Northern Trust Open
Riviera Country Club
Pacific Palisades, California
Par: 71 (35-36)
Greens: Creeping Bentgass and Poa annua; 5,000 square feet on average (smallish)
Rough: Kikuyugrass at 2.5”
Water Hazards: 0
Course Architect: George C. Thomas and William P. Bell (1926); Tom Fazio (2008)
Winner’s Share: $1,206,000
FexExCup Points: 500 to the winner
Defending Champion: Long Beach native and resident John Merrick defeated Charlie Beljan on the second playoff hole to win for the first time on TOUR.
Dates: February 13-16
Format: Last week was the last multiple-course tournament of the season. This week, the top SEVENTY and ties will play the weekend from this field of 144.
Notes: Poa annua greens for the third time in four weeks as only WMPO were smooth, silky Bentgrass greens.
Recent History Lessons
After winning 31 of 40 tournaments in 2013, the USA has now won the first 12 events of 2013-14. Harris English, Jimmy Walker (THREE), Webb Simpson, Ryan Moore, Dustin Johnson, Chris Kirk, Zach Johnson, Patrick Reed, Scott Stallings and Kevin Stadler have hoisted the trophies this season.
After racking up 12 first-time winners in 2013, the new season has added only two more in the first 11 events. Jimmy Walker won the Frys.com and Kevin Stadler won the WMPO to join the list of invitees to Augusta in April.
Jimmy Walker (34) started the season out on the right foot for the Prime Time guys and has racked up three victories on his own. He is joined by Ryan Moore (30) in Malaysia, Zach Johnson (37) at Kapalua and Kevin Stadler, 33, at WMPO. Scott Stallings, 28, Patrick Reed (23), Chris Kirk (28), Webb Simpson (28), Dustin Johnson (29) and Harris English, (24) are the twenty-somethings on the board. The Young Guns now have six of 12 wins to start the season. The Old Guys were by led by Phil Mickelson, 43, at Pebble and have not entered the winner’s circle yet in 2013-14.
Pay Attention: It’s FREE
Since 2000, there have been five foreign-born winners on this track. The last foreign-born winner on TOUR who won a full-field, stroke play event was Swede Jonas Blixt at The Greenbrier Classic last summer. Henrik Stenson won the Deutsche Bank and The Tour Championship but those were not full-field events.
Since 2000, only Kirk Triplett (2000), Len Mattiace (2002) and John Merrick (2013) have made the NTO their first victory on TOUR.
Last year, Luke Guthrie was the best rookie finisher, T21 and in 2012 it was Jason Kokrak at T34. I tried to find a rookie winner here but gave up once I reached the 1960s.
MacDonald Smith and Lloyd Mangrum have won this tournament four times. Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer have won it three times.
Corey Pavin (1994-95), Mike Weir (2003-04) and Phil Mickelson (2008-09) are the only players to defend their titles since the 60s.
Ted Tryba, yes, that Ted Tryba has the course record, 61, set in 1999.
The OWGR sends 26 of the top 50 players to Southern California this week.
Bill Haas, Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson finished on seven-under-par in 2012 and John Merrick and Charlie Beljan finished on 11-under last year. Before that, the average winning score over the last 10 years was around 13-under. That trend is falling.
Past Champions in the Field
2013 John Merrick
2012 Bill Haas
2011 Aaron Baddeley
2007 CH III
2004 Mike Weir
2003 Mike Weir
2001 Robert Allenby
1999 Ernie Els
Lanny Wadkins, 20-under-par, 264, is the 72-hole record.
The last player to win the NTO in his first start was Adam Scott. #quality
Inside the Ropes
Hogan’s Alley was the nickname given to Riviera after Ben Hogan tore it up three times in 18 months the late 1940s but it hasn’t always been the exclusive host of this tournament. The Los Angeles Open, as it was once called, has bounced around to multiple clubs over the years but has settled on Riviera as home since 1973. Only on two occasions, 1983 and 1998, has the historic George C. Thomas track not been used to host today’s NTO. Even before Ben Hogan, the NTO was up and running as it opened its doors in 1926 as Harry Cooper won the inaugural event. This track reeks of history as it has hosted the 1948 U.S. Open (Ben Hogan), the 1983 (Hal Sutton) and 1995 (Steve Elkington) PGA and the 1998 Senior Open (Hale Irwin). The NTO is the fourth-longest running event on TOUR, outside of the majors.
