Northern Trust Open
Riviera Country Club
Pacific Palisades, California
Riviera – “Hogan’s Alley”
Yards: 7,349 as per the scorecard
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 Architects: George C. Thomas and William P. Bell (1926); Redesign Tom Fazio (2008)
Winner’s Share: $1,206,000
FexExCup Points: 500 to the winner
Dates: February 19-22
Notes: Field of 144 will be cut to the top 70 and ties for the final 36 holes.
Patrick Reed, Jimmy Walker, Bill Haas, Brooks Koepka, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker are the first six winners of calendar 2015. Only Snedeker was ranked outside of the top 40 in OWGR. After his win last week, Sneds jumped from No. 63 to No. 31. That’s more like it from the 2012 FedExCup champion after a winless 2014!
After 28 wins in 45 events last season Snedeker joined Brooks Koepka, Bill Haas, Jimmy Walker and Patrick Reed as the USA winners in 2015. The stars and stripes already picked up wins in 2014 from Charley Hoffman, Bubba Watson, Ryan Moore, Robert Streb and Ben Martin. The USA has won 10 of the first 13 events. Jason Day added to the foreign contingent with his win at Torrey two weeks ago as he, Sang-moon Bae (Korea) and Nick Taylor (Canada) are the international winners.
After 13 first-time winners in 2013 there were only 10 last year. Through 13 events in 2015, Koepka, Martin, Streb and Taylor have broken their maidens.
The NTO began in 1926 and has teed it up every year minus 1943 because of World War II. The event bounced around courses until settling at George C. Thomas’ Riviera Country Club in 1973. Riviera has been the proud host of a U.S. Open won by Ben Hogan in 1948 plus two PGA Championships and the 1998 Senior U.S. Open.
The track runs through the Santa Monica Canyon and has been one the more demanding stops on TOUR in recent history. Doglegged fairways are protected by Kikuyugrass rough and the greens aren’t much larger than into the greens and the more fairways hit, the more possibilities for GIR as the rough can be quite gnarly. Bubba Watson led the field in driving distance and was third in GIR last year. Dustin Johnson was second so that reaffirms ball-striking should be under scrutiny this week.
Over the last five years, Riviera has checked in at 20th, 10th, seventh, 13th and 24th-most difficult on TOUR. Watson laid waste to this historic beauty with a 64-64 bogey-free weekend last year but that’s been the exception, not the rule. Or maybe not. Five of the last 12 winners here have been left handed as Watson joined Phil Mickelson and Mike Weir as champions. Hmmmmmmmmmm. What else have all of these lefties won? (Hint: it rhymes with GREEN JACKET).
Riviera stands the test of time because there are multiple ways to make hay. Short game experts that can navigate the slick greens and kikuyugrass rough can contend with the bombers who can smash it over the doglegs. Shot-shpaers that play from the middle of the fairway will have the advantage of hitting the proper spots on the greens. Even the putters will be happy to see some pep back into the greens after playing them at 10’ last week. #SlowYo
There are risk-reward holes; there is a hole with a bunker directly in the middle of it; there is a drivable par four and an easy par five. The winner will need to be prepared to have all 14 clubs holstered and ready to fire this week!
2014: Bubba Watson 269
2013: John Merrick 273*
2012: Bill Haas 277*
2011: Aaron Baddeley 272
2010: Steve Stricker 268
2009: Phil Mickelson 269
2008: Phil Mickelson 272
2007: Charles Howell III 268
2006: Rory Sabbatini 271
2005: Adam Scott 133
2004: Mike Weir 267
2003: Mike Weir 275
2002: Len Mattiace 269
2001: Robert Allenby 276*
2000: Kirk Triplett 272
*Won in a playoff
Not playing this week
McDonald Smith has won four of these.
So has Lloyd Mangrum.
Ben Hogan won here three times in 18 months, including the 1948 U.S. Open, hence “Hogan’s Alley”.
As of 2000 just Triplett, Mattiace and Merrick have been the first-time TOUR winners here.
In the last three years, no rookie has finished better than T21.
