LOS ANGELES — Eight of the top 10 players in the World Ranking will play in the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club this week, the only exceptions being No. 4 Ernie Els and No. 1 Tiger Woods.
Despite winning here in 1999, Els has no particular connection to Southern California. But Woods is a SoCal native, and he made his first start on the PGA Tour here, missing the cut (72-75) as a 16-year-old in 1992.
"He couldn't afford the plane ticket," Charles Howell III joked.
"He's only about the majors," Stuart Appleby said. "He uses regular tournaments to prepare for majors, whereas most of us use everything to prepare for everything. Augusta's a long way away."
That may be so, but Augusta's a long way from the Buick Invitational, too, and Woods plays in that every year. The fact is that Riviera is one of the last remaining places on earth where Woods has not reigned supreme. He's not won here in 11 starts, nine as a professional. L.A. is Superman's kryptonite.
It's not that Woods hasn't come close. He shot 65-66 on the weekend and lost a playoff to Billy Mayfair in 1998 — still the only blemish on his record in sudden-death finishes on the PGA Tour (10-1). He tied for second place in 1999 and had top-10 finishes in 2003 and 2004.
But Woods seemed to sour on Riviera in 2005, when the Tour could only squeegee in two rounds because of heavy rain. Woods shot 67-70 and tied for 13th place. It poured again in '06, and Woods, ill with the flu and looking like he'd rather be locked in a room with the Cal marching band, withdrew after shooting 69-74. He'd had it, apparently. Last year, he was riding a seven-tournament winning streak on the PGA Tour when he skipped Riviera (only to see the streak end at the WGC Match Play). Now he's skipped it again.
"I think he'll be back here," Howell said. "He's too competitive to go through his career without a win at Riviera. I think he would want it on his resume."
Would he? Howell's point certainly seems valid. There's so little in golf that Woods has NOT accomplished, it seems reasonable to assume that he keeps a "to-do" list in his head if nowhere else.
At the top of the list would be the goal of breaking Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 career majors, which seems like only a matter of time. Also atop the list is to win all four majors in the same calendar year, an incredibly lofty goal that Woods nonetheless has said is within reach. (And rightly so.)
But what about Appleby's comments? Do regular tournaments not count in Tiger's world? It sure seems like they do. Woods gets sufficiently revved up to throw upper-cuts in places like Akron, Boston, Chicago, Dublin (Ohio) — you could go right down the alphabet.
So his aversion must be to the course itself. But Woods, and the Tour, would be better off if he scanned the schedule and highlighted the historic venues where he hasn't won, places like Colonial Country Club and Riviera. If those courses don't fit his style of play, if they've given him fits, all the more reason to play there.
He has won 62 times on Tour, including 13 majors. He has amassed a gaudy 20.07 rating in the World Ranking, which means his enormous lead over second-ranked Phil Mickelson (9.01) is even greater than Mickelson's lead over 1,350th-ranked Brian Henninger (0.01).
Woods got his start at Riviera thanks to a sponsor's exemption. He's from here. And there is precious little left for him to accomplish. What's more, Woods has a famously long memory for slights both real and imagined, and Riviera has taunted him more than any other place on any tour.
Add it all up, and his absence this week, or any week that the PGA Tour stops at Riviera, simply does not compute.