http://gty.im/463964500 This week I am looking at the PGA Tour which stops in Los Angeles this week, more specifically Pacific Palisades and Riviera Country Club for the Northern Trust Open.
The Course and Key Stats:
Riviera Country Club is a 7,322 yard, par 71 and poses one of the most difficult challenges on the PGA Tour calendar each year. Of 52 venues last year, Riviera ranked #5 in terms of most difficult and players will have to be at the top of their game to compete here. To summarise how tough this course is, it is the only course Tiger Woods has played at least five times and failed to win. Tiger had 11 attempts around here and failed to win once, and has not played it for 10 years..
Play on the par 4’s will be incredibly important this week, as 6/11 par 4’s are 450+ yards and these played nearer 500 yards last year due to dampness. We are not expecting bad weather this year, but good play on par 4’s over the course of the season is a good indicator of a players suitability here, plus the obvious good standings in Greens in Regulation.
Last year the field (144 players) averaged just 9.25 GIR Per Round, which equates to 51.38%. It was of course harder last year due to the weather, as aforementioned, however it wasn’t just tough, it was indeed the toughest par 71 track of the 2014-15 season, with a scoring average of 72.592.
James Hahn who won the event last year ranked inside the top-25 for both fairways and greens hit, however ranked 50th in strokes-gained: putting. It is your play with the irons that are going to count this week, and Hahn also ranked 1st in par-4 scoring on the week, with an average score of 3.93.
The drivable 10th hole is the perfect risk-reward hole, and players will have to be careful as it regularly averages over par so it’s not to be taken lightly and you should definitely not assume it is a birdie hole, even for the longer hitters.
With a strong field this week, there is some generous prices on offer, you just need to decide if you expect a surprise winner like the likes of Hahn, John Merrick and Aaron Baddeley who make up three of the last five winners, or whether you expect an elite player to win.
The top of the betting is made up of six of the World’s top-12 players, as World No.1 Jordan Spieth heads the market at 13/2, closely followed by World No.3 Rory McIlroy who is 7/1 and these two distance themselves from the next four of Dustin Johnson (#8) and Hideki Matsuyama (#12) who are 18/1, Justin Rose (#7) who is 20/1 and World No.6 and 2014 Northern Trust Open winner, Bubba Watson who comes in at 25/1.
So it is a strong field, which means it is going to be more challenging than ever to win at this tricky course, which is why you can get some fancy prices this week.
There a mixed bag of previous winners, however a nice stat from @FantasyGolfMan (a very worthy follow in Twitter!!!) suggests a very strong link between Augusta and Riviera. “Since 1980, 8 players have won at both Riviera and Augusta. An additional 8 players have won at Riviera and been a runner-up at Augusta.”
Those eight players that have won both here and at Augusta are in that time are, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Mike Weir, Fred Couples, Nick Faldo, Craig Stadler and Tom Watson. Runners up at Augusta that have won here include both Ernie Els and Mark Calcavecchia who have both won the majors championships elsewhere.
Even those players who may have been highlighted as “surprising winners” have performed well at Augusta. Merrick finished 9th at Augusta in 2009, but his win here in 2013 was his lone win on Tour. Another surprise winner here that has performed well at Augusta is, Len Mattiace who only won twice on Tour, both in 2002, but finished 2nd at Augusta in 2003 (his 2nd of three starts there).
Dustin Johnson and Charl Schwartzel are both players who have played both well here and at Augusta, with the latter winning the Green Jacket in 2011, and the latter looks reasonable at 30/1.
Schwartzel beat up another weak field in South Africa last week, winning by eight shots and he brings great form into an event that he’s finished 41st, 5th and 3rd in his three starts here.
There is a definite link and whilst I wouldn’t put you off backing someone who has no history at Augusta it would be definitely be something you should consider.
With all that said, here are my picks for the 2016 Northern Trust Open.
Bill Haas 35/1 (BetVictor) 33/1 (SkyBet 6 places, PaddyPower 7 places 1/5 odds) 1.5pts e/w: Haas finished T8 last week at Pebble Beach and that is a big factor in me picking him this week.
Pebble Beach is an event he usually steers clear of, before this year he hadn’t played it since his debut season on the PGA Tour in 2006, when he missed the cut, so it is interesting he decided to play there this year.
The fact he returned there after a 10-year absence this season and finished inside the top-10 can only be seen as a bonus in my opinion.
He is arriving in form at a course he has a clear affinity with and for this reason, I think he’s the perfect player to take on those at the head of the betting at 35/1.
In 10 appearances in this event, he is 7/10 for cuts made, and has a win (2012), a 3rd-place finish (2013) and an 12th (2011).
He did miss the cut here last year, but I am happy to ignore that and focus on the positives.
