LOS ANGELES -- Two-time champion Fred Couples will return to Riviera Country Club in two weeks to make his 30th start at the Northern Trust Open after receiving a sponsor's exemption, tournament officials have announced. Couples, who won the Northern Trust Open in 1990 and 1992 and finished T7 in 2011, will equal Gene Littler for the most starts in tournament history with 30. The Northern Trust Open returns to Riviera Country Club on Feb. 14-19 for its 80th anniversary.
Couples will look to add to an already impressive resume at the Northern Trust Open. In addition to his two victories, Couples has collected 12 other top 10s, including runner-up finishes in 1993, 1994 and 1996. He held the 36-hole lead last year at 8-under and was in contention in the final round after three-consecutive birdies to open the round, but fell off the pace after a double bogey at No. 7 and eventually finished T7.
On the opposite end of the experience spectrum, collegiate stars Patrick Cantlay and Jordan Spieth will both be making their first starts at the Northern Trust Open after receiving sponsor's exemptions. Cantlay, a junior at UCLA and the No. 1 ranked amateur in the world, made headlines after firing a tournament-record, 10-under-par 60 in the second round of the Travelers Championship last June en route to holding the 36-hole lead. The 60 is the lowest round ever recorded by an amateur on the PGA TOUR. Cantlay eventually finished T21 and made the cut in his next four starts on TOUR, highlighted by a T9 at the RBC Canadian Open. A freshman at the University of Texas, Spieth, the No. 2-ranked collegiate player in the United States, finished T16 and T32 in 2010 and 2011, respectively, at the HP Byron Nelson Championship. He missed the cut at the 2010 FedEx St. Jude Classic, his only other start on the PGA TOUR.
Tournament officials also announced sponsor's exemptions for South Korea's K.T. Kim, who is ranked No. 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking; international stars Ryo Ishikawa and Yuta Ikeda of Japan, who are ranked No. 50 and No. 84 in the OWGR, respectively; and Nationwide Tour graduates and PGA TOUR rookies Billy Hurley III and Erik Compton.
Kim made his PGA TOUR debut at the Northern Trust Open in 2011, missing the cut after rounds of 71-76. The Northern Trust Open will be Kim's first start on the PGA TOUR in 2012. Ishikawa, who made his first-career start on the PGA TOUR at the 2009 Northern Trust Open, will be making his fourth-consecutive appearance in the event. He missed the cut in 2009 and 2011 and finished T32 in 2010. Ishikawa recorded a T13 last week at the Farmers Insurance Open. Ikeda made his debut at the Northern Trust Open last year and finished T62, highlighted by a 2-under 69 in the final round.
A rookie in 2012 after claiming the last PGA TOUR card at No. 25 on the 2011 Nationwide Tour Money List, Hurley will make his first start at the Northern Trust Open later this month. A 2004 graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Hurley spent five years serving in the U.S. Navy before starting his professional golf career. He finished T71 in his first start at the Sony Open in Hawaii and missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open. Compton was a Monday qualifier for the 2011 Northern Trust Open and finished T25 on the strength of final round 64, his career-best finish in 33 PGA TOUR starts. A two-time heart-transplant recipient, Compton won the 2011 Mexico Open on the Nationwide Tour and finished the season No. 13 on the Nationwide Tour Money List, earning his PGA TOUR card for 2012. He has made two of three cuts on TOUR in 2012, finishing T67 and T42 at the Sony Open in Hawaii and Humana Challenge, respectively, before missing the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open.
The tournament had previously announced former Pepperdine teammates Jason Gore and Andy Walker as sponsor's exemptions. Walker received the Northern Trust Open Exemption, which provides an opportunity for a top golfer who represents the advancement of diversity in golf and wouldn't otherwise be eligible to compete in the event. Walker and Gore helped Pepperdine capture the NCAA Championship in 1997.
"We're excited to welcome our group of sponsor exemption recipients to the 2012 Northern Trust Open and look forward to watching them compete at Riviera Country Club later this month," said Executive Director Jerry West. "We've got a fan favorite in Fred Couples, international stars like Ryo Ishikawa, Yuta Ikeda and K.T. Kim, up-and-coming players like Billy Hurley III and Erik Compton, plus the Pepperdine connection with Jason Gore and Andy Walker. This is really a group of players who will provide fans with plenty to cheer for during the 2012 event."
For Northern Trust Open ticket information, visit www.northerntrustopen.com.