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Strong field head to Riviera

This week's Northern Trust Open boasts the strongest field of the PGA Tour season so far, despite the notable absence of world number one Tiger Woods for a second successive year.

Eight of the game's top 10, and 17 of the leading 20 players, will be in action at Riviera Country Club, a classic par-71 venue which has hosted one U.S. Open and two PGA Championships.

World number two Phil Mickelson heads the field and will be eager to bounce back from a playoff loss and a missed cut in his last two PGA Tour starts.

The three-times major winner was edged out by fellow American J.B. Holmes at the first extra hole in this month's Phoenix Open before missing the third-round cut at last week's Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

Mickelson bemoaned a woeful display on the greens after signing off at Pebble Beach with a six-over-par 78 that featured a sextuple-bogey 11 and a total of 33 putts.

However, he enjoys Riviera where he was beaten in a playoff for last year's title by American Charles Howell III.

"I love Riviera," Mickelson told reporters after his premature exit from Pebble Beach. "I played well there last year and I putted the greens well last year.

"If I can just get something to turn, I feel like I'm striking it well. I feel like it'll be a good week."

Although twice PGA Tour champion Howell has failed to return to the winner's circle since his victory at Riviera 12 months ago, he is delighted to be back at the tree-lined layout.

"From the first time I went around Riviera, I just loved the shape of it," the 28-year-old said. "I loved how every hole was defined by trees yet you never feel really claustrophobic on it.

"Knowing that I have won on the golf course before is always a help going into a week. I am probably going into it a little more comfortable than otherwise."

Another player worth monitoring is Australian world number five Adam Scott, who makes his first appearance on the 2008 PGA Tour.

Scott triumphed at Riviera in 2005 and has already produced red-hot form this year, firing a blistering 11-under-par 61 to win last month's Qatar Masters on the European Tour by three shots.

Also appearing for the first time on the PGA Tour season are Britons Luke Donald, Paul Casey, Lee Westwood and Justin Rose and Spaniard Sergio Garcia.

Apart from Woods, who has never won at Riviera, the only other absentees this week from the world's top 20 are South African Ernie Els (fourth) and Swede Henrik Stenson (13th).


February 13, 2008

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