Certain tournaments and courses throughout the PGA TOUR schedule tend to strike a little deeper nerve among golf fans. It’s a combination of history, familiarity, nostalgia, and other factors. Riviera Country Club, and thus the Northern Trust Open, certainly qualifies. Here is a preview to get us off and running.
During the four days at Riviera CC, you’ll hear terms like “Hogan’s Alley” and “barranca” on multiple occasions. You will see the par-4 10th hole referred to as the best short par 4 in golf. All of this coming with the backdrop of downtown Los Angeles as the setting.
Riviera CC is a par-71 layout that stretches out to 7,322. It features three par 5s, four difficult par 3s and 11 par 4s. We’ve already mentioned that the par-4 10th is extremely short, but many of the others are quite long. Also worth a mention are the par 5s. The par-5 first hole is reachable by everyone in the field, with many guys taking 3-wood off the tee and still finding the green with an iron. The par-5 17th is basically unreachable, and the par-5 11th requires a very long and accurate drive to make it home in two.
Breaking it Down
James Hahn was the playoff winner in 2015 and returns to defend his title this week. While Riviera CC historically rewards high-class players, there are a few other instances of late that have seen that theory challenged. John Merrick in 2013 is another such example.
More than most tournaments and courses, Riviera really tests a player’s overall game. The premium is probably on ball-striking overall, but with greens that are difficult to find in regulation there is a real element of short game as well. As is the case on all poa annua putting surfaces, there are very few gimmies on the greens.
Shot shape is also important, as most of the tee shots require something other than a straight ball. A player that can work it both ways with accuracy and put it out there 310 every time should do well. If only it were that simple!
Length is rewarded, as long as there is a relative amount of accuracy, for several reasons. In regards to the par-5 11th and par-5 17th, it allows a player the option to consider going for the green in two. That will not be in play for a large number of players. Also, with putting surfaces hard to find in regulation, length on par 4s allows for shorter clubs on approach.
So, here’s the recap. Hit it far. Hit the fairway without hitting straight balls. Don’t miss the greens, even though they are tough to hit. If the green is missed, scramble. Oh, and hit it close because it’s hard to hole putts out there. Easy enough? Cool!
1. Jordan Spieth – After making the 54-hole cut on the number last week at Pebble Beach, he went low in the finale to squeak out a top 25. Very trendy in this event, improving from a missed cut in his first try to a T12 and a T4.
2. Hideki Matsuyama – Met lofty expectations by winning the WMPO two weeks ago and turns his attention to Riviera for the third time in his career. He followed up a T23 on his maiden voyage around Hogan’s Alley with a T4 last year. If the putter cooperates, he has the rest of the game to be a huge factor this week.
3. Rory McIlroy – First trip to the NTO for McIlroy, but this is a course that could play right into his hands. Rory is one of the few players that can win a tournament with his driver, and if his driver is on this week it will be a difference maker. Enters off a T3 in Abu Dhabi and a T6 in Dubai.
4. Dustin Johnson – Pebble Beach has not been as kind to DJ of late, including this season, but that hasn’t stopped him from quickly turning the page to the tune of back-to-back runner-up finishes at Riviera. The stats and current form gave way to his excellent course history in this ranking.
5. J.B. Holmes – Last three PGA TOUR starts went T6-T6-T11 and he’s made eight of his nine cuts with four top 10s and six top 25s in the NTO. Green light special.
6. Charl Schwartzel – Fell in love with Riviera from the word go, with a tie for third and a solo fifth in his first two visits. Stumbled a bit with a T41 last year, but enters off a win in the Tshwane Open last week. Expect him to be a popular one-and-done selection.
7. Sergio Garcia – Made eight of his nine cuts, with three top-six finishes and seven top 25s in the NTO. This is only his second start in 2016, with a T6 in Qatar our only other glimpse of the Spaniard.
8. Jimmy Walker – This is his last chance to bag a win on the West Coast Swing, as we’ve all grown to expect. He’s twice tied for fourth in this event and is posting solid returns every week. He’s just not converting.
9. Bill Haas – Past champion, who also holds a T3, enters the week with top 10s in two of his last three starts on TOUR. Currently sits ninth in par 4 scoring average, which should play in his favor.
10. Paul Casey – His missed cut at Torrey Pines is a mild concern, but a playoff loss here last year should bring back plenty of good memories. On the three (of four) occasions where he’s made the cut, all have been top 25s.
11. Bubba Watson – Has yet to get his game clicking on all cylinders early in 2016, but the good news is that he was the winner here in 2014. The bad news is that’s his only top 10 in eight tries to go with three missed cuts. Given his average form, it’s hard to hope for anything better than a top 25.
12. Justin Rose – Nabbed a T6 in his first ever trip to Pebble Beach last week, so should be riding a wave of momentum. The shocker is that he has just one top 10 and two top 25s in nine trips to Riviera CC despite making eight of nine cuts.
13. Adam Scott – Hard to know what to make of the Aussie. Produced an unofficial (36 hole) win in his first trip to Riviera and backed it up with a runner-up the next year. Those remain his only top 10s after six attempts. He tied for 56th at the Sony Open, and the putter will be a question mark until he proves that it isn’t.
14. Charles Howell III – CH3 paints a confusing picture for gamers this week. He is a past winner here, as well as a runner-up. His recent history is not all that appealing. He’s been very consistent in 2016, so traditional metrics would indicate him to be a good fit. It just doesn’t feel quite that simple.
15. Keegan Bradley – One of Bradley’s best courses over his career, he’s made four of his five cuts with two top-four finishes and four top 20s. Broke a string of back-to-back missed cuts with a T24 in Phoenix. He’s got to figure out a way to get the ball in the hole.
Apologies for the delay in posting this, as Playing the Tips with the Rotoworld staff picks is already up and running!
Best of luck to all!