Only four players outside of Smith in the inaugural event in 1926 have won in their first trip around Riviera. The last was Adam Scott in 2005 but that event was called due to weather after 36 holes (non-official win). Pat Fitzsimons (1975) was the last maiden to win before Scott.
Here’s the list of all of the defenders:
Phil Mickelson, 2008-09
Mike Weir, 2003-04
Corey Pavin, 1994-95
Arnold Palmer, 1966-67
Paul Harney, 1964-65
Ben Hogan, 1947-48
Macdonald Smith, 1928-29
Tournament and Course Records
Lanny Wadkins (-20, 264) has the tournament record at Riviera.
Ted Tryba shot 61 in 1999 to set the course record.
Bizarre Stat of the Week:
See the Ted Tryba course record above.
In order, these are the players that I believe project the best this week (Yahoo! group in parentheses).
Bubba Watson (A): Love, hate or dismiss the OWGR, one doesn’t get to be No. 3 in the world based on music videos, fancy cars or nasty drivers off the deck. There is plenty of style with Watson but gamers must focus on the substance. Watson has proven has proven in the last year that his game travels and that he can win on tracks of all styles. The defending champ won another green jacket and picked up WGC title all in nine months in 2014. He also added a solo third at Memorial and a solo second at Cherry Hills. His two starts of 2015 saw him collect T10 at HTOC and T2 in Phoenix. He’s only four of eight on this track but I’m buying “new” Bubba and expect a spirited defense this week.
Dustin Johnson (B): The LA “homecoming” will have him surrounded with tight friends and family who helped him through his six months on the sideline. He mentioned after Pebble that he’ll be excited to be home with his lady and new baby and I believe this will be a huge positive. With four top 10s in his last six (two other MC) including solo second last year, Johnson, like Watson, is a fantastic ball-striker that can overpower this layout. He knocked off the rust at Torrey and gobbled up Pebble last week to finish T2, another top 10 at a course he loves.
Jimmy Walker (B): He said more than once that Riviera is his favorite track on TOUR and his recent results hardly refute that. In his last six events, he’s played the weekend in all six and has posted 20 of 24 rounds par or better. Walker’s two biggest strengths are GIR from anywhere on the planet and his ability to hole putt after putt. His last four here have racked up T4, T4, T16 and T20 so if he is still available for OAD I wouldn’t hesitate pulling the trigger this week. I’m having a problem with Yahoo! starts on him already and it’s not even March…
Brandt Snedeker (B): Last week’s champ at Pebble continues his excellent play on the California coast. This is the weakest historical stop of the Torrey-Pebble-Riviera trifecta but his form is overwhelmingly in gamer’s favor. He made ONE bogey last week. Uno. For the second week in a row he was lighting up GIR and he’ll need that to continue unless he wants to test his fantastic short game. With the majors and WGC events locked in for the rest of the year it wouldn’t surprise me to see him battling on Sunday for win No. 8.
Jordan Spieth (B): After MC here in 2012 as an amateur, Spieth returned with his Longhorn teammates from Texas to win the NCAA Championship in match play over Alabama. Spieth defeated Justin Thomas (yes, that one) 3 & 2 to help the ‘Horns win. He returned as a pro last season and opened with one-over 72. In total Spieth fashion he rallied to play the final three rounds nine-under and finish T12. I left him off Yahoo! last week and he responded with T7. It seems like he does this every week I leave him off…I learned last week that every time he’s missed a cut he’s followed it the next time out with a top 15-ish finish. Definitely buying.
Nick Watney (B): He’s played the last four weeks and has posted 14th, MC, T7 and solo second. I love the fact that he’s contended in two birdie-fests (Humana and Pebble) and ground out a T7 at a very difficult Torrey Pines South set-up. His work with Todd Anderson is paying off as he is looking more and more confident over putts. His course form might be off-putting this week but the body of work over the last four weeks is way more important is he’s seeing the fruits of his labor.
