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Northern Trust Open Preview

   by Matt Fargo - 02/02/2010

The PGA Tour continues with the California swing as it stops at Riviera Country Club for the Northern Trust Open. Formerly known as the Nissan Open, this event usually brings in a solid field and that is the case again this year. The strong field is a plus but going up against the Super Bowl isn’t ideal even though kickoff will be after the trophy is hoisted. The problem is that pregame coverage of the big game will still recruit fans although the FBR Open, the tournament formerly played on Super Bowl Sunday, never had a problem. The event in Phoenix drew over 60,000 fans last year on Sunday and that was with the Cardinals in the Super Bowl.



Los Angeles is hoping for even half of that, which would be a win, and a strong leaderboard going into Sunday will help. Phil Mickelson will be making his second start this season following a shaky and inconsistent debut last week at the Farmers. He finished 19th after a final round 73 that included bogeys on his first three holes. He heads to Riviera with a solid track record as he has won here the last two years while finishing second three years ago. The big story has been the controversy with his Ping i2 wedges that are curtailing the new grove rule and we will see if that is still a distraction.



The rest of the field isn’t bad either. Eight of the top ten in the current FedEx standings are in the field as well as four players in the top ten of the Official World Golf Rankings. We also have nine past champions and a very stellar 17 Majors winners in the field. Besides Mickelson, this includes fan favorites Jim Furyk, David Duval, Fred Couples, Padraig Harrington and Ernie Els. Making debuts this week are Harrington, Furyk, Adam Scott and Anthony Kim. Overall this is the deepest field we have seen so far this season and it comes at the best possible time.



Riviera Country Club has long been known within golfing circles as “Hogan’s Alley” after the legendary Ben Hogan won three times here in a span of 18 months (two L.A. Opens and the U.S. Open sandwiched between). The layout will be around 7,300 yards and driving distance will be a premium here because of all the rain that the area has received. Course management is still the most important factor however and knowledge of the track is almost mandatory. Of the 14 players in the field who have played here only once, just three made the cut.



Let’s take a look at the four favorites. Mickelson is the obvious favorite here (+650) because he had owned this even the last three years and could easily be the three-time defending champion. If there is ever a player besides Tiger Woods who can let go what happened the previous week, it is Mickelson. He says he is close but prior to last week he said he felt his best in a long time so I don’t know what to believe.



Steve Stricker (+1500) finished T11 two years ago and a runner-up by just one shot last year in his limited playing here so he has had success without a lot of experience in recent years which is rare. After winning three times last season and finishing in the top 10 on 11 occasions, second only to Tiger Woods' 14, 2010 has started strong with a T10 at the SBS and an outright third at the Sony.



Robert Allenby (+2000) could be someone to look out for as he is as hot as anyone despite his finish last week. This is where Allenby recorded his last PGA Tour victory and even though that was back in 2001, it brings in positive thoughts which are always good in this mental game. Add to that, he has three top tens here in the last five years and his flyer on 17 last week can be forgotten.



Furyk (+2000) makes his 2010 debut this week and he could be an under the radar player even though he is very well known. He finished T12 in 2006 and T3 in 2007 before missing the cut in 2008 and finishing T41 last year as a third round 75 did him in. His finish last year was outstanding with four top tens in his last four events including the last three stops during the FedEx Playoffs.

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