This year, 26 of the top 50 players according to the OWGR on Monday, are teeing it up on this classic design. Premium players enjoy working the golf ball both directions around doglegs. Premium players also enjoy being tested around and on the greens. Riviera stands up to both of those wants as the average winning score the last two years has been just nine-under. Over the last 12 years, the average winning score is just a shade below 13-under par. Many TOUR pros are relieved to see the days of 20-under or better behind them as they head to Pacific Palisades knowing that par is a decent score. Riviera has ranked in the 13th in 2013, 7th in 2012, 10th in 2011 and 20th in 2010 of the most difficult courses on TOUR.
This week, players who don’t find fairways with their tee balls will be presented with kikuyugrass as rough. Gamers remember the difficulty players had with kikuyugrass and bluegrass at Torrey Pines as that winning score was just nine-under. Bunkers and doglegs are also strategically placed so those who take chances will be rewarded and those who find fairways will have better chances to hit GIR. Bombers such as Adam Scott, Phil Mickelson, Charles Howell III and Ernie Els have won here. So have short-knockers such as Aaron Baddeley, John Merrick, Mike Weir and Steve Stricker. The formula shows that players must keep the golf ball out of trouble and must be able to get up-and-down around the greens as well. I’m looking for premium ball-strikers who have the patience to swallow a bogey and the diligence to grind around the greens. Rookies need not apply this week and the only first-timers I’m looking at must have pedigree.
The players that should be on your fantasy rosters and should be making the most noise come the weekend. Yahoo! gamers, each player’s Yahoo! group is in ( ).
Hunter Mahan (B): After a slow start at Torrey Pines, Mahan has bounced back nicely with finishes of T4 in Phoenix and solo sixth last week at Pebble. His game is rounding into shape as he was T21 in fairways, T14 GIR and ninth in strokes gained-putting. He also made a ton of pars, 49, against only eight bogeys in less than ideal conditions. Mahan is trending in the proper direction at Riviera as he was T55 in 2011, T24 in 2012 and had four rounds under par last year to finish T8, including his final three in the 60s. Smart money says hold him for the WGC-Match Play where he’s won and finished second in the last two years but he might be a week ahead of schedule!
Dustin Johnson (B): He answered all the questions that gamers had about him last week as he finished T2 at Pebble playing, again, with his soon-to-be father-in-law. Sure, that dude is Wayne Gretzky but his soon-to-be son-in-law blazed home a Sunday-best 66 that saw him fall one shot short of a playoff. In six trips to Riviera, Johnson has three top 10s. His length is always a factor because hitting wedges out of the rough is easier than mid irons. I like him this week because he was T62 in fairways last week and still managed just seven bogeys, one less than Mahan. In three starts this year, he’s won, T6 and finished T2.
Graham DeLaet (B): After back-to-back T2s to open the 2014 part of his schedule, I argued that if he’s in the field, he’s on this list. There is absolutely no reason to worry about his past history on any track because he’s made the leap. He’s done everything but win on TOUR and if he keeps finding fairways and stinging GIRs, the putts will all eventually fall. His worst finish after MC at Shriners is T7 in four events. Curling, hockey, maple syrup and GDL!
Jordan Spieth (B): Could you imagine where he would be right now if he shot even par on Saturdays in his last two rounds? His ankle slowed him down at Torrey Pines after holding the 36-hole lead as he finished 75-75 for T19. Last week, he was one back of Jimmy Walker after 36 holes before he three putted SIX times in the tough winds on Pebble. Instead of throwing in the towel, he hit the practice green first thing Sunday morning. He finished T4 after an eagle, three birdies and NO bogeys on Sunday back on Pebble. Gamers, continuing to “wait” on him is a very silly theory; just don’t play him on Saturdays!