Bill Haas (A): After his victory at Humana, Haas remarked that his wrist wasn’t fully healed and that his expectations weren’t exactly through the roof as 2015 started. He was DFL at Phoenix of those who made the cut but jumped right back in to the mix at the beast that is Torrey Pines South before a Sunday 75 dropped him to T19. The 2012 champ backed up that result with T3 in 2013 and T23 last year both years closing with 73! He won Humana again this year…
Sergio Garcia (A): He didn’t tee it up here last winter after T4 and T13 in the two years prior but he’s back this year. He’s off to a slow start in Europe with T46 and MC in his first two events but his ball-striking and short game make a perfect fit here. He’s only MC six times since the beginning of 2010 so he’s a premium player with a safety net.
Hideki Matsuyama (B): He’s second on TOUR in ball-striking but I can see how his uneven beginning to 2015 has gamers nervy. I keep reminding myself that he’s just a kid and this kid has opened T3, T78, T2 and MC in 2015. He can be hidden in Group B but he played all four rounds under par here in his maiden voyage last year finishing T23. That’s class folks.
Jim Furyk (A): He 16-18 lifetime and that includes nine of his last 10. He’s the steadiest option and perhaps the most frustrating. The way he pegs fairways is the reason he’s in the conversation most weeks but, like Pebble, he only has one top 10 in his last 10 visits but he does have six top 25s. Go in with low expectations, say top 30, and enjoy anything else! I’d point out that he was six-under through 36 holes last year and T5 before playing the weekend in one-over to finish T23 but that would be mean.
Harris English (A): With two podiums in four starts this season I’ll turn my eye back to English. He started this way last season and was boiling hot until the middle of March so I’m not going to get caught on the sideline. He’s remarked in the past that enjoys courses where he has to work the golf ball both ways off the tee and this track qualifies. In two trips he has just as many rounds in the 60s that he does in the 70s and was T10 last year.
J.B. Holmes (A): Well, it’s been a great ride and it doesn’t look like this is the week that it’s going to dry up for Holmes. He backed up his P2 at Torrey with T10 last week at Pebble that included a 64 and 65 so there’s plenty in the tank. Before MC and T54 the last two years, Holmes rattled off T7, T6, T3, T12 and T8 from 2008-2012. SMOLDERING. More proof that a bunch of power can be the difference maker this week because we all know how long Holmes is off the tee. #Quantifier
Charl Schwartzel (C): He’s played three times in 2015 and was solo second at the South African Open and T9 at Abu Dhabi. He MC his last time out but he grew up playing on Kikuyugrass and he’s comfortable at Riviera. In two starts he’s 21-under with seven of eight rounds better than 70. He finished T3 his first time in 2013 and fifth last year. No point in overthinking this one.
Robert Streb (C): He has nothing outside of T37 in eight starts this season. He has five top 10s plus a win. He’s second in the all-around ranking. He’s in the Chalk until he gives me a reason to drop him. This will be the toughest track of his schedule this year to date. Inquiring minds want to know…
Webb Simpson: He’s opened up 2015 with T13 at Sony and T7 at Humana as he returns to action after three weeks off at Riviera. He’s three-from-three in his career with T15, T6 and T70 last year but his last three rounds in 2014 were all over par. He’s got bags of talent and his pedigree and start to the new calendar year merits attention.
Francesco Molinari: With T37, T22 and T10 in his opening three starts the former Ryder Cupper is off to a very healthy start on TOUR. On courses where ball-striking is a premium he a worthy roster selection as he paints fairways and greens.
K.J. Choi: He’s made seven cuts in a row dating back to last summer but it’s his spotless 14-from-14 streak here that gets my attention. His last 10 starts, all in a row, have yielded four top 12s and nothing worse than T33. I might have him a tad overrated (nothing better than T22 in those seven starts) but the course history speaks for itself.
Vaughn Taylor: Shhhhhhhhhhh. I had him in the preview last week and he hit the top 10. He’s played four times this season on two tours and his worst finish is T20. Shhhhhhhh.
