What to expect from Northern Trust Open
FEB 13, 2014 12:56a ET
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- Los Angeles gets one in-season PGA Tour event every year and every year, the guys bring the drama.
Last season featured the first-ever local winner when former UCLA golfer and Long Beach native John Merrick won in a playoff. Formerly known as the Los Angeles open, it's a popular tournament that embraces its region and it's history.
Here's what to watch for over the next four days at the Northern Trust Open.
The top five players in the FedEx Cup standings are all in attendance this week and so are a few other intriguing young players.
“I always felt comfortable out here and feel like I could play good golf”
Jimmy Walker, fresh off of his win in Pebble Beach is the favorite. Somewhat unknown until recently, the 2013-2014 wraparound season is still young and Walker already has three wins. With his revamped swing, courtesy of famed swing coach Butch Harmon, the 35-year-old has missed just one cut this season and has finished out of the top 25 only once this season.
Dustin Johnson isn't a local but his fiancé and her father, Wayne Gretzky, are and will likely be in attendance. Especially if Johnson is in contention come Sunday.
Jordan Spieth, the 20-year-old from Dallas that already has yet to finish out of the top 25 in any event this season, is part of what might be the best threesome to start off this week, grouped with Webb Simpson and Fred Couples, who is playing in the event for the 32nd time.
"This is my favorite tournament," Couples said. "I've played a lot of times, I've won a couple times, but to help the tournament and Northern Trust, I'm grateful."
There is no Tiger Woods and there is no Phil Mickelson. Woods hasn't played in the event since 2006 when he pulled out before finishing his second round on a rainy Saturday morning. Woods pulled out citing illness but longtime tournament regulars like to point out the fact that he was in danger of missing the cut and breaking his streak. It's considered his home tournament and it's still the only tournament he has entered but never won.
Mickelson is a fan favorite at Riviera, having won the event in 2008 and 2009, but isn't in the field this week due to his ongoing back issues.
Merrick is the defending champ and he's one of three Long Beach locals in the event. His close friend John Mallinger and Paul Goydos are also in the field this week. The three all train together out of Virginia Country Club with another Long Beachean, swing coach and club CEO, Jamie Mulligan, a former Long Beach State golfer.
"I always felt comfortable out here and feel like I could play good golf," Merrick said. "Some courses fit your eye. You step up on the tee and you can kind of visualize where your tee shot is going to go."
Valencia is well represented this week as well with Jason Gore, who Monday qualified, and web.com player Max Homa. Former Valencia High golfer Homa grew up coming to the event as a spectator and now as he makes his first start, he's realizing he's finally achieved a dream.
"I've been to this event at least 18 times. It's a really big honor for me to play," Homa said. "I was joking around the last few minutes about being inside the ropes instead of outside. It's pretty weird, but I'm really happy to play here...
"This is my fourth major, to be honest."
The biggest star of the week is the course itself, Riviera Country Club.
Nestled amongst a canyon in Pacific Palisades, the classically-designed course features tight fairways with challenging South African kikuyu grass. It's a picturesque yet dramatic setup from start to finish as the manse, Spanish-style clubhouse sits atop a hill just behind the elevated first-tee box and the 18th green is at the base of a large grandstand-like basin.
Couples likes it so much he moved down the block a few years ago.
"I like it from the get-go back in 1981 when it started and it's just a peaceful spot," Couples said. "There are great courses that people like and there some that don't and I don't know why anyone would not like this course. It's just the perfect layout, it's very fair, it's going to be what, 80 degrees this week?"