American James Hahn holed two fantastic putts in a playoff to defeat Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey to win the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club. The three-some posted six-under-par 278 and needed three extra holes to determine this year’s champion. After making three pars on the first playoff hole, No. 18, Casey excused himself on the second playoff hole as he missed a birdie putt. Hahn and Johnson hit miraculous chips from the rough and both holed their putts for birdie to carry on. On the third hole, No. 14, the par three, Hahn rolled in a meaty birdie putt and celebrated his first-ever win when Johnson’s closer birdie attempt didn’t scare the hole. As per the PGA TOUR rules, Johnson and Casey both finish T2 even though they were eliminated at different points. Whatever.
Well, that was interesting to say the least.
The day started with 46-year old Retief Goosen looking for his first win since 2009. Half way through, birthday boy Vijay Singh, celebrating No. 52 on Sunday, was in the lead. The day ended with Sergio Garcia, who hasn’t won on TOUR since 2012, bogeying the final two holes to miss the playoff. Also crammed in there was Matsuyama, Bradley and Spieth making fierce charges up the leader board while Furyk, Goosen and DeLaet were going in reverse.
I know ONE gamer that was happy that Hahn won this week and that’s his former caddy. The rest of us who had Johnson in the OAD or weekly games just were punched in the gut. Hahn is impossible not to like and with his first child on the way in a few weeks, it’s a cool story that he beat a couple of Ryder Cuppers on an impossible course for his first win. I’m just bitter because it hit me in the wallet!
Why This Performance Doesn’t Surprise:
This was his sixth start of 2015 and his sixth Sunday of teeing it up. He was located in the “Off the Radar” section of my preview column as I always take a look at guys who are making cuts. Hahn had also made the cut in his first two appearances at Riviera, which isn’t the easiest of tracks for young players to figure out. I’ve argued before in this and other columns that I like guys in fantasy land who have won golf tournaments before. Hahn fits this bill as he won twice on the Canadian Tour in 2009 and again on the Web.com in 2012. It might not be glamorous but that feeling and experience can come in handy. It did today in a playoff against two former Ryder Cup players who have 24 combined professional wins.
Why This Performance Surprises:
Where I understand that the OWGR is not the end-all and be-all when it comes to rating golfers, he did check in this week at No. 297. The Golfweek-Sagarin had him a bit better, No. 195, but again, “off the radar”. His best finish in his first 10 events of the new season was T17 at McGladrey so he wasn’t lighting up leader boards but he was making cuts. In 64 previous events on TOUR he racked up four other top 10s and just nine other top 25s. His eight prior rounds at Riviera saw him finish over par five times.
How Hahn Won This Week:
Well, by making two unbelievably clutch putts on the final two playoff holes! Those weren’t kick-ins! He kept the ball in play and didn’t card anything worse than bogey, although he squared 12 of those. He made two eagles (T1) and 12 birdies on a U.S. Open-ish layout. Statistically, nothing jumped off the page other than T16 GIR but his cool and calm demeanor down the stretch was very telling. He or his swing didn’t look bothered coming down the stretch.
As mentioned above Hahn and his wife Stephanie is expecting a little girl in the coming weeks so that can now be his main focus. The last two years he’s had to sweat it late as he finished No. 110 in 2013 and No. 123 last year on the FedExCup points list. He won’t have that worry again in 2015 as his paycheck today will take care of next season. The exemption for winning will take care of the 2016-2017 season. He’ll also get a chance to play the Masters in April. Not bad for a guy who was selling shoes not too long ago!
Gamers, it will be interesting to see how he lines up the rest of the spring as he’s hit it pretty heavy before his daughter’s birth. He’s shown before that he’s a California horse but he has also pegged top 10s at Byron Nelson and TPC Southwind, not the easiest of setups. He opened with 63 and closed with 62 at Humana three years ago so we know he can go low; he won this week on six-under on a U.S. Open-style setup. That’s the sound of cash registers ringing in the ears of gamers! Every time he’s won professionally he’s made the step up in class. The next step up in class at this level is finding more than two top 10s annually let alone picking up victories. Nobody “lucks” it to six weekends in a row on TOUR so he deserves our attention moving forward.
With This Win:
Win No. 1 on TOUR comes with 500 FedExCup Points, $1,204,000 million and his first trip to Kapalua and Augusta. Hahn joked earlier in the week that if he won this week that he might name is daughter Riviera. Said it had a nice ring to it. I bet it does!
Déjà vu All Over Again?
After 28 wins in 45 events last season, the USA continues its dominance this year. Brooks Koepka, Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed, Charley Hoffman, Bubba Watson, Ryan Moore, Robert Streb, Ben Martin, Brandt Snedeker and now Hahn (born in Korea; US citizen) are the USA champs. Sang-moon Bae (Korea), Nick Taylor (Canada) and Jason Day (Australia) are the three international winners in the first 14 events.
Haas, Bae, Martin, Moore and Walker are those who have closed their 54-hole leads. Walker is the only person on BOTH sides of his list as he couldn’t close out his lead at Kapalua. Retief Goosen made it the second week in a row for the 40-something crowd but like Furyk last week at Pebble, his final round wasn’t his best. That makes it 10 of 14 who have been unable to hold down the fort.
