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Five things to watch for at the Northern Trust Open at Riviera

Phil Mickelson, 2012 Northern Trust Open
Harry How/Getty Images
Phil Mickelson lost the 2012 Northern Trust Open in a playoff.

The last player to win in back-to-back weeks on the PGA Tour was Rory McIlroy, at September's Deutsche Bank Championship and BMW Championship. Brandt Snedeker, the hottest player in golf, won't be pulling off a similar feat this week at the Northern Trust Open at L.A.'s Riviera Country Club.

Snedeker, who won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am last week, has chosen to rest his sore ribs this week, and he will also be skipping next week's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. He withdrew from the Match Play on Tuesday, and with two weeks off he may get so bored he actually buys something with the $14.5 million he's won since September.

Here are five other things I think this week

1. This is not a great week to be the Euro tour's alternate programming
The Africa Open features mostly a bunch of no-names and/or guys who need to buy a vowel (Jbe Kruger, Jaco van Zyl), while many of the game's most recognizable faces are Stateside. Luke Donald, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Graeme McDowell, Adam Scott and Charl Schwartzel will make their 2013 PGA Tour debuts in L.A. and some arrive already playing well. Scott, the 2007 NTO champion, won the Aussie Masters in November. Schwartzel, who has never played the NTO, finished second at the Joburg Open last week and won the Alfred Dunhill in December. Garcia tied for fourth at Riviera last year and tied for second in Qatar last month.

2. It's time you get to know Jimmy Walker
Walker is coming off a T3 at Pebble and T4 at Torrey Pines, sending golf scribes running for the media guides. Did you know he met his wife, Erin, at a 2004 Web.com tour event? And did you know that he loves it when fans holler "Dy-No-Mite!" in reference to the other Jimmy Walker - the one from the 1970's sitcom "Good Times"?

Okay, enough introductions. Walker, 34, has made the cut in all five of his starts this year, and tied for fourth at last year's Northern Trust. If he could play only one course the rest of his life, he said it would be Riviera. Sure, he's winless on Tour, but 30-somethings Robert Garrigus and D.A. Points were once winless, too.

3. Phil Mickelson is not a cold-weather golfer
This has probably always been the case to an extent, given that he grew up in the sunny climes of San Diego and lived in Phoenix, but Mickelson's psoriatic arthritis may put an extra premium on warm weather for the Hall of Famer. How else to explain last week? Mickelson looked unstoppable in winning at Phoenix, but playing the same game just days later at chilly Pebble Beach, where he'd won the year before, he finished T60. The weather report for Riviera, where Mickelson has finished first ('08, '09) or second ('07, '12) in four of the last six years: dry and in the 70s.

4. Bill Haas is this week's dark horse
Haas is the defending champion at the NTO, which he won in a playoff over Keegan Bradley and Mickelson, and has finished T6 at TPC Scottsdale two weeks ago, and T9 at Torrey Pines the week before that. The two top-10 finishes are just one shy of his total from all of last year. With so much to choose from this week the Riv, in the deepest field of 2013 so far, Haas might be the obvious pick no one picks.

5. Golf's most underrated player this week is ... Karrie Webb
Webb will be among the favorites at the LPGA lid-lifter, the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open, owing to the fact that she's already won it four times. And here's an interesting tidbit that went relatively unnoticed: When she won the Aussie Ladies Masters two weeks ago for the eighth time, Webb tied Sam Snead (Greater Greensboro) for the most victories in a single event, with eight. Eight! Webb is paired with defending champion Jessica Korda and 2012 Players of the Year Stacy Lewis. Amateur Lydia Ko goes off with Yani Tseng and Michelle Wie.

 

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