Inside the Ropes
Welcome to Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California
Par 71 (35-36)
Rough: 2.5 inches
5,000 square foot (on average) greens
Stimpmeter rolling 12 feet
Zero water hazards
Course Architect: Captain George C. Thomas (1926) and William P. Bell; Tom Fazio (2008)
Notes: Bentgrass greens combined with Poa annua; Kikuyugrass rough and fairways.
FedExCup Points: 500 (winner’s share)
Winner’s Share: $1,188,000
Defending Champion: Aaron Baddeley held off Vijay Singh by two shots to claim his second career Tour victory shooting 12-under-par 272.
Notes: The fourth-oldest tournament on Tour. Since 1973 has been played exclusively at Riviera Country Club, save for 1998 when it moved to Valencia CC for one year and in 1983 when it moved to Rancho Municipal for one year.
Date: Feb 16-19, 2012
Riviera Country Club ranked 10th hardest of the 51 courses used on Tour in 2011. Its history has included a U.S. Open in 1948 (Ben Hogan), a U.S. Senior Open in 1998 (Hale Irwin) and the PGA Championship in 1983 (Hal Sutton) and 1995 (Steve Elkington).
Riviera, or “The Riv” as Jim Nantz called it over the weekend, has played around 13-under-par over the last 13 years. Known for its design mastery, Riviera is a shot-maker and thinking-man’s course. This great lay-out has plenty of dog-legs, bunkers and risk-reward holes that can be overpowered or surgically taken apart. Players will again be dealing with below-average sized greens and will also get there first look at kikuyugrass in the rough. GIR and scrambling will be a premium this week as will GIR from the rough as the fairways here are not as generous as other stops on Tour. And as always, guys who can roll the rock are never a bad choice on tough and sometimes bumpy greens.
In the last 25 years, there have only been four first-time winners: T.C. Chen (1987), Chip Beck (1988), Kirk Triplett (2000) and Len Mattiace (2002).
In the last 30 years, three players have defended their championship: Corey Pavin (1994-1995), Mike Weir (2003-2004) and Phil Mickelson (2008-2009).
There have been six tournaments played on Tour in 2012. All six have had blue passport winners.
So What? So Let’s Dance!
The field at the Northern Trust is absolutely loaded in 2012. Twenty-seven of the top 50 players in the OWGR are in the field this week. Thirty-six of the top 50 players in the Sagarin rankings are in the field this week. Name recognition is never the way to pick your fantasy team, so I went inside the numbers to find the guys I thought who would project the best this week at Riviera.
Stars on the Walk of Fame:
Since I missed the Grammys this previous weekend, we’ll get ahead with the Academy Awards motif for Hollywood in advance of the awards being presented next weekend.
And the nominees for Best Golfer in a PGA Tour event are…(in order)
Dustin Johnson: After finishing fourth in strokes gained-putting and T7 GIR, it looks like DJ is healthy and ready to go in 2012. His T5 finish at Pebble Beach should spring-board him this week. Cut last year, Johnson was T3 in 2010, T10 in 2009 and T59 in his first start in 2008. Good form meeting good history is a good combination this week unless he wanders off and starts shooting more Rocketballz commercials.
K.J. Choi: The South Korean has had an indifferent start to 2012 with two events in Hawaii and two events in the Middle East. He started off the year with a T5 at Hyundai and backed that up with T38 at Sony. In the Middle East, he was CUT at Qatar Masters and was 48th at Abu Dhabi. Choi has is 11-for-11 lifetime at Riviera, hitting the top 10 four times and the top 25 five times. After having last week off, he should be raring to go at a track that he enjoys playing. Choi was T7 here last year and was T2 GIR.
Kevin Na: He’s been T5, T5 in his last two starts on Tour at WMPO and Pebble Beach. His history at Pebble Beach last week scared me off. His history at Riviera would do the exact opposite of that. The last three times he’s played Riviera he’s finished third (2011), T10 (2010) and T25 (2009). Fantastic short-game helps here as well.
Phil Mickelson: Last week’s champion comes to Riviera looking for his third win here in the last five years. Can you name the last player on Tour, not named Woods, to win back-to-back events? Check the FedExCup playoffs for your answer. It doesn’t happen very often but if Mickelson plays like he did last Sunday, everyone else will be playing for second. The last five years at Riviera have been P2, WIN, WIN, T45 and T35. He’s also flying to and fro the course so he can be home for dinner every night. Sure, why not? Forty career-wins can buy some jet fuel. Or helicopter fuel. Or rocket fuel. Or whatever he’s flying.
