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
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.
MacDonald Smith and Lloyd Mangrum have won this tournament four times. Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer have won it three times.
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!
Yahoo! group in ( )
Fred Couples (C): He has 14 top 10s in 31 starts and two victories.
Freddie Jacobson (B): The last two years he’s finished T13 and T3. Fredrik, Fred, Freddie, they all work this week!
J.B. Holmes (C): From 2008 through 2012 he finished T7, T6, T3, T12 and T8. He MC last year but he’s on his way back from a million injuries.
K.J. Choi (C): He’s 13-for-13 with four top 10s. Choi is a great roster filler this week.
Trending in the right direction
Kevin Na (C): I forgot he turned pro after his junior year in high school. He has three top 10s in six weekends this season including two in his last four events. He’s all irons and putting and that’s led him to 10th in scoring average this year.
Victor Dubuisson : The 23-year old Frenchman impressed last week as he navigated the three courses at AT&T Pebble Beach to the tune of T13. That T13 included THREE doubles. His T59 at Torrey Pines was his worst start in eight starts world-wide. During that stretch of eight tournaments he has six T20s or better. Oui.
Francesco Molinari (C): In six European starts he’s posted T25 or better in all of them since last October. His last time out was T13 in Dubai.
Will MacKenzie (C): In events this season, Mackenzie has found the weekend six times and all of his finishes have been in the top 25, including T13, T7 and T13 in his last three. He has ONE round over par. One. He’d be higher on my list this week but he only has two rounds, of 12 career, in the 60s at Riviera. He’s MC in four of five starts here. Gulp.
Russell Knox (C): He’s seven-for-eight with all seven finishes T32 or better.
Jason Kokrak (B): He’s five-for-seven with all T20 or better. He’s T15 and T19 in his last two outings.
Bryce Molder (B): The good news is he’s seen all seven weekends this year and he’s coming off his best finish, T10, last week at Pebble Beach. The better news is he was T17 and T21 in his last two starts at Riviera.
Cameron Tringale (C): After a slow start to the new season, Tringale has rebounded with T38, T66, T12 and T13 in his last four starts. His last two final rounds have been 68-69 and that pushed him to the edge of the top 10. Another one of those this week could push him over. The SoCal native has only two rounds over par in his 12 rounds at Riviera as well. Shhhhhhhhhhh.
Morgan Hoffmann (B): He was T16 at Torrey and T15 in Phoenix in his last two starts. I like him more on courses where par is a good score and this week covers that.
Players floating out to sea this week
Matt Kuchar: He’s made 30 cuts in a row but I’m fading him this week for two reasons. One, his best finish here in eight starts is only T14. Two, I KNOW I’ll use all 10 starts on Kuchar down the road and this week’s field is deep enough not to “guess” that he’ll finally play well at Riviera. I KNOW he’ll have 10 other tournaments where he has better course form as the year continues. Hell, you could argue four majors, two WGC and four playoff events! Not this week for me, sorry.
Charles Howell III: In six starts after his win here in 2007, he’s made three cuts. He’s missed three of the last four and his best finish in that run is T55 in 2008. Not this week!
Charley Hoffman: In seven straight starts at Riviera his best finish is T37 in 2010. His last round in the 60s was in 2011.
Rickie Fowler: He was MC, T35 and T62 in consecutive years from 2010-2012.
Jason Dufner: He’s seen the weekend just twice in four starts and hasn’t finished better than T29. He’s off to a chilly start with T29 at Sony and T72 in Qatar. He’ll warm up with the weather.
The Man with His Own Section in the Column
Lee Westwood: He’s opened his 2014 stateside with T47 at Torrey Pines and MC in Phoenix. He’s had two top 10s since July (The Open, DP World Tour Championship) but if there is a track that should play to his strengths, Riviera would be it. He opened 68-68 here last year before 74-71 to close. I wouldn’t over-reach for him this week but I can’t totally eliminate him either, hence, his own section.
Jordan Spieth of the Week Last Week
The column was taken over and thrashed by the kid from Texas last year. Out of respect, I’m not changing the title of it for 2013-14. It will remind me just how good Spieth was in the last three months of the season. This year, we’ll still identify an up-and-coming player and/or rookie that fantasy players should have on their radar.
CIMB: Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 24, might have enough money after this week to earn Special Temporary Membership. Pay attention!
McGladrey: Scott Langley turned 24 last April and is in his second season on TOUR. He finished T22 last week and No. 124 last season. #slimpickinngsthisweek
OHL Mayakoba: Harris English turned 24 last July. He won.
HTOC: Er, Jordan Spieth, solo second.
Humana: Patrick Reed won. He’s 23. You need to pay attention.
FIO: Ryo Ishikawa, 22, bagged another top 10 finish. That’s his sixth in his last 10 events on TOUR or the Web.com Tour. He’s an alternate this week as of Monday afternoon.
WMPO: Hideki Matsuyama is 21. In 11 events the last two years, he’s hit the top 25 in NINE of them, including T4 last week. #ALLRIGHTYTHEN
SEASON TOTAL: $1,744,246
Frys.com: Gary Woodland, MC. Well, at least I don’t have to worry about when I’m using GARY WOODLAND again!
CIMB Classic: Let’s try this again: Hideki Matsuyama. There’s no cut. This pleases me. His T25 after 74 on Sunday does not please me. Oh well. Here’s $53,433 into the piggy bank.
WGC-HSBC: Martin Kaymer. There’s no other place I would consider using him and he’s the defending champ on this track. #hangsonfordearlife. Kaymer’s third round 62 dared me to dream but his T8 and $161,667 is a nice deposit.
The McGladrey Classic: David Toms. He’s finished T3 in 2010 and second last year. His recent form suggests he’s playing well and I don’t see another chance to burn him down the road. It was him or CH III. Well, BOTH of my selections finished T27. I should have listened to O…T27 was good for $39,050.
OHL Mayakoba: Brian Gay. When form meets course history… Well, that was a nice theory but it resulted in T45 and $18,060. I’m glad 2013 is now over.
HTOC: Martin Laird. Since I’m off to a woeful start I see no reason to burn a premium player. Chris Kirk was my second choice but nobody wins in back-to-back starts plus he’s just had another child. Laird is the horse-for-course. The Scot finished T20 in a 30-man field for $87,000.
Sony: Charles Howell III. He plays great in the early part of the season and his record at Waialae has everything BUT a win. If you notice, I saved most of my heavy hitters for the latter part of 2013 last year and that strategy worked out. Hey, a top 10 and $119,000! Feels like a winner!
Humana: Webb Simpson has been on fire to get 2013-14 started and going low has never been a problem. It’s time to start firing at ‘em. Sigh. Another week brings another disappointing selection as I add a whopping $57,000 to my morbid total.
FIO: Same as last year, Rickie Fowler. He’s working with Butch Harmon to get to the next level and he’s played SoCal courses plenty in his young life. He finished up last week at Humana 67-66 and he’s finished T5, T20, T13 and T6 last year in four career starts. I’ll save Woods and Mickelson for down the road for bigger winner’s checks. Snedeker and Walker were also considered and are solid options for this week. Fowler was just as bad as the other four I had listed, save for Woods’ MDF cash. Tough week in OAD for most I’m guessing. MC $0.
WMPO: Ryan Palmer. He’s on fire, can really putt and was fifth here last year. His excellent 64 saw him make the cut but his 70-72 weekend resulted in T48 at $15,772. I finished strong last year because I had a stable full of studs from The Open Championship through the FedExCup Playoffs. I’m not panicking. Yet.
AT&T PEBBLE: Jimmy Walker is the pick this week. He’s a beast on the West Coast and he’s had time to recover from his illness after MC at Torrey Pines. BANG TRISCUITS. Winner, winner, chicken dinner and $1,188,000.
