their memorabilia. Tiger Woods, arguably no worse than the second finest golfer ever. Tiger Woods, a native of Southern California. Tiger Woods, given an exemption to the tournament, then the Nissan Open, in 1992 when he was in high school and his talent already evident. Tiger Woods, who last played a competitive round at Riviera in 2006. “People just don’t understand it,” said someone involved with the Northern Trust. “It’s his hometown tournament.” It’s also the tournament he never has won. And unless he alters his plans in the future, it’s the one he never will win. Perhaps that doesn’t bother him, as it does the romantics who link past and present, the ones who approach golf as a narrative of time and place. They see the statue of Hogan adjacent to the practice putting green. They hear the tale of Errol Flynn stealing a policeman’s badge during a Riviera party. They gaze at the paintings lining the hallway, paintings of Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Johnny Miller and they wish Tiger Woods to be part of all that. “Walking in the locker room, seeing those pictures of the past champions on the wall,” said Bill Haas, as he chased his second straight victory at Riviera, “It’s just got a great feel about it.” The course is in a coastal canyon, a mile from the Pacific. “Old school,” said Haas of the design. Compact, teasing, testing. Holes that beckon, the 501-yard par-5 first, an automatic birdie where Phil Mickelson nearly had a double eagle. Holes that confound, the supposedly driveable 315-yard 10th, where Phil Mickelson had a double-bogey. Riviera, with a green, the sixth, that has a bunker in the middle. With kikuyu grass imported from Africa that spread from 1930s polo fields now replaced by homes and a school. Tiger was born and raised in California, went to Stanford, in California, but other than the Farmers Insurance Open, nee Buick Open, and majors, simply doesn’t play in California. He dropped by Pebble Beach a year ago for the first time in a decade. He took a warm-up lap in 2011 at the Fry’s Open, south of San Jose. That’s the extent, unless you count the limited field, unofficial “World Challenge” Woods annually hosts up the road in Thousand Oaks. Strange, isn’t it? Fred Couples, 53, a two-time winner, “loves Riviera.” Tiger Woods, 37, obviously does not. Someday, maybe, Tiger will offer an explanation, although as we’ve noted he’s not keen on telling us very much of what we’d like to know, other than the club he used for his approach. So we’re destined to remain clueless. Riviera opened in 1927, and one of the first rounds there, Bobby Jones – the Bobby Jones – shot a 73. Asked his impression, Jones said, “Very nice. But tell me, where do the members play?” Surrounded by baronial estates, Riviera, brass address plate, 13500 Sunset Boulevard, is where Humphrey Bogart used to sit under a tree at the 12th hole and sip bourbon from a Thermos while Snead, Hogan and Lloyd Mangrum would play past. Tiger is unmoved. His priorities are not determined by what used to be. It was reported Woods’ caddie, Joe LaCava tried to persuade him to enter the Northern Trust. Basketball Hall of Famer Jerry West, the tournament executive director, tried to persuade him. Tiger Woods did not enter. Could it be because the comedian W.C. Fields, a Riviera member, said the only easy shot on the course is the first one at the 19th hole? Woods once said of the Northern Trust, “I’d be seriously upset if I went my whole career and never won this tournament. It’s one of the oldest events on our Tour. It’s played every year on one of our best courses. It attracts a strong field. Those are the tournaments you want to win.” But one of those tournaments, for the time being, he doesn’t want to play, possibly because, after 11 starts including two as an amateur, it is the only one he’s entered at least four times and hasn’t won. Riviera has been nicknamed Hogan’s Alley, Pavin’s Haven and Couples’ Corner. Ernie Els won at Riviera (beating Tiger by a couple of shots in 1999), Nick Faldo won at Riviera and Phil Mickelson and Mike
Weir won at Riviera back-to-back The verdict on Riviera is that it’s as interesting and as difficult a course as exists or, depending on the whims of those who designate width of fairways and location of pins, as can be created. It presents the sort of challenge Tiger Woods ought to relish, saying, “Bring it on.” Instead it’s one he simply avoids. A mystery indeed.