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Strong field lines up at Riviera Country Club
February 16, 2011

Players have always been drawn to Riviera Country Club for the quality of the course as much as the lure of winning a golf tournament, and this week is no different.

Five members of the world’s top 10, and 12 of the top 20, are competing in the Northern Trust Open and Mark Wilson, the hottest player on PGA Tour, is itching to tee off in Thursday’s opening round.

“The golf course is a great challenge,” American Wilson, who has won twice in four starts this season, told reporters at Riviera on Tuesday. “There’s a lot of interesting golf holes.

“They’re all unique and different. It’s a fun tournament because you know you can go around and shoot just a couple under par every day and actually make up ground on the field.”

Phil Mickelson, champion here in 2008 and 2009, has always relished the challenge of the classic par-71 layout that winds its way through the Santa Monica Canyon.

“The golf course is one of the best we have on Tour,” the American world number four said. “It is such a visually stimulating course and a very challenging shot-making course.”

Riviera, which hosted the U.S. Open in 1948 and the PGA Championship in 1983 and 1995, is located just off Sunset Boulevard and has a long association with nearby Hollywood.

From the 1930s through the 1950s, the course hosted the Los Angeles Open which in those days was considered one of the PGA Tour’s premier events.

Actors such as Douglas Fairbanks, Clark Gable, Mary Pickford, Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn flocked to the club to watch the professionals compete.

The par-four 12th has a large sycamore guarding the left side of the green named Bogey’s Tree in honour of former member Humphrey Bogart.

Riviera will forever be nicknamed “Hogan’s Alley” in honour of the two Los Angeles Opens and the 1948 U.S. Open won here by golfing great Ben Hogan.

Steve Stricker won last year’s title by two shots from Britain’s Luke Donald, a victory that meant even more to the American because of the course and its rich history.

“I’m in that locker room and you look at some of the old photos of previous champions here and a great old course that has produced those champions,” Stricker said.

“It means a lot to be a part of it and to have my name on (the trophy) there. I’ll never forget it, obviously. It was just a special week.”

Masters champion Mickelson, looking for his first victory of the season, is the highest-ranked player in this week’s field.

World number six Paul Casey, fellow Englishman Donald (ninth) and Americans Stricker (eighth) and Jim Furyk (10th) are also taking part.

Other leading players in the include former world number one Vijay Singh of Fiji, triple major winner Padraig Harrington of Ireland, British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa and Australian Geoff Ogilvy.

Also competing are Canadian left-hander Mike Weir, champion here in 2003 and 2004, South Africa’s Rory Sabbatini, a winner in 2006, and Japanese teenage sensation Ryo Ishikawa.

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