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The $6.8 million Northern Trust Open begins Thursday at the Riviera Country Club with a field including two of the top three players in the Official World Golf Ranking — American Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland.

This is the fourth time the 22-year-old top-ranked Spieth has played in the tournament, while McIlroy will be making his tournament debut.

“I wanted to come here because of what I had seen on TV and… the great things that people say about Riviera and I wanted to see it for myself,” said the 26-year-old McIlroy, who fell into third place in the Official World Golf Ranking released Monday behind Australian Jason Day, who did not enter this tournament.

“We don’t play golf courses like this very often anymore on tour and it’s a real treat when you come to a golf course like this where it’s not overly long, you don’t have to bomb it off the tee, but it’s real strategic. You’ve got to place your ball on the right sides of the fairways.”

Another factor that McIlroy said prompted him to enter the tournament was “it just fit in the schedule a bit better this year.”

“This is the first West Coast Swing event I’ve played,” McIlroy said. “If there was one that I had to pick to play out of this West Coast Swing, it would be this just because of what I’ve heard about the golf course and the great things guys say about it.”

Spieth missed the cut in 2012 when he played in the tournament as an amateur, tied for 12th in 2014 and tied for fifth last year, when he was in contention until missing an approximately eight-foot par putt on the final hole and finishing one shot out of the playoff.

Spieth also helped Texas win the 2012 NCAA championship on the course, including holing out for eagle with a 4-iron on the par-4 15th hole, helping him defeat longtime friend Justin Thomas.

Spieth will be paired with Thomas and World Golf Hall of Fame member Fred Couples for the tournament’s first two rounds.

“I always know what to expect out here with him with the crowds,” Spieth said of the 56-year-old Couples, the tournament’s champion in 1990 and 1992.

“There will be nothing better for Justin than trying to kick my butt on this golf course after all the things we’ve gone though letting him know about it here.”

McIlroy is paired with Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, who won the the Waste Management Phoenix Open in a playoff two weeks ago, and American Matt Kuchar, a seven-time winner on the PGA Tour.

Spieth tied for 21st in last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, his first PGA Tour appearance since winning the Hyundai Tournament of Champions Jan. 10.

Spieth finished in a six-way tie for fifth in the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, which concluded Jan. 24, where McIlroy tied for third.

McIlroy will be playing in the U.S. for first time since tying for 26th in the Open in October. He tied for sixth in his most recent tournament, the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, which concluded Feb. 7.

“There were a couple of things in Dubai I wasn’t quite happy with, so I worked on those in Florida last week,” McIlroy said.

“I tweaked my driver a little bit. I felt like I was struggling to turn it over from right-to-left, so I put the loft up a degree to help me spin it a little bit more to try and turn it over.”

The field also includes three other players ranked in the top 10 — Americans Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose of England.

The field will be reduced to the low 70 and ties following the conclusion of Friday’s second round. The tournament is set to conclude Sunday with the winner receiving $1.224 million.

The 2 Tone Ska revival band The English Beat will perform following the conclusion of play Saturday.

—City News Service

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