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A Pair of Battles Begins at Riviera

The restoration of classic golf courses - and Riviera, site of this week's Nissan Open, is certainly a classic - is all the rage. From Oakmont to Merion to The Country Club at Brookline, they've all been lifted, tucked, pulled and tweaked like Greta Van Susteren.
So for the second straight week the PGA Tour will visit a Southern California course that's been re-worked in hopes of landing a future U.S. Open. Torrey Pines earned solid reviews last week and it's believed that the USGA will choose between Torrey and Riviera as the site in 2008.
Not surprisingly, Riviera's been beefed up. Holes 5, 7, 8, 9, 12 and 13 were switched back to the original George Thompson design, which was largely wiped out by floods 63 years ago. The eighth returns to the split fairway concept while the ninth, with 38 additional yards, brings cross-bunkers back into play. The 12th, stretched by 50 yards, now calls for a mid- to long-iron approach into a narrow green. Early feedback on Tom Fazio's work has been positive.
As for the field, Tiger's not playing near his boyhood home for the first time since he turned pro. He's struggled with the flu since Pebble and says he wants to regain his strength for next week's Accenture Match Play Championship. Fair enough, though Riviera remains the one venue linked to a legend where he's not won. He's been brilliant at Arnie's Bay Hill, Jack's Memorial, The Byron, Jones' Augusta - but not Hogan's Alley.
Still, the top three money winners are here. Do you know who they are? Jerry Kelly, Chris DiMarco and Jose Maria Olazabal. Ollie was brilliant last week at the Buick Invitational and if he continues to drive the ball more accurately under the tutelage of Butch Harmon, he should factor in this week, considering his track record on the great courses. The young Spaniard Sergio Garcia returns this week as well.
DiMarco, by the way, has climbed all the way to 10th in the World Rankings. And what's more, the top two players in putting average this year both use the claw, DiMarco and Mark Calcavecchia, for what that's worth.
Meanwhile, Robert Allenby hopes to buck a recent rend that has seen the last four defending champions miss the cut, including Phil Mickelson last week in La Jolla.
David Duval tees it up for the first time in a month. John Daly keeps rolling, now 40th in the world and he's playing this week. Also, the European contingent, prepping for the match play, has arrived on the West Coast. Darren Clarke and good buddy Lee Westwood, down all the way the 36th in the world, are entered.
There's a $666,000 first prize up for grabs, but more the more intriguing battle may be between Riviera and its neighbor to the south, Torrey Pines. Riviera stands ready to answer the strong salvo fired by the folks in San Diego.