After 13 first-time winners in 2013 there were only 10 last year. After 14 events in 2015, Martin, Streb, Taylor, Koepka and James Hahn have made their breakthroughs.
Hahn joins John Merrick as first-time winners in two of the last three years. He’s only the fourth, first-timer since 2000 reinforcing that this track isn’t for faint of heart or inexperienced player.
Defending champ Bubba Watson was just four shots off the lead T7 entering the final round but a 73, his worst in his last nine rounds here, knocked him back to T14. Phil Mickelson in 2008-2009 is the last champion to repeat.
Blayne Barber showed his class this week as the rookie finished T12 on the back of a Sunday 65. Carlos Oritz, the money leader from the Web.com Tour last season, began the day tied with Watson but his 75 saw him finish T20. This was the first time in four years that any rookies were better than T21.
The last player to win on his first trip around Riviera was Adam Scott in 2005 (rain-shortened, unofficial victory) and Pat Fitzsimons in 1975.
Riviera yielded just one score under 66 this week and that was Barber’s excellent 65 Sunday.
The six-under-par, 278 was the highest winning score this century.
Lanny Wadkin’s 20-under tournament record was never in range.
Neither was Ted Tryba’s course record of 61.
Young Guns Versus Prime Time Versus Old Guys
I annually keep track of the age of the winners on TOUR because I’m an ageist. GET OFF MY VIAGRA.
Bae got the youngsters (under 30) on the board first in 2014-15 followed by Martin and Streb, both 27. Nick Taylor, 26, popped in to close out 2014 before Reed joined the party at a whopping 25 at followed by Koepka, 25 in Phoenix and Jason Day, 27, made it six youngsters from 12 winners this season when he won at Torrey Pines.
The old guys (40 and over) haven’t hit the winner’s circle yet in the new season. For the second week in a row an old guy was the 54-hole leader. For the second week in a row, the old guy didn’t close the deal as Goosen’s two-shot lead faded with 75 and T8.
What I learned from the finishers in the top 10 this week:
Paul Casey: He usually begins his season in Florida but this season he decided to hit the left coast for the first time since 2011. Funny, the only event that season he played was Riviera and he finished T12. Entering the week off of T30-MC-MC hardly inspired but if ball-striking and course history were factors in setting the lineup, Casey would have fit that bill. Last year he bailed after the U.S. Open and headed back to Europe for the summer to play himself on to the Ryder Cup team. He fell just short of that goal but did pick up another win at the KLM Open. This was his fourth top 10 since February of 2014 and first on TOUR since his heyday pre-2010. He'll help on courses where baill-striking matters most.
Dustin Johnson: This was his eighth event in a row at Riviera. He’s now hit the top 10 in five of these. Just for fun: T59, T10, T3, MC, T4, MC, MC, second and P2 this year. He was T4 last week on another set of tracks he loves. Look he wasn’t hurt, ok? He played golf for six months while on hiatus. He’s supremely talented and if he’s in the field, I’m not sure how I can talk any gamers of not loading up on him.
Hideki Matsuyama: Blah, blah, blah and then BANG, 67 on Sunday and right into the top 5 (T4). He’s now played eight rounds at Riviera and seven of them are par or better. His T4 this year backs up his T23 in his maiden voyage last year. He obviously doesn’t need to see a course multiple times to figure it out so course history with him shouldn’t be a qualifier; form should. Get on board and stop trying to figure out why not.
Keegan Bradley: Opening with 73, I fielded more than one email with the subject line WTF KEEGAN. With nothing better than T17 in three events in 2015 were rightfully nervy. Gamers also need to remember that #TheThursdayArmy, while a fun hashtag, should NOT be the reason to right off players. Yet. Let the week breathe; let the cut be had; let 72 holes be played and THEN go get the pitchforks! Bradley was in my “Horses for Courses” section this week and deservedly so. He should be a favorite and long, demanding, difficult layouts where par is a good score. And he was again here as his closing 68 moved him 14 spots to T4. He’s posted 14 of his last 16 rounds here at par or better and with his class, he did exactly what gamers hoped he would in Yahoo! C this week.
Jordan Spieth: After opening with 72 last year he’s now put his last seven rounds at par or better and six of those have been red figures. He’s played four weeks in a row to open 2015 and racked up T7, MC, T7 and T4. One of these things it not like the other. #Automatic.
Sergio Garcia: He left his slow start half a world away and started his 2015 U.S. campaign with T4. He said after the round he didn’t deserve to win this week because he was saving himself with his Seve-esque short game. He bogeyed the final two holes to miss the playoff and a chance to win for the first time since 2012 Wyndham on TOUR. He played terribly by his standards and was T4. Salary gamers were both angry and happy this week as the result was positive but the way it was achieved was maddening for a player of that class. His last three at Riviera are T13, T4 and T4.
