Woods feels right at home at Riviera

Originally Published: February 15, 2004

TORREY PINES, Calif. -- Tiger Woods fired and fell back Sunday in the Buick Invitational -- and immediately reloaded.

Tiger Woods

The No. 1 player in the world shot a 3-under-par 69 to finish at 8-under, two shots out of the playoff won by John Daly at Torrey Pines Golf Club. And he immediately started thinking about the Nissan Open next week at Riviera Country Club near Los Angeles.

Woods, who grew up in Cerritos, California, considers the Nissan his hometown tournament. It was the first PGA Tour event in which he played -- as a 16-year-old at Western High in Anaheim.

Curiously, it is one of only two tournaments on the PGA Tour that Woods has played at least three times as a pro and never won.

Woods, who lives near Orlando, Florida, is 0-for-6 at Riviera.

"I actually love it," Woods said of venerable Riviera.

The course has hosted what once was the Los Angeles Open every year except two since 1973, first doing so in 1947, when Ben Hogan won the first of his three titles there, including the 1948 U.S. Open.

"I've had my chances there to win and just haven't been able to do it," Woods said. "Who knows, this week could be the week."

Woods' best finish in the Nissan came in 1998, when the tournament was played at Valencia Country Club -- about 40 miles north of Los Angeles -- because Riviera was hosting the U.S. Senior Open that year.

Incredibly, light-hitting Billy Mayfair made birdies on the par-5 finishing hole at Valencia in regulation and in a playoff on Sunday to steal the title from Woods, who had to settle for pars both times.

Woods' best showing at Riviera came the following year, when he wound up in a tie for second, two strokes behind champion Ted Tryba.

"It's the best designed course that we play all year," Woods said. "It's hard, but it's fair. It's right there in front of you. There are no hidden surprises. Every bunker is right there.

"There is only one blind tee shot, which is No. 18. There are no bunkers up there. You know where the fairway is. You just have to go out there and hit it."

The famed finishing hole at Riviera, with the amphitheater backdrop and the stately clubhouse overlooking the green, has been made even more difficult especially for the Nissan.

The par-4 hole has been lengthened some 25 yards to more than 470 and the tee box was lowered five yards.

"I heard about that, they made it longer," Woods said. "It was hard enough as it was, wasn't it?

"The tee shot is difficult, but the second shot is unbelievably difficult. If they ever get any kind of Santa Ana wind blowing there, forget it. And if it rains next week, it could be unbelievably difficult."

Woods isn't alone in never winning at Riviera. Jack Nicklaus never won at "Hogan's Alley" either, losing to Hal Sutton by one stroke in the 1983 PGA Championship.

It's the difficulty that Woods enjoys.

"I love when we get a golf course where single digits (under par) wins," Woods said. "That's the way it should be. I don't like tournaments where you have to go out and shoot 25-under par and you know that going into the week.

"Obviously, Riviera is a very difficult golf course. If they've gotten the golf course dry like they did down here, it could be a challenge to keep the ball on the greens."

Regardless, it's a place where he feels right at home.