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Par 5 Stars and Stripes

Setting the week’s agenda with five questions for professional golf at large ...

Will the PGA Tour’s stars start to shine in L.A.?

Six weeks into the season, the average world ranking of the year’s PGA Tour winners is No. 139.

Nobody inside the top 30 at the time of his victory has won yet this year.

Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson is looking for his first non-major win since 2009. (Getty Images)
Bubba Watson’s the highest ranked winner. He was No. 33 when he won the Farmers Insurance Open three weeks ago.

Jonathan Byrd was No. 121 when he won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Mark Wilson No. 237 when he won the Sony Open, Jhonny Vegas No. 187 at the Bob Hope Classic, Wilson No. 91 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and D.A. Points No. 167 at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

With Tiger Woods in a funk, it isn’t that nobody’s dominant today. It’s that nobody’s even close.

Matt Kuchar won once last year and was a serious candidate for PGA Tour Player of the Year.

Since the start of the 2009 season, here’s a list of the PGA Tour pros with the most victories:

Tiger Woods, 6.

Steve Stricker, 5.

Phil Mickelson, 4.

Jim Furyk, Geoff Ogilvy, Zach Johnson, Dustin Johnson and Mark Wilson, 3.
Can the Northern Trust Open thrive without Tiger Woods?

Jerry West might not have landed Woods, but the NBA legend and tournament executive director has a very strong field with a lot of potentially compelling storylines.

We saw at Torrey Pines just three weeks ago how riveting the action can be without Woods in the mix.

Watson’s victory over Mickelson and Vegas was great theater and all three are in the field again this week. So is defending champion Stricker. Five of the top 10 in the world rankings are at Rivera. That’s one more than played in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic with Woods there last week. Thirty of the top 50 are at Riviera, that’s three times more than played at Dubai last week. West has an All-Star field and it will be interesting to see if Southern California turns out to watch.
Can Phil Mickelson win at Riviera for the third time?

Mickelson won at Riviera in 2009 and ’08 and finished second there in ’07.

In his last 16 rounds on that demanding course, his scoring average is 68.18.

Yes, Lefty's playing well enough to win this week, though you have to wonder if endurance will become a factor. In a very busy start to the season, he’s playing in his fifth consecutive tournament. Though Mickelson hasn’t gone low to spark a run to victory yet this year, he’s avoiding the poor rounds that slowed him after his Masters victory last year. In 20 rounds this season, Mickelson’s been under par 19 times. He was at even par in the only round he failed to break par and has a run going of 13 consecutive rounds under par.

Next week’s Accenture Match Play Championship will mark Mickelson’s sixth consecutive week.
Is Yani Tseng poised to be the next dominant player in the women’s game?

With back-to-back victories in Australia to open the season, 2010 LPGA Rolex Player of the Year Yani Tseng seized the No. 1 Rolex world ranking for the first time in her career.

Tseng, 22, is a power player serving notice that she might be ready to be the next dominant player in the women’s game. She’s already won three major championships, showing she can summon her best in the biggest events.

Tseng will be going for her third victory in as many weeks when she tees it up in the LPGA season-opener Thursday at the Honda LPGA Thailand event. All the big names in women’s golf will be in the 60-player field with Jiyai Shin, Ai Miyazato, Cristie Kerr, Suzann Pettersen, Paula Creamer, Na Yeon Choi, Brittany Linicome, Michelle Wie, Karrie Webb, Juli Inkster, Angela Stanford, Christina Kim, Morgan Pressel and Natalie Gulbis in the mix.
How will the Americans fare in the LPGA 2011?

Will Kerr dizzy the competition with more performances like her 12-shot romp at the McDonald’s LPGA Championship?

Will Creamer remain healthy and build on her U.S. Women’s Open triumph last summer?

Will Wie win for a third consecutive season, or even up the ante with a multiple win season?

Do Lincicome, Pressel and Stanford have large moves in mind this year?

With just 13 American LPGA events on the schedule, the tour needs its American stars to shine more than ever. Yes, the Asian rise has helped cultivate new markets, but American companies like investing in American winners. It’s a fact of life.

Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell