Home-course edge

Scott McCarron, who is tied for second after a 7-under 64, wasn’t the only former UCLA player to enjoy a home-course advantage Thursday.
Long Beach native John Merrick shot a 5-under 66 and is one of seven players tied for third.
“I’ve played a lot of rounds out here and I’ve been to the tournament before, coming out and watching as a college player and junior player, so I feel like it’s one of the courses on tour where maybe I have a little home-course advantage,” Merrick said.
Merrick, who started his round on the back nine, birdied two of his first three holes. He got to 6 under and was alone in third place until a bogey on his second-to-last hole, the par-4 eighth.
“It was just a solid day, solid golf,” he said. “I feel comfortable on this course.”

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Perfect conditions

With temperatures in the upper 60s and sunny skies Thursday, conditions were nearly perfect at Riviera Country Club.
Especially considering last week’s event, the AT&T National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach, was shortened to 54 holes because of rain.
“Yeah, it felt like it was 120 degrees after what we’ve had the last couple of weeks,” said Dean Wilson, who is tied for third after an opening-round 5-under 66. “It was nice being in short sleeves and having the sun out. The weather is good, so the guys will go out and make some birdies.”

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Dusting the field

Dustin Johnson, who won the rain-shortened AT&T National Pro-Am last week, shot a 5-under 66 Thursday and is tied for third.
“I don’t know, golf, when you’re playing well, you just kind of keep going,” he said. “I’ve been working pretty hard on the game and it’s feeling good right now.”
Even though the final round was washed out last week, Johnson said he got a confidence boost from the victory.
“When you’re real confident, even your bad shots are not that bad,” he said. “They are still around the flag where you have to either look at birdie or get a good chance at par.”

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Freddie still a fan fave

Fred Couples, who a two-time winner here in the early 1990s, regained some of that old magic in Thursday’s opening round, shooting a 4-under 67 to the delight of the gallery.
“I hit the ball solid. I’ll take 4 under any day,” he said. “I’ve always played well here, whether it was an eighth-place finish or a 20th-place finish and I’ve won a couple times (1990 and 1992).
“I just think I feel good on the course, even though I’m 49 years old. I feel like I can go out and play (Riviera) well every single time. It doesn’t mean I’m going to shoot 67.”
When Couples was reminded that 49 isn’t that old, he scoffed.
“It’s old for this place,” he said. “Everywhere I look, there are (young) people. I just played with Nick Watney and he won (at the Buick Invitational). I just played with Dustin Johnson and he goes and wins (at the AT&T National Pro-Am). These guys are great, great players and young and fun to be around. I’ve got six more months left of this (before being eligible for the Champions Tour), so I’d better enjoy it.”

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Former UCLA standout McCarron in second at NTO

Back in his days at UCLA, Scott McCarron said he was happy to shoot between 75 and 80 at Riviera Country Club.
He did much better than that during Thursday’s opening round of the Northern Trust Open.
McCarron, 43, birdied his final hole of the day, the par-4 ninth, to shoot a 7-under 64 for sole possession of second place, one stroke behind defending champion Phil Mickelson.
“I don’t know if I’d say (scoring) conditions are ever ripe to get Riviera, but … the golf course is in great shape,” McCarron said.
McCarron is finally getting back into shape after undergoing elbow surgery in 2006. That caused him to miss the entire 2007 PGA Tour season and limited his effectiveness last year, when he made just nine cuts in 22 events.
“I’m very healthy right now,” said McCarron, who moved from Reno, Nev., to La Quinta this offseason to work on his game.
McCarron used to be one of the longest hitters on tour, but ranks 121st this season at 280.2 yards per drive.
“I’m short now,” he said. “I was in the top 10 (in driving distance) for maybe seven years, but these guys hit it so much farther than I ever could dream of hitting. I mean, Dustin Johnson hits it 50 or 60 yards past me.
“I’ve got to be a little more crafty as I get older and I am hitting a lot straighter. I’m hitting a lot more fairways now and not going after the big bomb all the time. I’ve still maybe got a little extra gear, but it’s more like a Volkswagen Beetle, as opposed to somebody’s Ferrari. I am thoroughly amazed at how far these young guys are hitting it, but we’re getting bigger and stronger athletes playing golf.”
McCarron predicted UCLA would beat Washington in a blowout in Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion and plans to have dinner Friday with 30 or more fraternity brothers, including fellow PGA pro Brandt Jobe, who also went to UCLA in the mid- to late-1980s.

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Lefty in the lead

Defending champion Phil Mickelson took the early lead at the Northern Trust Open, shooting an 8-under 63 early Thursday at Riviera Country Club.
Scott McCarron is currently second at 6 under with one hole to play, with Dean Wilson, Jim Furyk, last week’s AT&T winner Dustin Johnson and Luke Donald tied for third at 5 under.
Fan favorite Fred Couples, who won here in 1990 and 1992, shot a 4-under 67.

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Letter from Tiger Woods

Here is a letter from Tiger Woods, which was read during today’s ceremony honoring Charlie Sifford at the Northern Trust Open. An exemption in Sifford’s name was created to give an opportunity for a golfer who displays character and the advancement of diversity in golf. Vincent Johnson, who received the first exemption, was on hand for the ceremony, which just concluded. Here’s the letter:
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No Tiger

The deadline has passed for golfers to enter the Northern Trust Open field. Tiger Woods will not make his comeback at Riviera Country Club. Three of the top five and 29 of the top 50 in the world rankings will play the tournament that begins Thursday.
Here’s the field:
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