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Get set for the Los Angeles lottery

By Neville Leck Last updated: 13th February 2013

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Jimmy Walker - this week's form man could be the Riviera dark horse

Jimmy Walker - this week's form man could be the Riviera dark horse

Finding a winner in the powerful field contesting this week's Northern Trust Open at famed Riviera Country Club in the Pacific Palisades in Los Angeles isn't going to be easy.

Not only because it includes a bunch of highly-ranked stars of the calibre of World No 3 Luke Donald, No 7 Adam Scott, No 9 Bubba Watson and No 10 Phil Mickelson, whose collective form right now is at best a question mark, but it's also because there are another bunch of lesser-ranked players teeing off on Thursday currently boasting the kind of form most of us can only dream about.

South Africa's 2009 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, for example, is only ranked No 16 coming, as he is, off a pretty lean 2012 season, but he has whisked up some magical form in his last four starts, shooting a 2nd, two back-to-back firsts and another second in the Joburg Open on Sunday and may well be ready to win again in his first appearance on US soil this year.

Another form man who simply can't be ignored this week is American Jimmy Walker.

He is currently sitting in 79th place on the World Rankings list, but that is calculated over a long period and right now, in the shorter term, he has been dishing up the kind of golf that has had him labelled as the 'hottest non-winner on the PGA Tour right now'.

He tied for 4th here at Riviera in 2011 and 2012 and since then has had two top 4s in his last three starts so expect to watch him take off on Thursday like a steam train.

And yes, this on a tough, ball-strikers layout which last year saw the total average number of hits on its narrow, twisting fairways and smallish old-time greens - they average out at no more than 5,000 square feet - drop to all-time lows of 53.43 and to 53.20 per cent respectively.

Fortunately the weather isn't likely to make life any more difficult in what will the 50th time that a PGA Tour event has been hosted by Riviera, which over the years has been the club of choice of many of Hollywood's rich and famous.

Golfweather.com forecast that it will be sunny and hot throughout the tournament with no rain and very little wind to speak of.

A NNE breeze might get up to 11 mph on Friday but for the other three rounds, don't expect it to exceed much more than 5 or 6 mph.

Bill Haas, the 2011 FedEx Cup champion, didn't hit too many of Riviera's greens in regulation on his way to winning the Northern Trust Open last year (he only ranked 58th), but he showed that this could be more than made-up for with some deft pitching and scrambling and while he went through something of a lean spell after that victory, he has hit back this season with two top 10s in his last four starts and is another who may be carrying some serious form into this year's event.

That, however, is not something you can say of the four highest ranked players in this week's field.

California's Phil Mickelson could do just about anything in his current roller-coaster mood.

He won the Phoenix Open in Arizona two weeks ago, but then fished way down in 60th place in last week's Pebble Beach Pro-Am - and three weeks ago, before his Arizona triumph, his fortunes also plummeted when he finished in something like 51st place, all of 14 shots behind the Torrey Pines winner Tiger Woods.

And Donald, the highest ranked player in the field? What can we expect of him?

While he was one of the three who qualified for last year's play-offs and his slick iron play and solid putting is tailor made for Riviera, he has yet to fire a shot in anger this year and may just find that he is a little rusty in his 2013 debut tournament.

And you could, perhaps, say the same thing about Scott of Down Under.

He rounded off 2012 with four top 15s that included a win at the Australian Masters, but he's been out of competitive golf for at least two months now and nobody knows what to expect from him this week.

And that's not all.

There are a host of other serious contenders, some of whom, like Dustin Johnson, have already won this year and others like American Ryan Moore and South African Retief Goosen who haven't - but might be ready to do it now.

Goosen, a two-time US Open winner, has been having some lean times in the last year or so, but some recent back surgery has helped him feel "20 years younger" and it may be significant that his 9th place finish at Pebble Beach was his second top 20 in three starts since the operation and his best finish in 20 months.

So summed up, this week's Tour stop in Los Angeles has all the makings of a lottery. Perhaps Las Vegas would have been a better bet.

Neville Leck



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