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American Beauty

March 02, 2015
March 02, 2015

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March 2, 2015

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KYLE WILTJER
DAYTONA 500
NFL
  • Every year NFL prospects, coaches, GMs and insiders descend upon Indianapolis, and what unfolds—on the field, at the podium, in the lobbies and the bars—is the foundation of a new season. Here are SI's eight biggest takeaways from the 2015 combine

NHL
  • The Predators have bet big and lost before. (Peter Forsberg, anyone?) But their latest and riskiest gamble—on troubled center Mike Ribeiro—has them positioned for something never seen in Nashville: a long playoff run

GIANCARLO STANTON
  • Jeffrey Loria knows big-ticket collectibles, but the Marlins' owner and notable art dealer outdid himself when he gave Giancarlo Stanton the biggest contract in sports history. Baseball's best power hitter could have gotten paid anywhere—so why did he take the Marlins' money?

MINOR LEAGUE HOOPS
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American Beauty

James Hahn picked up his first PGA Tour victory at the Northern Trust Open, but the biggest winner was Riviera, the venerable track that showed yet again why it truly is a treasure

This is an article from the March 2, 2015 issue

IT WAS a pleasing juxtaposition that the L.A. Open coincided with the Academy Awards. But while Sunday's Oscars were a monument to star power, the golf tournament across town was all about the stage. Without the likes of a Tiger, Phil or Rory trodding the boards, Riviera Country Club dominated the conversation, and the telecast. It's not easy to follow on the schedule the golf porn that is Pebble Beach, but Riv is the perfect counterpoint, an unending series of glorious holes without the distraction of all those ocean views. Riviera, built in 1926 by George Thomas, was celebrated from the beginning. The great Jazz Age architect Alister MacKenzie described it as being "as nearly perfect as a man could make it." The late Jim Murray, the bard of Los Angeles, was a Riviera member, and ages ago he declared the place "a shrine of the sport. A citadel of the game."

In more modern times, the course's reputation took a serious hit with lackluster PGA Championships in 1983 and '95. The fact that Woods has never won at Riviera and now doesn't even show up is somehow used against the place. To be sure, there were maintenance issues over the years, underscored by the sad state of the greens during the '95 PGA, but those days are long gone, and last week Riviera was displayed in its full glory, a firm, fast, fiery test that pushed a bevy of top players to the breaking point. Dustin Johnson, Sergio García, Jordan Spieth and Paul Casey all had a chance to win on Sunday, but they all bogeyed the 71st or 72nd hole, or, in García's case, both. There was nary an island green or creek or ocean in sight, just sloping fairways laid out at challenging angles, ingenious bunkering and wicked greens. Ultimately James Hahn, 33, was the Cinderella story, as the 297th-ranked player in the world beat Johnson and Casey in a playoff for his first Tour victory. How stern is Riviera? A six-under total was good enough to get into the playoff.

"You can't fake it around this place," said Graham DeLaet, who tied for eighth. "It's pure golf. The finishing hole is great, and [so is] everything in between. There's just no letup on the golf course."

DeLaet is one of the Tour's premier ball strikers, and not for nothing does he call Riv his favorite course. There's a reason the place is known as Hogan's Alley, after Bantam Ben, who won a pair of L.A. Opens and the 1948 U.S. Open there in a span of 16 months. That was the heyday of the club, when Humphrey Bogart would spend tournament weeks sitting under a sycamore tree on the 12th hole, sipping from a thermos, and everyone from W.C. Fields to Charlie Chaplin to Katharine Hepburn to Spencer Tracy to Howard Hughes were regulars. Riviera no longer has those kinds of glittering Hollywood connections, but that's just as well. The course is the real star.

PHOTOPhotograph by Kohjiro Kinno For Sports IllustratedSCENE-SETTER The majestic clubhouse serves as a backdrop for the 9th and 18th holes.PHOTOTODD WARSHAW/GETTY IMAGES (HAHN)BIRDMAN Hahn won with a birdie on the third extra hole, but given Riviera's small, slick greens, he didn't have to go low to get into the playoff.PHOTOPhotograph by Kohjiro Kinno For Sports Illustrated[See caption above]