The Stars Come Out in La-La Land

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 13, 2007, 5:00 pm
2007 Nissan OpenEven before they tee it up at famed Riviera Country Club for this week's 81st edition of the Nissan Open, there are two big stories surrounding the event.
 
First, there was the story about a certain someone who was or was not going to be in the field to try and extend his consecutive PGA TOUR winning streak to eight. That certain someone was, of course, Tiger Woods and unfortunately for the fans coming out to Pacific Palisades, the answer was no; he passed on the event.
 
The second story also dealt with another certain someone who no one thought was going to originally be in the field but then surprised event organizers by throwing his hat into the ring. And that someone was Phil Mickelson, who then added another surprise by bouncing back from a horrendous start this season to run away with the title at Pebble Beach.
 
Ernie Els
Ernie Els is making his 2007 PGA TOUR debut at the Nissan Open. (Wire Images)
So Phil's in and Tiger's out, end of story, right? Well, not quite.
 
Perhaps the bigger story line is: Who else will be showing up at Hogan's Alley? Answer - easily the strongest field of the year. Eight of the world's top-10 and 19 of the top-25 will be on hand to try and win the event that started all the way back in 1926 as the Los Angeles Open.
 
Names scheduled for the red carpet in L.A. - Els, Scott, Furyk, Goosen, Garcia, Donald, Ogilvy, Harrington - just to name a few.
 
And with such a loaded field, expect plenty of Oscar-worthy drama to play out just down the road from Hollywood. Last season, two-time champion of the event Fred Couples bogeyed three of his last four holes to hand the title over to Rory Sabbatini, who in turn had to hold off a hard-charging Adam Scott.
 
The year prior, it was Scott who needed a playoff to capture the first-place check - albeit it didn't come with all the other perks. Due to the fact that it was shortened to just 36 holes because of heavy rains, the No. 3 ranked Aussie was not credited with an official PGA TOUR victory.
 
And speaking of playoffs, since the turn of the century, every odd year has produced extra holes - Robert Allenby over five other players in 2001, Mike Weir over Charles Howell in 2003, and Scott's rain-shortened playoff over Chad Campbell in '05.
 
Heres our list of players to watch for from four different categories: Superstar (top-10 ranked player from the Official World Golf Ranking); Second Tier (guys outside the top 10, but no lower than 100); First-Timer (a player who has never won before on TOUR); Veteran (a guy who has played 10-plus years on the PGA TOUR and may or may not have won in some time).
 
Fred Couples
Fred Couples has good memories when he arrives at Riviera CC. (Wire Images)
Superstar
Of the two times he has teed it up in this event, Adam Scott has placed no worse than second, making his average finish a mere 1.5. That's a hard stat to ignore. And couple it with the fact that Scott has risen to No. 3 in the world and he figures to be the man to beat at Riviera. His results, although limited to just one event so far, include a runner-up in the only other strong field this season at the winners' only Mercedes-Benz Championship.
 
Second-Tier
In his lone start last year at Riviera, South Africa's rising star Trevor Immelman challenged for the lead before a couple of late bogeys dropped him into a tie for seventh. The narrow, tree-lined fairways this week could be an advantage to Immelman as he currently ranks 14th in driving accuracy. Ranked 62nd in the world at the end of 2005, he has steadily risen all the way up to 12th. He has a pair of top-3 finishes between the PGA and European tours' '07 schedules.
 
Veteran
Back in the early '90s, when he briefly held the No. 1 ranking in the world, fan favorite Fred Couples used to own this event. During a seven-year stretch from 1990 through 1996, Couples produced two victories and an impressive three runner-up showings. Yes, that was in his prime, but there's no denying Freddie still has a feel for the place as shown by four top-10s in his last seven starts. (editor's note: Couples withdrew from the field on Tuesday due to an injury.)
 
First-Timer
Still just 23-years-old, Kevin Na is unfortunately having to play this season with conditions usually associated with players much older than him - under a Major Medical Extension. The Korean-born Na not only bypassed college but also his senior year in high school to turn pro at the ripe age of 17 back in 2001. He had a breakout year in the 2005 with two runner-up finishes, one coming in a playoff to Geoff Ogilvy in Tucson. But he played in only 11 events last year due to hand injury and will be looking to right the ship at Riviera.
 
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    Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

    Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

    While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

    He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

    "A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

    Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

    "If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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    Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

    When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

    Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

    "I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


    CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


    The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

    Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

    "It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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    DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

    World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

    Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

    "It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

    Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

    Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

    "I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

    Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

    "If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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    LPGA lists April date for new LA event

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

    The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

    When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

    The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

    The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.