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Mickelson grew to love Riviera after five years away

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LOS ANGELES – Phil Mickelson’s one of Riviera’s late bloomers.

He liked the course well enough first time he saw it, but it wasn’t love at first sight, not the way Fred Couples was smitten.

Mickelson tees it up at the Northern Trust Open Thursday looking to win his third PGA Tour title at Riviera. That’s not bad considering he skipped the event five years in a row before deciding to give the tournament another shot in ’07, when he lost in a playoff.

“It’s funny how it’s become one of my favorite tournaments on Tour, given that for a number of years I didn't play here,” Mickelson said. “I didn't play well early in my career and ended up choosing to play other tournaments.

“When I came back in 2007, lost in a playoff to Charles Howell and won the following years, I quickly fell in love with the place, and I started to appreciate it for its nuances and what a wonderful course it is.”

Mickelson nearly won here again last year. He and Keegan Bradley lost in a playoff to Bill Haas. The threesome will be together again for the first two rounds this year.

This marks a long stretch of play for Mickelson. It’s his fifth consecutive tournament. He won the Waste Management Phoenix Open two weeks ago but struggled to a tie for 60th in his title defense last week at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

Mickelson said he’s enjoying the fact that this week doesn’t really feel like another week on the road. He’s flying up from his home in Rancho Santa Fe every morning and flying back at day’s end. It’s an hour and 15-minute commute door to door.

And, by the way, Mickelson said he’s feeling no lingering effects from that nasty slip on the rocks at Pebble Beach last week.

“It looked worse than it was, because 30 seconds later I didn't feel a thing,” Mickelson said. “I was more shocked than anything.”