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The stairs say it all at Riviera Country Club

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- You didn't need to watch a shot to know the score at the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club on Thursday. You just had to keep your eyes on the 50-plus wooden stairs behind the 18th green, which lead to the clubhouse and a small room inside where players sign their scorecards.

Jim Furyk skipped up the stairs, moving as deftly over each step as an Olympic hurdler. He'd just shot a 5-under-par 66 on a perfect, sun-dappled California day. His playing partners, the younger Ben Curtis and Hunter Mahan, walked up. They'd each bogeyed 18 to card a 3-under 68.

Mike (Fluff) Cowan, Furyk's 60-something-year-old caddie, stopped about two-thirds of the way up and caught his breath, then trudged the rest of the way up.

Minutes later came Phil Mickelson, who had finished his excellent round, an 8-under 63, with a par on the ninth hole. He ran about a quarter of the way up the stairs, turned around to see that he wasn't disturbing anyone on 18, then ran the rest of the way up. After a miserable start to the season, he held the clubhouse lead, by one, as it turned out later, over Scott McCarron.

Robert Allenby and Trevor Immelman, playing with Mickelson, had each fired 1-under 70. It was a good score, but not worth a the kind of joyous ascent Lefty had made in front of them. They walked.

Dustin Johnson, 24, fresh off his first victory at Pebble Beach last weekend, fairly danced up the planks. That's youth for you. He'd also just tapped in for a 66.

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by Kevin Cunningham