Rory McIlroy set for Riviera debut

By Tom LaMarre, The Sports Xchange
Rory McIlroy. Photo by Frank Polich/UPI
Rory McIlroy. Photo by Frank Polich/UPI | License Photo

Rory McIlroy is coming to Riviera Country Club for the first time, and he made it clear that he is chasing after top-ranked Jordan Spieth, even though he didn't mention the American by name.

Both will be in the field this week for the Northern Trust Open in the Los Angeles-area event on the PGA Tour, with the Irishman having mapped out a path back to the top spot after falling to No. 3 behind Spieth and Australia's Jason Day.


"I can get off to a good start (to the) year, there's no reason why I can't be the No. 1 player in the world going into Augusta," said McIlroy, who will make his second bid to complete the career Grand Slam at the Masters.

"That's a goal of mine, to get off to a fast start ... and try to reclaim that position as quickly as I can."


Riviera is a course where McIlroy would figure to excel since he is a strong ball-striker. After all, this is "Hogan's Alley," so named because Ben Hogan, considered by many to be the greatest ball-striker of all-time, won three times there in a span of 18 months, capped by the 1948 U.S. Open.

His other two victories in that sequence at Riviera came in the Los Angeles Open, now the Northern Trust, which he also won in 1942.

"I've heard Riviera is a great course, and I want to go play there in L.A., and I think it'll be a good course for me," said McIlroy, who considered 2015 a down year even though he won four times. "I'm very excited that the Northern Trust Open is in my schedule for the first time. I've heard so many positive things about the tournament and the exceptional quality of the course.

"Many legends of the game have played and won at this iconic venue throughout its long history, so I'm really looking forward to visiting L.A. and experiencing Riviera for myself."

Spieth already has a history at "Hogan's Alley."


In 2012, he helped Texas win the NCAA championship at Riviera. After missing the cut in his first start in the Northern Trust as an amateur on a sponsor exemption earlier in 2012, he tied for 12th in 2014 and tied for fourth last year.

"This tournament means a lot to me," said Spieth, who has claimed eight of his nine pro victories since late 2014. "I think this is one of the greatest golf courses in the world. This event is one that I owe a lot back to.

"It was a great experience getting the PGA Tour start that then helped our team win the NCAA championship that year. We got some good insight on pin locations and how it would play. It's dear to my heart."

Spieth and McIlroy will be trying to join an illustrious group of Riviera champions that in addition to Hogan includes Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Jimmy Demaret, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Lloyd Mangrum, Gene Littler, Ken Venturi, Billy Casper, Hale Irwin, Lanny Wadkins, Johnny Miller, Dave Stockton, Nick Faldo, Fred Couples, Craig Stadler, Corey Pavin, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson.


Surprisingly, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods never won there, but they are part of the club's history.

Nicklaus earned his first pro paycheck of $33.33 at Rivera when he tied for 50th in the 1962 L.A. Open. Woods played at Riviera in his first pro tournament as a 16-year-old student at Western High in Anaheim, Calif., and missed the cut in 1992.

Even though Riviera is used to having the big names, tournament officials still are excited to have arguably the two biggest of today's young guns this week.

"We're thrilled to welcome Rory McIlroy to the Northern Trust Open field for the first time, as well as world No. 1 Jordan Spieth," said Rick Waddell, chief executive officer of Northern Trust.

"There are so many strong, young players with compelling storylines ready to tee it up at Riviera this year; it's going to be a fantastic event."

Spieth captured the Hyundai Tournament of Champions by eight strokes to start 2016, tied for fifth in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, finished second in the Singapore Open and tied for 21st at Pebble Beach.


McIlroy opened the year with a tie for third in Abu Dhabi, three shots ahead of Spieth, and tied for sixth in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

Although Day, Rickie Fowler and others will have their say, Spieth-McIlroy has all the makings of Hogan-Snead, Nicklaus-Palmer and Woods-Mickelson.

And this week with Riviera as the backdrop.

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