Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:
THIS WEEK’S BEST BET
In Couples, we trust. It wouldn’t be a PGA Tour stop in L.A. without the 1990 and ’92 winner Fred Couples, who’ll be making his 31st start – a record at the event. So what if it’s a sponsor’s exemption. The first time Couples played Riviera, Tom Watson outlasted Johnny Miller in an 1982 playoff when it was called the Glen Campbell L.A. Open. “I feel like I can play this course blindfolded,” Couples said two years ago when, by no fluke, he was in the hunt on the final day. The 53-year-old closing in on 120 competitive rounds at Riviera has five top 10s in the past decade.
Meanwhile, Corey Pavin, the back-to- back champ in 1994 and ’95, also has the sponsor’s blessing of making the field for the 29th time. The UCLA grad and former Ryder Cup captain has 10 top-25 finishes at Riviera. Fellow Bruin alum Patrick Cantlay also got a free pass to enter, joining Kevin Chappell, Brandt Jobe and John Merrick. USC’s lone rep is Kevin Stadler. Add to that a field that has the almost-defending champ Phil Mickelson (who lost in a playoff to Bill Haas),’12 rookie of the year John Huh, Bubba Watson, Graeme McDowell, Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Keegan Bradley and Rickey Barnes. Tiger Woods will pass, which is par for the course. To the winner goes $1.18 million out of a $6.6 million purse and 500 Fed Ex points. Golf Channel has Thursday and Friday (noon to 3 p.m.) as well as Saturday and Sunday (10-to-11:30 a.m.) KCBS-Channel 2 has the final two rounds Saturday and Sunday (noon to 3 p.m.)
BEST OF THE REST:
NBA: Clippers at Philadelphia, 4 p.m., Prime:
Not to sound like a broken record, but the Grammy trip ends for the Clippers. Time to face the music.
“LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN,” 11:35 p.m., Channel 2:
The news has already leaked out about the new SI swimsuit covergirl. Still, let’s pretend we don’t know and play along. We’re more curious to see how much ink Brent Musburger heart throb Katherine Webb will get in the magazine. Ten of the models will be on “Letterman” tonight as well to present the Top 10 List.
NBA: Lakers vs. Phoenix, 7:30 p.m., Staples Center, TWC SportsNet:
The Suns are one of the few in the Western Conference actually behind the Lakers in the standings. Why? Look at their roster.
COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Loyola Marymount at Pepperdine, 7 p.m.:
In their previous meeting, LMU went on a 9-1 run at the end but couldn’t catch the Waves, who took a 60-57 victory. Top scorer Anthony Ireland was just 4-for-18 from the field, 2-of-14 from long range, and missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer near the end.
NBA: Clippers at Lakers, 7:30 p.m., Staples Center, TNT:
A Valentine’s Day gift to L.A., and plenty of opportunity for the Kiss-Cam to be in full HD at every play stoppage. The Clippers have won the previous two meetings with two left – with a chance of taking the season series against the Lakers for only the second time since moving to L.A. in 1984-85 (that was ’92-93, when the Clips had a 3-2 edge).
The Clippers 107-102 win five weeks ago, Chris Paul had 30 points, and 11 of his 13 assists led directly to a layup or dunk. The Clippers shot 50 percent and outscored the Lakers 52-36 in the paint, but Kobe Bryant scored 16 of his 38 points in the fourth as the Lakers tried to scramble back from 19 points down.
COLLEGE BASKETBALL: UCLA at Cal, 6 p.m. ESPN2; USC at Stanford, 8 p.m., ESPNU:
Does ESPN dare let Bill Walton loose on the Bruins again after a day in Berkeley? UCLA trounced Cal on that first conference weekend by 14 points, preventing the Bears from connecting on any 3-pointers. The Trojans also topped Stanford by two as Jio Fontan scored 15 points including a pair of tiebreaking free throws with 6.9 seconds to play.
NHL: Kings vs. Columbus, 7:30 p.m., Staples Center, FSW:
Nice of Jonathan Quick to make a quick home stop amidst a long road trip.
COLLEGE BASKETBALL: UCLA at Stanford, 1 p.m., ESPN; USC at Cal, 7 p.m., FSW:
The Bruins have won 11 of their last 13 against Stanford, including the Pac-12 opening weekend 68-60 triumph at Pauley Pavilion in early January when Shabazz Muhamad scored 17 of his game-high 23 points in the second half. But don’t worry. The Cardinal can always come up and surprise you, as evident of their 76-52 win over then No. 10 and conference unbeaten Oregon at Maples Pavilion on Jan. 30 as Josh Huestis had 14 points and 13 rebounds and Dwight Powell added 12 points and 13 rebounds. USC they slipped up against Cal in an eight-point loss in their last meeting, where Allen Crabbe scored 19 of his 27 points in the second half.
NASCAR: Sprint Cup Sprint Unlimited at Daytona, Fla, 5 p.m., Channel 11:
The new Gen-6 cars will be on the track for the first time in this event, formerly known as the Budweiser Shootout. Daytona 500 practice will also take place Saturday leading into the front-row qualifying on Sunday (10 a.m., Channel 11) for the Feb. 24 race. A month later, NASCAR will be at Fontana for the Auto Club 400.
NBA: All-Star Game, 5 p.m. at Houston, TNT:
It’s Michael Jordan 50th birthday. Gifts? It shouldn’t be all that tough to apply to the NBA to activate himself for this annual exhibition. He’d surely be the only Charlotte Bobcat in uniform. Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are penciled in for four-fifths of the West lineup. The East does not include Andrew Bynum. Additional eye candy consists of a “Rising Stars Challenge” (Friday, 6 p.m.) and the “All Star Saturday Night” shooting and dunk contests (Saturday, 5:30 p.m.).
NHL: Kings at Chicago, 12:30 p.m., Channel 4:
Any cause-and-effect in the Blackhawks sporting a 9-0-2 mark and league-best 20 points in the first 11 games of the season – which started with that gut-punching 5-2 victory over the Kings after the banner-raising ceremony at Staples Center? Patrick Kane is among the league-leaders in points, and goalie Corey Crawford in the top five among goaltenders’ goals-against average.
Top Fuel champ Antron Brown (above), Funny Car winner and San Fernando Valley native Jack Beckman and Pro Stock title-holder Allen Johnson officially begin defense of their 2012 world championships in the 53rd edition of his season opener. Brown became the first African-American to earn a major auto racing championship by outracing seven-time champ Tony Schumacher. “Last year now is pretty much done and over with,” Brown said. “So we’re back at work, just like usual. We’re putting those hours in. The effort is definitely going forward. We want to contend for a championship again, and we want to defend our title.”
Of course, 15-time Funny Car champ and 63-year-old John Force will be back in the mix, as will daughters Courtney (also in Funny Car) and Brittany (Top Fuel), coming off their rookie seasons, while oldest daughter Ashley remains retired with her family. John Force won last year’s season opening event in Pomona over teammate Mike Neff. Qualifying starts at 2 p.m. Thursday, 2 p.m. Friday and noon Saturday. Final eliminations coverage is Sunday on ESPN2 (5-8 p.m., taped) as well as coverage Saturday (7-9 p.m.).
SPECIAL: “SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: THE MAKING OF SWIMSUIT ’13 – 7 CONTINENTS, 17 WONDERS,” 8 p.m,, Travel Channel:
The one-hour special has lots of behinds, and behind-the-scenes looks. Don’t force it.