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Riviera nerves a problem of the past for Ishikawa

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

PACIFIC PALISADES, California (Reuters) - Twelve months after making a nervous debut on the PGA Tour, Japanese teenage sensation Ryo Ishikawa says he has become a much wiser and more confident player for this week's Northern Trust Open.

Ishikawa missed the cut at last year's event after carding scores of 73 and 71 but since then he has embellished his golfing resume by winning four times on the 2009 Japanese Tour.

"Last year over here, I was feeling very, very nervous because it was my first time on the PGA Tour," Ishikawa told reporters at Riviera Country Club on Tuesday.

"But this week my mentality is very different because I experienced so many things last year, on both the PGA Tour and the Japanese Tour.

"I have more experience so I am feeling much more comfortable," the 18-year-old said, speaking through an interpreter.

Already one of his country's biggest sporting celebrities, Ishikawa became the Japanese Tour's youngest order of merit winner in 2009 after piling up earnings of 183.5 million yen ($2.03 million).

The multi-millionaire schoolboy has been awarded a Commissioner's foreign exemption for the second year in a row at Riviera where he was a major drawcard 12 months ago.

Despite missing the cut, Ishikawa helped attract huge galleries for the tournament and his presence led the number of journalists attending the event to double.

RISK-REWARD OPPORTUNITIES

This week, he expects to perform much better on a challenging par-71 layout which offers plenty of risk-reward opportunities.

"I know the course a lot better and, for me, the most difficult holes are 12, 15 and 18," the teenager from Saitama said. "How I can manage those three holes is going to be the key.

"As for the rest of the course, there are many holes where I can play aggressively. I am much more comfortable with the layout, and I feel like I am growing up as a player."

Nicknamed the 'Bashful Prince' because of his unassuming demeanor, Ishikawa said his English had improved and that he preferred to speak in that language whenever possible.

"I am able to listen to English and I am getting better in speaking," he said in Japanese. "I still can't talk in long phrases or sentences but I always want to answer the easy English questions by myself."

Ishikawa said most of the caddies on the PGA Tour spoke to him in English and that he would always try to respond.

"Nothing ventured, nothing gained," he said in his only comment in English while grinning broadly.

Ishikawa is scheduled to tee off with Americans Charley Hoffman and Vaughn Taylor in Thursday's opening round.

(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)