Charl Schwartzel (C): Last year, in his first trip around Riviera, the South African reminded gamers that great players don’t need many rounds to figure out how to play great courses. His T3 finish last year was on the back of all four rounds under par and his first three in the 60s. He only made five bogeys for the week and no doubles or worse. He only made 15 birdies so my math says he racked up 52 pars! That’s what I’m talking about! Schwartzel, as per usual, used his “offseason” to rack up events in his native South Africa. In his last five events on the European Tour he’s finished T4, WIN, sixth, T15 and T59 last week in Joburg. He also won in China. Rust? No chance!
Webb Simpson (B): He’s five from five this season and that includes five top 25s, four top 10s, a third and a victory. He has two rounds over par. Two. He was T6 here last year and T15 in 2011, his last two starts. I’m going to stop typing now because it’s pointless to bring us his U.S. Open victory in 2012 at Olympic Club on a tight, old-school course with Poa annua greens.
Bill Haas (B): After his only top 10, T6, at Humana, Haas has sputtered with T43 at Torrey Pines and T34 in Phoenix. This should be exactly the track he needs to break out of his mini-funk as he’s torched Riviera over the last three years. His reign of terror began in 2011 when he had bookend 67s to finish T12. The following season he defeated Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson in a playoff. And if that’s not enough, he fired 64 in round three last year before sharing the final podium spot with Charl Schwartzel and Freddie Jacobson. #cureswhatailsyou
Jimmy Walker (C): He’s won three times in eight events this year. He’s finished T4, T4 and T16 his last three starts on his favorite course. Don’t wake him up. The only club in his bag that makes me worry is his driver. He’s walking on water right now and I’m excited to see how he backs up this most recent victory as he was T12 after victory No. 1 and MC (sick) at Torrey Pines. I’m nitpicking here but this field is the best yet of 2014 so if he has an off week, I’m not complaining!
Keegan Bradley (B): After MC in his first trip around Riviera, he’s lost in a playoff and finished T16 with zero rounds above par. I’m still trying to figure out how he went 66-80 at WMPO but all the great players, and that’s what he is, find a way to squash it and move on! He seems to play better the harder the course is. His worst finish in his five events before his MC was T18.
Harris English (C): I can’t leave a guy off who has seen 10 straight weekends on TOUR. During that time he’s won and has racked up three other top 10s. He’s fourth in ball-striking and 18th in scrambling. His worst round on TOUR is 71.
Hideki Matsuyama (B): This might be a bit of a stretch in a field this deep but he’s 13 of 16 in his short time on TOUR and 10 of those have resulted in top 25s. He also has a T3 (Frys.com) and T4 (WMPO) on a bunch of courses he’s not played very often. He has one round over par in five events this season. If he starts making putts on Sunday, watch out!
Pat Perez (C): I swung and missed when I faded him after Torrey Pines and I have learned from my mistake. His new belief in his golf game, swing, personal life, etc. has translated into very real results. I’m a big believer in guys who are in “good places” and I have no problem saddling ‘em up! His last three starts have been T2 (Torrey), 11th and T7 last week. A California kid playing another week on Poa annua is hardly a risk!
Justin Rose (B): Repeat after me: Form is temporary; class is permanent. The 2013 U.S. Open champ had a minor shoulder issue that forced him out of action for a few weeks but according to his Instagram account, he’s had no trouble banging balls on the range in Albany in the Bahamas to tune up for this event. He finished T37, T9 and T13 in his last three before skipping this event last year. I can’t ignore him but I’m always leery of guys on their first start coming back from injury/long layoff.
Ryan Moore (A): He’s made the weekend in six straight at Riviera and he loves playing on the West Coast. His last three finishes here are T4, T17 and T27. Those last two finishes of T17 and T27 included final rounds of 74! Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! He’s made 14 straight weekends on TOUR. This season, he’s seventh in fairways, fourth in GIR and 17th in putting. That’s how one racks up a win and three other top10s in six events. #dingding!