Reuters - Wed, 03 Feb 07:32:00 2010
World number two Phil Mickelson will aim to become the first player to win the Northern Trust Open three years in a row when he tees off in Thursday's opening round at Riviera Country Club.
The American left-hander has always enjoyed playing on the classic par-71 layout but he will need to bury memories of his faltering finish at last week's San Diego Open where he made his first competitive appearance of the year.
Mickelson had been in a good position to challenge for the title at Torrey Pines after starting Sunday's final round just four strokes off the pace but his bid stalled with three bogeys in the first three holes.
"I had a good warm-up session and I felt like it was going to be a good day," Mickelson told reporters after closing with a one-over-par 73. "I got off to a terrible start and then throughout the round didn't get much out of it.
"But the good thing is that I've got a direction of what I'm working on. I hit some good shots coming down the stretch ... and my game is feeling not as rusty as it looks. I've had some success at LA so I'm excited (about this week).
"The golf course is one of the best we have on Tour," Mickelson said of Riviera. "It is such a visually stimulating course and a very challenging shot-making course."
The three-times major winner faces a typically strong field in the fifth event of the 2010 US PGA Tour where four of the world's top 10 are set to compete.
Apart from Mickelson, third-ranked Steve Stricker, fellow American Jim Furyk (fifth) and Irishman Padraig Harrington (eighth) are taking part.
Stricker finished second to Mickelson by one shot at Riviera last year and, like his compatriot, he has always enjoyed the Los Angeles event.
"It's always nice to come back here," he said. "It's a place where I had some success last year and I'm looking forward to getting it going again this year.
"I haven't played the last couple of weeks and being home in Madison (Wisconsin), you don't get a lot done there this time of year.
"Hopefully I can continue my play like I did the first couple of weeks of the season," he added, referring to his top-10 finishes in his first two US PGA Tour starts.
Other leading players in this week's field include world number 15 Robert Allenby of Australia, British Open champion Stewart Cink of the United States and three-time major winner Ernie Els of South Africa.
Also competing are Canadian left-hander Mike Weir, champion here in 2003 and 2004, South Africa's Rory Sabbatini, a winner in 2006, and Japanese teenage sensation Ryo Ishikawa.