Five players who could win the Northern Trust Open:
1. Phil Mickelson. Before he began his pro-am round Wednesday, Mickelson was on the practice range on the other side of a row of equipment trucks at Riviera Country Club. Cameras recording his swing for a Golf Channel show surrounded him.
He's a bit of a technical geek. Yes, Mickelson knows how many grams he has shifted to the heel of his driver. And, yes, Mickelson knows he has to drive it better this week if he's going to impose his will at the Northern Trust Open, which begins today at Riviera.
In other words, he can't have any 11s as he did on the par-five 14th hole Saturday at Pebble Beach, where he missed the cut.
Chances are that's not going to happen to Mickelson at Riviera.
He started his year with a tie for sixth at Torrey Pines, a tournament that was the sole property of Tiger Woods, and a week later made it into a playoff at the FBR Open, where he lost to J.B. Holmes.
Throw out Pebble Beach, and then you've got Riviera, a setup that Mickelson can handle with his adroit short game, just as long as he keeps the ball in the fairway often enough.
Look for a big week from Mickelson, but with 17 of the top 20 ranked players on the scene, it wouldn't be surprising to expect a shootout.
2. Padraig Harrington. He was all over the place at Pebble and tied for 14th, but that was his first PGA Tour event this year, and now he may be ready for something more.
Harrington, who won the British Open last year, is getting over flu, but sick or injured players are routinely considered dangerous because their expectations are lessened.
Last year, Harrington opened with a 63 at Riviera and even though he deflated at the end, closing with a 73, he was still seventh.
One more thing: He can putt. Harrington ranked 20th on the PGA Tour last year in putting average, and putting is a quality that translates into good things on Riviera's small and fast greens.
3. Dustin Johnson. Don't say Dustin who? Everyone is probably going to get to know him quickly.
Johnson was in the hunt on the last day at Pebble, thanks to back-to-back 68s, and wound up tied for seventh. With a top 10 at the Sony Open and a tie for 12th at the Hope, Johnson has already made $432,706 in his rookie year.
It's looking as if Johnson could be the real deal. The 23-year-old former Walker Cup player was a first-team All-American at Coastal Carolina and graduated from qualifying school, winning the pressure-soaked first stage by eight shots.
Johnson's biggest attribute is that he hits the ball a ton. He's 6 feet 4, 190 pounds and averages 304.7 yards in driving distance, trailing only Bubba Watson and J.B. Holmes. Last week at Pebble, he was the only player on the weekend to hit an iron into the green at the 502-yard second hole.
4. Adam Scott. The biggest reason to watch out for Scott is a number, 61, which is what he shot on the last day to win the European Tour event at Qatar three weeks ago.
That would indicate something's already going right for Scott, even though Riviera is his first PGA Tour event of the year. Scott birdied the first five holes at Qatar, so it doesn't appear as though he needs to iron out any wrinkles in his putting.
Scott also has had success at Riviera, winning the unofficial 2005 edition that was limited to 36 holes because of rain.
With an effective combination of hitting it far, hitting greens and putting, Scott also ranked 18th on the PGA Tour in scoring average last year. He considers Riviera a shotmaker's course and that is a description that suits his game as well as anyone out here.
5. Mike Weir. A two-time winner at Riviera, in 2003 and 2004, Weir was mini-slumping last year until he won the Fry's Electronics Open at Scottsdale, Ariz., and set himself up for a comeback.
What happened to Weir was a rare bout of not finding the fairways or enough greens, plus a balky putter. Those problems are disappearing for Weir, who finished strong and tied for 14th at Pebble. Weir opened with a 75 and was in danger of missing the cut, but he was seven under the rest of the way.
It has been five years since he won the Masters, something you can't do unless you make putts, and Weir hasn't forgotten how to do that.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Mike Weir, Charles Howell III, Rory Sabbatini, Adam Scott, Fred Couples, above, Robert Allenby, Tiger Woods, Kirk Triplett, Len Mattiace and Ernie Els have won the most money at Riviera's PGA Tour stop . . . and Woods is the only one who hasn't won the event.
A SLICE OF LIFE
Charles Howell III, the defending champion at Riviera Country Club, on spending the week with his wifes uncle, Clark Hallren, who lives in Beverly Hills, in close proximity to Britney Spears and David Beckham: "I get to feel like a superstar for at least one week."