Luke Donald: Making his 11th consecutive appearance at Riviera and the last 10 have been pretty good. After missing the cut in his first two outings, he’s made the cut in six of his last eight. In those six appearance, he’s hit the top 13 five times, including T3 in 2008 and second in 2010. He’s only played one event since his wife gave birth in December and he finished 48th at Abu Dhabi. He’s number one in the world so I can’t overlook him, especially here, and especially with his short game.
Best Supporting Golfers:
Aaron Baddeley: Baddeley is coming off a fourth-place finish at Pebble Beach as he looks to defend his title at Riviera. Baddeley’s early season results before Pebble weren’t impressive but his closing round with seven birdies on Sunday was. Baddeley’s putter is usually his key to victory but last year at Riviera it was his iron play as he was T3 GIR. Going back to his old swing coach last season has been paying dividends.
Sergio Garcia: The Spaniard enters his first tournament in the States of 2012 after a hot 2011 finish and a steady start to this season. Garcia has jumped back into the top 20 of the OWGR and is currently ranked second by Jeff Sagarin. With his two victories in Spain last fall plus his 12th place finish at Abu Dhabi and his 5th at Qatar Masters, Garcia looks to be playing some of his best golf in years. Always excels on the more difficult courses because of his steadiness off the tee and excellent iron game.
Robert Allenby: His current form is steady but he’s the traditional “Horse for Course” at Riviera. In 13 career starts, he’s made 11 cuts. In those 11 cuts he made, he’s finished in the top 10 five times. In his last five appearances from 2007, he’s hit the board at T3, T7, T17, T27 and T4 last year. If free money is being handed out, there’s no point being at the back of the line.
Spencer Levin: He didn’t follow Kyle Stanley’s lead by winning the following week after blowing a big lead, but he did put together an excellent round on Sunday at Pebble Beach to hit the top 10 (T9). He finished the weekend on an upswing, making seven birdies against only two bogeys. He’s made five cuts in five this season and his last two outings are third alone and T9. He finished T12 in his only appearance here last year.
Kyle Stanley: After seeing the moxie that he showed after Torrey Pines, I’m not sure he can’t win again this season. He took a well-deserved break last week after going P2 and WIN in his last two starts. This will be the toughest field he’s faced this season and I think he’ll fit right in. Not many hotter players on Tour right now than this kid.
Bubba Watson: He’s had a very solid start to 2012 and coming off a “bye” week, I’m expecting him to be right there come the weekend. On a course that requires creativity and moving the golf ball, this track should fit a simmering Watson. His record here isn’t mind-blowing, T17 in 2009 and T14 in 2008 and CUTS in 2010 and 2007, but his recent play makes me lean in his direction. My only worry is that I hope he can pick himself up after being snubbed by the Grammys last weekend for the “Golf Boys” video.
Hunter Mahan: I’ve mentioned here before that he has all the tools to contend week in and week out. Impressive performance after returning from the Middle East to finish T15 at Pebble Beach after a quick turn-around. He finished T6 at Torrey Pines in his other start of 2012. Thankfully, Ben Crane is not playing this or there would have been a “Golf Boys” reunion.
Adam Scott: I always get nervy with guys making their first starts of the year so that’s why Scott is down here. Scott was second in the All-Around category last year and has a WIN, T2 and T14 in his last five appearances at Riviera.
Jason Day: I read and heard about “man-crushes” around these parts over the last few years and I would like to introduce you to mine. Day’s record here is nil, CUT, CUT in the last two years, but has gotten off to a decent start in the Middle East. After being cut at Abu Dhabi, Day rallied to finish second at Qatar Masters. In 21 events last season on Tour, he hit the top 10 in almost half of them (10). He has too much game to ignore especially on a tough track.
Jimmy Walker: I’ve been a week behind Walker this season and am looking to right that ship. After missing the cut at WMPO, he finished T9 at Pebble Beach, the same as last year. Last year he followed up Pebble Beach with a T4 at Riviera where he only made two bogeys on the weekend. I’m trying to jump on the shark.
Padraig Harrington: If he’s not ranked in the top 50 in the OWGR or the Sagarin Ratings, he qualifies as a sleeper in my book. Finished T7 last week at Pebble but his record here covers both ends of the spectrum. His first two times out in 2007 and 2008 were seventh and T3, respectively. Then he decided to tinker with his swing and he swung and missed, finishing CUT, CUT before T55 last year.
Jason Kokrak: He finished T9 at Pebble Beach last week where he was second in birdies made, sixth in strokes gained-putting and first GIR. This followed T75, CUT, CUT and CUT. I’ll take a swing with those splits from last week.
Kevin Stadler: The Walrus, Jr. had his best finish in three rounds this year hitting the top 25 at Pebble Beach after five birdies and only one bogey on Sunday. He returns to Riviera this week where in the last two years he’s been T12 and T10. Parlaying a good round last Sunday with a solid history at Riviera.