NTO: Dustin Johnson goes to bat this week for Team Glass. His form is excellent and the fact that he’s banged top 10s in half of his trips here doesn’t hurt either.
GolfChannel.com Fantasy Golf
Glass ($3,438,107; Rank: 8,752)
Group 1: Dustin Johnson
Group 2: Hunter Mahan
Group 3: Kevin Na
Group 4: Russell Knox
Rob Bolton ($3,855,873; Rank: 5,607)
Group 1: Jimmy Walker
Group 2: Hunter Mahan
Group 3: Pat Perez
Group 4: Will MacKenzie
Ryan O’ Sullivan ($3,047,926; Rank: 12,239)
Group 1: Dustin Johnson
Group 2: Bill Haas
Group 3: Kevin Na
Group 4: Fred Couples
Ned Brown ($4,506,530; Rank: 2,187)
Group 1: Dustin Johnson
Group 2: Graham DeLaet
Group 3: Kevin Na
Group 4: J.B. Holmes
Ned said, “…
Ned Brown is a long-time contributor for Rotoworld Golf. He’s had documented success in Yahoo!’s game for years. Even if you’re confident in your selections for that game, give his insight a read.
Ryan Moore--- He played well in the fall portion of the new wraparound schedule and that has continued into the new year with a T10 at the TOC and a T6 a couple of weeks ago at the WMPO. He has made the cut six times in seven starts here and his best result was a T4 in '11.
Matt Kuchar--- He is playing great right now, but he never has had a top ten at the NTO. I started to look to Charles Howell III as a replacement, due to his success at Riviera, but I saw that he has missed the cut here three of his last four starts. I'll try to protect Kuchar on the bench this week, however if Moore has a rocky start I won't hesitate to use him.
Dustin Johnson--- He started out the season with a T6 at the HTOC and he put a great final round charge on last week to finish in a tie for second place. He has been in the top 10 at the NTO three of his last five stops here ( T10 in '09, T3 in '10 and T4 in '12), but be warned the other two starts he missed the cut.
Webb Simpson-- Played well in the fall, with a win at in Las Vegas, and that has carried over into the new year with a T3 at the HTOC and a tenth place a couple of weeks ago at the WMPO. His two previous starts at the NTO were a T15 in '10 and a T6 last year.
Hunter Mahan-- He knocked some rust of the off-season at the Farmers and then earned a T4 at the WMPO and a sixth place last week at the AT&T Pebble Beach. His record at the NTO is somewhat mixed, but last year he played well on route to a T8 finish.
Graham DeLaet-- Group B is really an embarrassment of riches this week. Bill Haas, who is a horse for the course, or Jordan Spieth, who is a very hot player, are great picks. I'm going with Graham DeLaet, who like Spieth, is a very hot player right now with T2 finishes at the FIO and the WMPO. The second place at Phoenix really impressed me, because his record at the WMPO was so poor that I thought that he could be faded, but he proved me wrong.
Jimmy Walker-- He almost blew that six-stroke advantage last week at the AT&T, however he hung on for his third victory of the season. This is his favorite course, and I don't see how you can fade him, but I'll be interested to see if Sunday's round took a little something out of him.
Charl Schwartzel-- It's a real coin toss in here between Harris English and Schwartzel. English won at the Mayakoba and that play has carried over into the new season. Schwartzel also played well in the off-season with victories at the China Masters and the Alfred Dunhill Championship. I'm going with Schwartzel mainly because he grew up playing on the African Kikuyu grass that is found at Riviera and that he finished in a tie for third place last year, which was his first start at the NTO.
Points this season: 1,054
And the analysis doesn't end here. Rotoworld's Rob Bolton and I will be co-hosting a one-hour live chat WEDNESDAY at NOON p.m. ET. We will be breaking down the field at the NTO and answering your questions. Simply return to the golf home page to join in on the chatter.