Kyle Reifers: Similar to James Hahn and Blayne Barber, Reifers was found in the “Off the Radar” category in Range Rover this week because he was No. 410 in the world. I liked the fact that ball-striking was his calling card and that he only had one round over 72 in 2015. His 67 on Sunday moved him up 18 spots to finish T8 for his first top 10 since Sanderson Farms in 2013 (T5). He was five-for-five to start the new season before the holidays but resumed MC-MC-MC before his T21 last week at Pebble. The Wake Forest grad is on his third tour on TOUR and first since 2012. Circle the Columbus, Ohio native at the Memorial and thank me later. Did I mention this was his first time at Riviera? Ok, good!
Retief Goosen: His 75 on Sunday killed gamers who had probably bought him on the cheap this week. Goosen makes it six cuts in a row at Riviera but it will be his collapse down the stretch that gamers will remember. He did finish birdie-birdie to hit the top 10 though! He’s made seven of eight cuts on the season but he’s had a big number in every one of them except his T3 at Frys.com. If making cuts makes money, there are much worse options out there.
Graham DeLaet: All-or-nothing has gamers scratching their heads trying to time the week that the Canadian is going to break out. Throw in a battle with the flu and the last five weeks have been maddening. Season gamers definitely have the advantage here as they can just line him up every week and forget about it. Gamers were tortured again this week as they saw the excellent GDL playing in the final threesome on Sunday. And then he opened birdie-double-bogey. If he’s healthy (crosses fingers) he should be on the list here as he’s now played four weekends in a row at Riviera.
Sang-moon Bae: He’s played great ever since the Korean government has called him into military duty. As his lawyers keep fighting his conscription, he keeps lighting up golf courses. His T8 this week makes it four top 10s in six weekends played in the 2014-15 season. He broke a very important trend at Riviera this year. He was T8 in 2013 but shot 76 on Saturday. Last year he was nine-under after two rounds before 72 on Saturday. This year, he fired 66 on Saturday to start Sunday T3 before 72 knocked him back to T8. He was in “Horses for Courses” and did not disappoint again in LA.
A quick recap of what happened to the Chalk from my preview column:
Bubba Watson: T14 is his attempt to defend his title as he closed with 73. That’s T13, MC, Win and T14 in his last four at Riviera. His T14 is his worst finish in three starts this year.
Dustin Johnson: P2, see above.
Jimmy Walker: I see nothing wrong with Walker at the moment but to say he didn’t fire on the California swing would be fair. Walker should be encouraged that gamers consider T7, T21 and T41 on three of his favorite courses a let-down. The good news moving forward is that he led the field in birdies this week with 17 and his putter was working just fine. Kikuyugrass is in the rear-view mirror but I’m looking forward with Walker.
Brandt Snedeker: He was removed from all of my lineups in all formats when he missed the Wednesday Pro-Am with flu. He gutted it out to make the weekend on the number but 79-75 saw him finish second last. Carding a triple each day of the weekend hardly helped matters but I’m more interested in him at Augusta and on courses where putting makes a bigger difference.
Jordan Spieth: T4, see above.
Nick Watney: He opened with 66 to share the first round lead but his 74-74 middle two rounds dug the hole too deep. His closing 70 moved him up 13 spots to T22, his second best finish at Riviera since his maiden T19 in 2006. I’ll never scoff at a top 25.
Bill Haas: He was removed from all of my lineups when it broke on Wednesday that his wife told him not to unpack this week. Been --there, done that. Sergio Garcia took his place in Yahoo! He MC 75-76 but will enjoy child No. 2 in the coming days.
Sergio Garcia: T4, see above.
Hideki Matsuyama: T4, see above.
Jim Furyk: He began Sunday with Watson on T7. He finished Sunday with Watson on T14 after 73. Make it seven on the bounce in LA for Furyk and those are all T35 or better.
Harris English: He began Sunday on T19 but his 73 dropped him to T30. He’s shown that he can handle Torrey and Riviera and that’s not easy. Noted.
J.B. Holmes: His reign of terror continued this week as he sat T3 entering Sunday. His California swing began with a P2 to Jason Day at Torrey, a 65 to finish T10 last week at Pebble and 76 of them to limp home T19 this week.
Charl Schwartzel: Captain Kikuyugrass finally didn’t hit the top five here to the chagrin of gamers who jumped on him in OAD. Don’t worry, there’s always Byron Nelson or Memorial for that so all hope is not lost.
Robert Streb: Didn’t happen this week but nothing that screams BAIL OUT DUDE. It’s a hard course and he didn’t play well.
Coming TUESDAY Afternoon
I’ll publish my weekly preview, Range Rover, around lunchtime, children permitting. I’ll focus on history, current form, course characteristics, winning qualities and those who I think will and will not.
Coming TUESDAY Afternoon Pt. II
Playing the Tips will be up and running this and every Tuesday late afternoon and will list all of the Rotoworld experts picks in the GolfChannel.com game, the Yahoo! Fantasy Golf game, DFS plus the European Tour! Oh, and my One-and-Done feature. Look for it every Tuesday until the Presidents Cup.
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 ET. We will be breaking down the field at the Honda Classic plus answering your questions. Simply return to the golf home page to join in on the chatter. Don’t forget to follow Rob (http://twitter.com/RobBoltonGolf) and Glass (http://twitter.com/mikeglasscott) on Twitter.