Tour & News

Why Bubba, Jordan Spieth and the Tour Love Riviera Country Club

Photo: Ringo Chiu/ZUMAPRESS.com

Bubba Watson won last year's Northern Trust Open.

LOS ANGELES (AP) Jordan Spieth has his eyes on a record held by Fred Couples, and it has nothing to do with a green jacket or getting to No. 1 in the world.

It's about a Texas kid who is smitten by Riviera.

The 55-year-old Couples is playing the Northern Trust Open for the 33rd time. Spieth wasn't even born when Couples first added his name to the history at Riviera with his victory in 1990. He loves it here. And so does Spieth.

''I got to thinking,'' Spieth said after he finished his pro-am round Wednesday evening. ''I could break Freddie's record here. I'd have to play every year until I'm 51. But I started earlier than he did.''

Spieth was born and raised in Texas, yet he looks forward to this stretch on the PGA Tour as much as any, particularly Riviera.

The Northern Trust Open, which starts Thursday, is the end of the West Coast Swing on tour and it is unlike any other three-week stretch all season. This is the third straight U.S. Open venue on the PGA Tour, starting with Torrey Pines, up the coast to Pebble Beach and now Riviera.

''I love the West Coast. I love being out here. It's different,'' Spieth said. ''I love the beach, the water, the weather has been unbelievable - we've been lucky - and I like playing different grasses, the slope, the challenging courses. Last week wasn't the case (at Pebble), but the South (at Torrey Pines) and this one, it's like playing U.S. Open courses. And we don't get that all year.''

Spieth isn't alone in his affection for the West Coast.

Jimmy Walker, Oklahoma born and Texas bred, considers Riviera one of his favorite tournaments of the year. Hunter Mahan's wife was due with their second child sometime in early February. Mahan knew he was going to have to miss one of the West Coast events, and he knew it was out of his control. His only wish was that it would not cause him to miss Riviera.

His wish was granted. Their son was born on Friday of Torrey Pines a few weeks ago. Mahan is in the field for the Northern Trust Open.

What is it about Riviera that enamors so many players?

''Right off the bat, for me personally, I say that they don't tweak it. It's been the same,'' said Bubba Watson, the defending champion who last year went 64-64 on the weekend and didn't make a bogey over the last 39 holes. ''They are letting the golf course just defend itself. And then when you look at the history, the great names - like Bubba Watson on the trophy, things like that.''

He was kidding. Probably.

''You look at the great names on there, it's an honor to be a part of,'' he said. ''Every tournament has history, but ... they just leave it the way it is. They let the grass and the wind and the humps and bumps of the greens define their golf course instead of trying to make it extra long.''

Maybe that explains that in the era of technology and athletes, the tournament record was set by Lanny Wadkins in 1985.

Riviera always attracts the strongest field on the West Coast, mainly because of the golf course. The par-4 10th which can be reached with a fairway metal by some power players is among the greatest short par 4s in the world, and among the most perplexing with the position of the bunkers, the angle of the narrow green and the penalty for getting out of position. Padraig Harrington once saw a reporter watching from behind the green and called him an ambulance chaser.

The field is not quite as strong this year, mainly because the Match Play Championship is not the week after an Arizona. That made it easy for international players to come to Riviera a week early before heading to the desert. Now, several of them are waiting until the Florida swing next week.

Sergio Garcia loves the course enough to make his 2015 debut in America. Charl Schwartzel is back, along with Ernie Els, who had one hand on the Wanamaker Trophy at the 1995 PGA Championship until he let that one get away.

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