Greg Chalmers: A fantastic November and December in Australia hasn’t translated in the U.S. just yet. Yet. Chalmers has been moving in the right direction in his last two starts, T33 and T19 after being cut his first time out. He finished 2011 as the best on Tour in scrambling and was fifth in total putting. Stretching.
John Rollins: Mixed results at Riviera as he’s played here nine times and missed the cut in four of those. When he makes the cut he’s never finished worse than T27 and has finishes of T14, T18, T5 and T15. He has three top 10s in four starts this year on Tour. Shhhhhhhhh.
Pre-Pulp Fiction John Travolta:
Guys you might want to consider for other roles at the moment. No offense if you are a fan of Looks Who’s Talking 1, 2 or 3…
Vijay Singh: He finished second last year by making every-single-putt he looked at from every imaginable distance. That doesn’t sound like Vijay, now, does it? After getting off to a hot start at Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill, Vijay played the weekend at the two easiest course in two-over which left him T25. He withdrew the week before at WMPO after firing a first round 76. Singh has made eight cuts in 10 starts here and his best finishes outside of second last year are T18 (2000) and T24 (2004). Not enough for me.
Charles Howell III: He’s has one of his two career victories on this course (2007) but his results since that victory have been noticeable. In his four starts since winning, he’s finished T55, T59, CUT and T66. After finishing T2 at Sony to start his year, he’s finished T49, T43 and T33. Charley Three Sticks in still looking for his third win on Tour.
Charlie Wi: After losing his three-shot lead on the first five holes on Sunday, he rebounded to claim second alone at Pebble Beach. The model on Tour has been blow a lead on Sunday and rebound the following week. Charlie Wi is not in his 20’s and fearless. He missed the cut last year in his next event after being caught and overtaken by David Toms at Colonial on Sunday. I’ll let someone else try him.
J.B. Holmes: The only reason he makes this list is his record at Riviera. It’s really, really good. And J.B. finished up last week really, really badly firing 75-80 to miss the cut. He only made four birdies and an eagle in 54 holes against 15 bogeys and a double. For you adventurous types, he’s finished T12, T3, T6 and T7 in his last four here if you are looking to take a flyer. I’m not.
Tim Clark/Fredrik Jacobson: If you read this column regularly (thanks!) you know I don’t take guys in their first event back from injury. No matter how many balls are hit on the range, I’m a believer that guys need to play tournament golf to get back into “golf” shape. I’m glad they’re both back but there’s no need to put them on my team the first week out.
Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge: Northern Trust Open
Team Name: Mike Glasscott
Group 1: Dustin Johnson
Group 2: Aaron Baddeley
Group 3: Padraig Harrington
Group 4: Jason Kokrak
Ned Said, “…
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Phil Mickelson: After last week's win at the AT&T, you can bet he will be the most popular pick this week. It's pretty hard to fade him since in his last five starts at the NTO he has two wins ('09,’08) and a second place ('07).
Luke Donald: He is the first players that I think of at the NTO. He had off-year in 2011, but before that he was second in '10, T6 in'09 and T3 in '08.
Spencer Levin, Charles Howell III, K.J. Choi, Adam Scott
Dustin Johnson: After he went low in the first round of the AT&T, I thought he was in pretty good shape to win. He couldn't go low after that and still pulled out a T5. Johnson has a nice recent record at the NTO with T10 in '09 and T3 in '10.
Hunter Mahan: Considering that he flew in from Qatar for the AT&T Pebble Beach, his T15 was quite respectable. I wish he had a better track record at Riviera, but he really didn't start to play well on the West Coast Swing until recently.
Bill Haas: A bit of a rough start to the year but he has come on in his last two starts. He finished T4 at the Farmers and T19 at the WMPO. I'm hoping he can improve on last year's T12 here.
John Rollins: Lots of ways to go with this pick but I'm going with the hot player. Rollins has one top 5 in 10 prior starts at the NTO but so far this year he has top 10 finishes in three of his four starts.
Ernie Els, Robert Allenby, Jimmy Walker, Brandt Snedeker, Andres Romero
Aaron Baddeley: Baddeley looked good last week at the AT&T where he finished fourth alone. He is the defending champion at the Northern Trust.
Padraig Harrington: He was in the mix for the AT&T title last week, but he finished T7. Harrington has had a tough time recently at the NTO, but he has had success here before carding a T7 in '07 and a third place in '09.
Martin Laird, Ricky Barnes, Carl Pettersson, John Senden, Charlie Wi
“And Another Thing”
The analysis doesn't end here. Rotoworld's Rob Bolton will be co-hosting a one-hour live chat with GolfChannel.com's Ryan Ballengee on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. ET. They will be breaking down the field at the Northern Trust Open and answering your questions. Simply return to the golf home page to join in on the chatter.