The Stars Come Out in La-La Land

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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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