This week the PGA Tour holds its final California-based event of the West Coast Swing, heading to Riviera Country Club outside Los Angeles for the Northern Trust Open. This year's event boasts a strong field, with several top players making their 2013 season debuts at "Hogan's Alley."
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Bill Haas returns to defend his title, one that he won in dramatic fashion last year in a sudden-death playoff over Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley. Here are 10 players to watch this week beneath the California sun:
1. Phil Mickelson: Each of the last two players to top the Power Rankings have gone on to miss the cut, so caveat emptor. Mickelson's dominant win in Phoenix is now his only top-30 finish in four starts this year, but his Riviera track record can't be ignored - two wins and two runner-ups since 2007. Playing a fifth straight week, fatigue may be a concern...but he played the same stretch last year and finished T-2 here.
2. Charl Schwartzel: The hottest golfer on the planet not named Brandt Snedeker. Schwartzel's last six worldwide starts have all netted top-five finishes, including two wins. Coming off a second-place finish at the Joburg Open last week. Flying across 10 time zones to play this week, though.
3. Sergio Garcia: Played well on the European Tour's Desert Swing to begin his 2013 campaign, including a T-2 finish in Qatar. Rallied to tie for fourth here last year on the heels of a Sunday 64 on a day when only four other players broke 70.
4. Aaron Baddeley: A winner here in 2011, Badds has started well this year on some tough courses, tying for 12th at Pebble after a tie for sixth at Torrey Pines. Tied for 11th here last year and has made the cut in each of his 10 Riviera appearances.
5. Jimmy Walker: Walker was right below Baddeley in last week's Power Rankings, and they both played well so I'll leave them together. Tied for fourth each of the last two years at Riviera and now has a pair of top-five finishes in his last three starts after a strong performance at Pebble Beach.
6. Dustin Johnson: Improbably struggled last week at Pebble, but perhaps he'll benefit from a pairing that won't include a Gretzky? DJ has been inside the top 10 three of the last four years at this event, but has yet to play well in the wake of his season-opening win at Kapalua.
7. Adam Scott: One of many top-tier players making their season debuts this week. Although he's only played here six times since 2005, four of those appearances resulted in a top-20 finish, including a win in '05, runner-up in '06 and a T-17 showing last year. Finished his 2012 season in strong fashion, including a win in his native Australia.
8. Luke Donald: The top-ranked player in this week's field, Donald has struggled here recently but posted three straight top-six finishes from 2008-2010, including a runner-up showing in 2010. Making his first worldwide start of 2013, though, so rust may be a factor.
9. J.B. Holmes: Holmes has struggled to get out of the gates in 2013, but his record in this event is outstanding. His worst finish here in five starts since 2008 is a tie for 12th in 2011; each of the other four appearances resulted in a top-eight finish. His stroke average here across the last five years is a stellar 69.05.
10. Webb Simpson: The reigning U.S. Open champ has been characteristically solid - though unspectacular - this year. Jumped into the top-10 with a Saturday 65 at Pebble but faded out of contention Sunday, finishing T-26. Simpson tied for 15th here in 2010, his lone NTO appearance, when he shot 69-65 across the final two days.
11. Fred Couples: Last week's wild card was Vijay Singh, shrouded in antler-infused controversy, and this week we make extra room for the ultimate Riviera wild card. Couples made his first start in this event way back in 1982, and since then has tallied 14 top-10 finishes, including a pair of wins and three runner-ups. Finished T-7 here as recently as 2011.
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