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Riviera a rare venue with top billing for McIlroy

Rory McIlroy hits from the sixteenth hole tee during the first round of the Northern Trust Open golf tournament at Riviera Country Club. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Rory McIlroy hits from the sixteenth hole tee during the first round of the Northern Trust Open golf tournament at Riviera Country Club. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

PACIFIC PALISADES, California (Reuters) - Golf courses very rarely compete with the players for top billing but Rory McIlroy is more than happy to share the spotlight with Riviera Country Club at this week's Northern Trust Open.

Competing in the long-established PGA Tour event for the first time after being tempted here by the recommendations of many of his peers, McIlroy has already relished the multiple challenges posed by the classic par-71 layout.

"It's a strategic golf course," the Northern Irish world number three told reporters after moving into early contention at Riviera with a four-under-par 67 in the opening round. "You have to plot your way around.

"There are some holes where you can stand up on a tee shot and you can see a variety of different ways to play it, so it gives you options in that way.

"With the trees and the way the golf course is designed, I think anyone who is very visual in their pre-shot routine, it plays into their hands -- and I like to see shots. I see that Bubba (Watson) shot a good score, and he's the exact same way."

American left-hander Watson fired an opening 66 to share the early lead at Riviera, which is consistently ranked by the players as one of the top courses on the PGA Tour where long, medium and short hitters can all thrive.

Located just off Sunset Boulevard, the heavily tree-lined layout has long established links to the movie stars of Hollywood and it has hosted three major championships -- the U.S. Open in 1948 and the PGA Championship in 1983 and 1995.

Asked how many times he had competed on golf courses where the venue was almost as big a star as the top players, McIlroy replied: "It happens a handful of times a year. Obviously you've got Augusta (National) and somewhere like this, Riviera.

"Going back to somewhere like Oakmont this year, for example," he added, referring to the site for the June 16-19 U.S. Open. We had it last year at the Irish Open at Royal County Down. That was a big reason why it attracted a lot of guys.

"It's always nice to come to historic golf courses like this and play because, without naming courses or naming names, there's some that we go to on Tour hat are not quite as enjoyable to play," four-times major winner McIlroy smiled.

(Editing by Steve Keating)

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