Shawn Stefani: He’s racked up T15 and T30 in his last two with a 74 and a 75 respectively. He’s fourth in the all-around ranking and 11th in ball-striking. He hasn’t played enough to get a steady read on him but his game should fit here nicely like it did at Congressional, another tough track. It’s his first go around so don’t get silly but pay attention.
Zac Blair: Ok, rookies just don’t fire around here but I’m not going to dismiss anyone with T6 and T11 in his last four. Sure he MC at Phoenix and Pebble but he was T6 at Waialae and T11 at Torrey, the two hardest courses. His worst round this year is 72.
Bernd Wiesberger: I’m going to type SLOWLY so you can keep up: T6, third, T4 and second in his last four. He’s No. 37 in the OWGR and just because YOU haven’t heard of him doesn’t mean he can’t play. You might remember him after his 65 in round three at Valhalla at the PGA; you probably forgot about him after his 74 Sunday dropped him to T15. First appearance in LA.
Rory Sabbatini: He MC for the first time in seven last week but did so on four-under so it’s not like he blew up. He’s a bit of all-or-nothing at Riviera which includes a win and two top 10s in a four year span. It also includes T76 and MC, MC, MC in his last four. There’s nothing wrong with a grizzled vet to solidify the middle of a lineup.
Brendan Steele: He’s made 14 of his last 15 dating back to back-to-back T5s late last June so the form is there. It’s even better that he’s trending in the proper direction at the Riv with MC, T69, T46 and T10 last year. I’m hiding him down here because some of the bastards in my weekly league read this. I’m hoping I’ve bored them to death by now…
Pat Perez: Need a cut made? Here’s your guy. He’s 11 from 13 and coming off T4 last week. I learned that his 19-over on three rounds at Torrey South didn’t bother him a bit. Let’s hope the high finish and winning the Pro-Am doesn’t affect him the opposite way!
Alex Prugh: He’s put only two rounds of 26 on the season over 72 and has finished T5 and T10 the last two weeks. Hot golf is hot golf. He had similar run during the California swing in 2010.
John Peterson: He’s eight-for-eight this season and was right in the mix on Sunday his last time out at Torrey before a 76 knocked him to T27. Guys who make cuts have value in multiple formats. Ding. Ding.
Scott Stallings: He was P2 at Torrey his last time out and has shown he likes golf in this part of the world. He opened here with 67 last year before fading with a troika of 72s (T45) in his only start. He’s been known to get hot in bunches.
Brendon Todd: Crept back onto the radar with 68-65 finish last week to hit the top 10 at Pebble, including no bogeys on his final 41 holes of the week.
Andres Gonzales: He bounced back from his MC at Humana with T27 at Torrey playing from the final group on Sunday. His closing 77 in San Diego didn’t thwart his confidence as he picked up T10 last week at Pebble Beach. Being a first-timer at Riviera isn’t optimum but he should be flying high.
Horses for Courses
Keegan Bradley: He’s in this category because he’s begun 2015 T48, T17 and T41 so current form isn’t where he’s hot. After MC in his first event here, he’s peeled off 11 of 12 rounds par or better in his last four. He lost a three-man playoff in 2012, T16 in 2013 and T20 last year. I’m still in shock that he hasn’t won since 2013.
Charlie Beljan: Ah, the “course form meets current form” weekly argument rears its head again. The Waffle was solo third last week after MC-T66-MC to open 2015 so I’m optimistic that a return to Riviera will keep the fire burning. He lost in a playoff to Merrick here in 2013 and was T12 last year after he closed with 73. That’s his only round of eight lifetime over par here.
Sang-Moon Bae: The third round has been his kryptonite in his two visits. He was nine-under in 2013 before firing 76; he was nine-under last year before 72 stymied his chance for a victory.
Cameron Tringale: Gamers were drooling after his T2 to open last year’s Playoffs but he hasn’t fired in the 10 events following. He also rekindled that fire by winning the Franklin-Templeton Shark Shootout with Jason Day as he holed every putt in sight. 2015 didn’t start as planned either with T30, MC and T69 in three events. This SHOULD be the course that gets him back on track as the SoCal native has made all four weekends in his four starts. With finishes of T21-T24-T21-T12 and only two rounds of 16 over par he should be lurking around the top 25 this week again.
