By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- The first six weeks of the season haven’t disappointed in the drama department -- Phil Mickelson’s near-59, Tiger Woods winning again, Brandt Snedeker’s smokin’ start, six tournaments, six different winners. Take your pick.
But there’s something about the Northern Trust Open and Riviera that has an air of big boy golf to it. It’s the seventh tournament of the year and a slice of heaven for the golf fan, perhaps because of the gaudy field it boasts.
Four of the top five in the FedExCup standings and 18 of the top 30 in the world entered, the most of any tournament so far this year. So here are five things to watch for this weekend at Hogan’s Alley:
1. Fred Couples has been showing up at Riviera for longer than his former college roommate Jim Nantz has been in the booth for CBS, which is saying something considering this is Nantz’s 28th year. This is Couples’ 31st appearance (a tournament record), and he’s in the mix again. Father Time seems to forget Couples is north of 50 years old when he rolls into the Palisades – he’s won twice there and has a truckload of top 10s. If nothing else, it’s an opportunity to see what is still one of the smoothest swings in golf.
2. Speaking of smooth swings, anybody else notice Charl Schwartzel lately? Fifth, third, first, second. Those are his last four starts … on the European Tour. He’s making his PGA TOUR season debut this week in L.A. and not wasting any time. Neither should you. Watch the South African.
3. While we’re on the subject of debuts, Luke Donald, Adam Scott, Ernie Els and Sergio Garcia are also teeing it up for the first time in the U.S. this season. All have had varying levels of success at Riviera, and all are again in the picture this year.
4. The return of the Kooch. Matt Kuchar is apparently well-rested after three weeks off following a pair of top 10s in Hawaii and a tie for 16th at the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation. By the way, he was the only player to finish in the top 10 in both Aloha State events, and he has apparently carried that momentum to L.A.
5. Bracketology, otherwise known as examining the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship. The seeds will be revealed after the completion of the Northern Trust Open on Sunday night, and we’ll have complete analysis of the February Madness.