Welcome to Playing the Field, where we survey the key players and stories at each tournament, giving you the guys to watch and the stories to know. Today, we're looking at the best field of the year so far at the Northern Trust Open at Riviera. And what should you be looking at? Glad you asked ...
Grooves. I'm sick of them, you're sick of them, the Tour's sick of them. And while nobody really cares all that much about the grooves themselves, this is all about posturing and making points, which the PGA Tour, the USGA, and quite a few players have mastered. Hopefully we won't see much more of that this weekend, but it'll be out there, lurking in the tall grass.
Phil Mickelson. Everybody's trendy pick for the No. 1 spot has a tendency to absolutely fall to pieces whenever the spotlight is brightest on him, and going for three wins in a row at Riviera is the very definition of spotlight. He'll play well, but will he challenge for the win? I say it'll be a front-nine misfire on Sunday that takes him out of the hunt.
Adam Scott. Who? Oh, yeah, Mr. Next Great Thing, early 2000s edition. Scott completely fell off the map last year, but it's not like he's a total hacker now; total hackers don't usually win the Australian Open. Usually. So can he make 2009 go away? If he can, I know somebody down Windermere way who'll want to give him a call.
Padraig Harrington. Paddy never gets the respect that a multiple major winner deserves, but mainly that's because he has some head-scratchingly bad decisions at the worst possible times. If he can keep his early-2009 swing woes a thing of the past, he'll be once again challenging for the top of the leaderboard ... and maybe then people might start paying attention.
Robert Allenby. He's playing too well not to break through very soon, and acting like too much of a gentleman off the course not to deserve your respect. Could this be the week for him to shake the groove thing? (Sorry. Very, very sorry.)
All right, you're up. Who's your pick for this weekend? Go!