Brian Harman: He’s carded six of eight rounds here under par including all four last year of 69 or better to finish T3. He spiked that last year on the back of T32, T82, MC and MC so he found something in LA. This year he’s four from his last four and the sky is the limit. I’m a bigger fan in salary games because he plays a ton and I have nothing to worry about.
George McNeill: Nothing inside of T30 either in three events in 2015 or his last three events of 2014 but the Floridian seems to like it in LA. He’s four from his last four and two of those have gone for T5 and T6 last year. He began Sunday last year two shots out of the lead before a final round 71 cooled him off.
Bryce Molder: Those of you who stretched on course form vs recent form last week were rewarded, to a degree, as Molder put four rounds at 70 or better to finish T34. In his last three at Riviera he’s posted T17, T21 and T10 last year with all four rounds in the 60s. His accuracy off the tee seems to work around here.
William McGirt: The 54-hole leader here last year fired 73 on Sunday and watched the Watson freight train roll him over. He was 12-under through three rounds after MC in his previous trips around Riviera. He was T30 in Phoenix and closed 66-68 last week at Pebble.
Off the Radar
Outside of the OWGR top 100; AKA “long shots”
Sueng-yul Noh: He was T16 in his only start here in 2013 with all four rounds par or better. Nothing better than T46 if four, full-field events in 2015; No. 103
Kyle Reifers: Checking in at No. 412, Reifers is a solid driver of the golf ball and ranks No. 15 in GIR. He MC three weeks in a row before T21 last week at Pebble but only has one round in 2015 over 72. First-timer.
Blayne Barber: He tied with Justin Thomas (T7) in 2012 NCAA Championships so at least he’s played the course under competitive conditions. He shot 69-74-70 but with nothing better than T48 in four events this year, he’s a long-shot at best. No. 208.
Michael Putnam: Three of his last four starts have fallen inside of the top 30 (one MC). He played collegiately at Pepperdine and has made two cuts here. Not bad for No. 221.
James Hahn: He’s made five cuts in a row in 2015 and three of them have been inside the top 30. He was T61 in his maiden two years ago and T29 last year. He’s No. 297.
Out to Sea
Hunter Mahan: When I can’t figure ‘em out, I run. It might not be the best strategy but Mahan’s value in all games is elevated and one top 10 in nine starts doesn’t excite me.
Charles Howell III: There’s a few of you that have accused me of picking on CH3 but I’m just following the numbers. Since his win here in 2007 he’s played seven events in a row. In that time he’s MC four times, including the last three years and four out of five and put TWO rounds in the 60s. His best finish in that stretch is T55.
Andres Romero: After T3 and T5 back-to-back in 2009-10 he’s found T55-MC-T71-MC in the last four.
Scott Piercy: In five events he’s put two rounds in the 60s and one in the 80s.
Ryo Ishikawa: In six events he’s put two rounds in the 60s and three under par.
Chris Stroud: In five starts he has four MCs and a WD. TTYL.
Rookie/Up-and-Comer of the Week Last Week
Once called the “Jordan Spieth” of the week, I had to retire that name after his last two seasons on TOUR. Now, we’ll keep a broad view of newer names/faces that gamers should pay attention to as the season moves on. Some former examples in this column include Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Reed and Chesson Hadley.
Shriners: Tony Finau, T7s
McGladrey: Robert Streb, WIN
CIMB: Cameron Smith, T5
HTOC: Nick Taylor played his sixth event as a pro. He’s won 1/6 of the events he’s entered. That’s worth keeping an eye on for the foreseeable future.
WMPO: Koepka won so he graduates from this column like Reed, Spieth and Matsuyama before him. Justin Thomas is now the current mayor. Daniel Berger was T10, Thomas T17 and Finau returned with another top 25.
Coming Later TUESDAY Afternoon
Playing the Tips will be up and running this and every Tuesday 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 around 4ET every Tuesday for the rest of the season.
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 NTO and 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.