The 6-time PGA Tour winner is in good form at present, (3 top-10s in last 6 events) and as a previous winner here, he should be full of confidence heading into the week ahead.
It is also well-known he loves California, with three wins and a play-off loss there since 2010, so at 35/1 he looks good value to me.
Keegan Bradley 66/1 (General) 1pt e/w: Bradley is now without a win on Tour since 2012, when he won the WGC – Bridgestone Invitational, and that same year he lost in a play-off in this very event, to none other than Bill Haas (obviously going for a throwback here this week).
Bradley didn’t have the best of seasons last year, and much was made about the fact he will have to change his putter/putting stroke, due to the anchoring ban and many expected him to struggle.
He has made a so-so start to the new season, finishing T8 at the OHL Classic and T24 at his last start at the Phoenix Open, however he has also finished just T47 at the CIMB Classic and then missed his other three cuts, which is why you can get 66/1 about him this week.
This price could look more than generous at the end of the week though as this is a course he consistently performs at. In his five starts here, he is 4/5 in cuts made, making his last four straight and when he has made the weekend has finished inside the top-20 all four times.
His best finish came in 2012, as aforementioned he lost out in a play-off to Bill Haas, as did Phil Mickelson. That was his second start here, and since then he has finished 16th, 20th and most recently 4th in 2014.
Leading up to that 4th place finish last year he had finished 41st, 17th and 48th in his three most recent events, whereas this year he has finished MC, MC, 24th. I don’t think he needs to be in a rich vein of form to play well at a course he clearly loves, and coming off the back of that 24th in Phoenix might just be enough for him.
In an event where putting does not seem to be a top factor, Bradley can shine and at the price I am willing to take a chance.
Matt Jones 80/1 (General) 1pt e/w: The Australian picked up his first win on the PGA Tour back in 2014, and followed that up with another win back at the tail-end of last year, albeit on the PGA Tour of Australasia, when he impressively held off the challenges of both Jordan Spieth and home favourite, Adam Scott to win the Emirates Australian Open back in November despite shooting a final round 73.
With that win in November, plus his win at the Shell Houston Open in 2014 when he got the better of Matt Kuchar in a play-off, I have no doubt that Jones can win and at 80/1 I am happy to chance that he adds a second PGA Tour title to his résumé this week.
His form at this course is progressive and very clearly trending in the right direction after a shaky start back in 2011 when he finished 70th.
He fared slightly better in 2014, finishing 59th, but it was last year he clearly got to grips with the course, finishing 14th. Couple this result last year with his 11th place finish at Pebble Beach last week, and to me you have what looks like a solid pick given the odds.
He was in solid, if unspectacular form leading up to last week, finishing 34th, 31st and 60th in the three weeks prior, but he’s clearly playing well enough to navigate a course he showed a liking to last time out.
Jones will be keen to make it three professional wins in as many years, and also win for a second time on the big tour.
Patrick Rodgers 125/1 (BetVictor, Coral and WilliamHill) 0.5pt e/w: Rodgers is a class act, which he has proved so far in his limited amount of starts on the PGA Tour as a professional
In 31 starts as a pro, he has two top-5 finishes (T2 at Wells Fargo and 3rd at Barracuda in 2015) alongside three top-10s and a further three top-20s all of which came this season. So far this season he has only been outside the top-20 once when making the weekend (T44 at the RSM Classic) and missed just one cut (Farmers Insurance at Torrey Pines) so his game is definitely in great shape.
This is a deep field, and he is making his debut at the course, but for someone who is playing so well and finished T17 on their last start, he certainly sticks out at triple-figure odds.
He currently ranks 5th in Strokes-Gained: tee to green, 9th in Greens in Regulation and 25th in Total Driving so he is striking the ball tremendously well. He also ranks 22nd in par-4 scoring average and that should serve him well here.
Of course these stats are only over a short period of time, as they are the 2016 stats and we are still early in the season, but considering this is the present state of his game it certainly bodes well.
His short game will need to improve as he currently ranks a lowly 145th in Scrambling which is probably more alarming than the fact he ranks 107th in strokes-gained: putting, and 101st in Total Putting as Scrambling is considered more important than putting here.
Considering the good finishes he has had this season, it will only take a small improvement on those areas to really contend and hopefully he worked on them on his week off, after skipping Pebble Beach last week. He ranked 53rd in Putting Average in Phoenix two weeks ago, so hopefully he is trending in the right direction.
At 125/1 I am happy to chance that Rodgers can follow in the footsteps of the likes of Hahn and Merrick in recent years and get his first PGA Tour victory at this event. He has all the attributes to be a fine player and it shouldn’t be too long before he is celebrating his first win on the main TOUR.
Total Points staked this week: 8
Profit/Loss for 2016: +3