Once again, Pacific Palisades will be the focus of attention in the sports world when the Nissan Open begins next Thursday at Riviera Country Club. Traditionally, the tournament draws one of the strongest fields on the PGA Tour’primarily because most of the top professionals love the opportunity to play one of the nation’s most prestigious and challenging courses. Palisades will play host to the Nissan Open, formerly known as the L.A. Open, for the 43rd time in the tournament’s 78-year history and Riviera grounds crews have been hard at work for a month preparing the greens and fairways for the wear and tear of a week-long event. Players have until 2 p.m. Pacific time Friday to officially commit to playing, but two-time defending champion Mike Weir is expected to try for his third consecutive win. So tough is the Riviera course that Tiger Woods, the best player in golf for most of the last seven years, has never won there in nine tries (two as an amateur and seven as a professional). He made a furious charge on the final day last year but finished seven strokes back. John Daly might not have won the event, but he won the popularity contest’getting a standing ovation from the gallery after shooting 13-under par. Weir held off Shigeki Maruyama to win last year’s title at 17-under par on a rain-soaked course. Weir beat Charles Howell III in a playoff in 2003. The purse for this year’s event will be $4,800,000, with the winner pocketing $864,000. Practice rounds will be Monday and Tuesday, followed by a Pro-Am on Wednesday. The tournament officially starts next Thursday morning and runs through Sunday, February 20. One of golf’s most unique and most famous holes, the par 4, 451-yard 18th at Riviera spells doom for countless players every year. The green rests below the clubhouse, providing spectators and media alike a natural amphitheater. The tee shot must be made blind from well below the fairway and travel about 220 yards to give the player a chance at birdey. The second shot requires a long iron or even a wood to reach the green. The television schedule will be as follows (all times Pacific): Thursday and Friday (Feb. 17-18) from noon to 3 p.m. on USA, Saturday (Feb. 19) from noon to 3 p.m. on ABC and Sunday (Feb. 20) from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. on ABC. Public parking will be at the VA Hospital in West L.A., where shuttles will be available throughout the day to drive ticket-holders to Riviera. Tickets can be purchased online at www.nissanopen.pgatour.com.
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