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Golf has an offseason if the players want

Thursday - 2/14/2013, 2:18am  ET

DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Graeme McDowell tried not to watch golf on TV the last few months to avoid the temptation to play. Adam Scott has been so far removed from the game that he didn't learn about Phil Mickelson's cruel lipout for a 59 until he finished his pro-am round Wednesday at Riviera.

"Was it a big lipout? Oh, that stinks," Scott said.

It's not that news travels slowly Down Under. But when the 32-year-old Australian gets away from golf, he really gets away. Asked if he had any idea what's gone on over the last six weeks of the PGA Tour season, Scott mentioned Brandt Snedeker winning at Pebble Beach after being runner-up in consecutive weeks.

"I know Brandt is playing really good," he said. "I was in America last weekend."

As much as golf is played around the clock and around the world, there's still time for a long winter's nap. The offseason is as long as players want it to be.

McDowell, Scott and Luke Donald are proof of that.

They are playing together the opening two rounds of the Northern Trust Open, which is only fitting. They are the only three players from the top 20 in the world who have yet to play anywhere in the world this year.

Donald last played in Dubai last November. McDowell hasn't played since winning the World Challenge up the road at Sherwood the week after Thanksgiving. Scott's most recent tournament was the second weekend of December at the Australian Open.

It's a formula that works for Donald.

Two years ago, he returned from a long break, shot 79 in the second round at Riviera to miss the cut, and then won a week later in the Match Play Championship, the first step toward going to No. 1 in the world.

"It's been a long year, and it's hard to find breaks and it's hard to find time where you can actually work on your swing to try and make some improvements with your game," Donald said. "So I took a decent amount of time off, but I feel rested, ready to go."

McDowell learned the hard day. Coming off his dream season in 2010 -- a U.S. Open title at Pebble Beach, the clinching point for Europe in the Ryder Cup, coming from four shots behind to beat Tiger Woods at Sherwood -- he started up again in Hawaii and never felt like he had time to recharge.

He took 10 weeks off this year, the longest break since he can remember. It was long enough to joke about the white legs of his English caddie, Ken Comboy.

And he has no regrets.

"You have to be disciplined enough to do it," McDowell said as he walked down the first fairway on a gorgeous day off Sunset Boulevard. "I resisted the temptation to turn the TV on the last month to see guys at Kapalua, to see guys at Torrey Pines, to see guys at Phoenix. It's hard especially for the guys playing two tours. You play right up into December and then you've got to tee it up in the Middle East. If you play the European Tour, there is no offseason."

McDowell said he has been bombarded with tweets from his followers in recent weeks, asking why he wasn't at Abu Dhabi or any of the West Coast events on the PGA Tour.

"It's hard to turn down great purses, great sponsors, great courses," he said. "But you've got to pick and choose if you want career longevity."

This is one course he didn't want to miss, and that's true for so many others.

Riviera is one of the classic courses on the PGA Tour, and the field is so deep that three players who finished in the top 10 last week at Pebble Beach did not get into the Northern Trust because there wasn't any room for them.

It is the strongest field on the PGA Tour this year, with 16 of the top 25 players from the world ranking.

"This is why a lot of guys fly a long way to get here," Ernie Els said.

Fred Couples is playing for the 31st time, simply because he loves Riviera and it's one of the courses where he still feels he can win. Couples won this tournament twice.

Scott won at Riviera, even though it didn't count. The tournament was hit so hard by rain in 2005 that it took until Monday before 36 holes could be completed, and he won in a playoff. Because it was 36 holes, all he got was the money -- not an official win.

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