Can “thrilling finish” and “Vaughn Taylor” be synonymous? Last weekend at Pebble Beach, that was the case. With Phil Mickelson in full pursuit down the stretch, we all got more than we probably bargained for. Entertainment in its fullest form. If you didn’t watch, you should read about it.
Or go watch the recap on the PGA Tour’s YouTube page.
Anyways, onto Riviera, the Pacific Palisades and the Northern Trust Open.
Remember, there was a time where John Merrick was the winner of this event, a player not to be confused with Joseph Merrick.
Last Year’s NTO Top-10 (Top 19 included)
Full 2016 Field at the Northern Trust
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.
— Timothy Frank (@FantasyGolfMan) February 15, 2016
Last Week’s 2016 AT&T Pebble Picks
Brandt Snedeker (Contender) T35
J.B. Holmes (Contender) T11
Dustin Johnson (Contender) T41
Jon Curran (Sleeper) MC
Pat Perez (Sleeper) T41
Chesson Hadley (Sleeper) MC
Kevin Na (Winner) MC
Well, only one top-15 finisher and none inside the top-10. My winner (Na) was a dud after starting his round with three consecutive birdies on his opening round Thursday. I thought I had something with him, but the week ended up being a bit of a disaster the rest of the way home.
Dustin Johnson made a slew of doubles and a triple, yet still managed a T41 finish. Dude is talent.
Sleeper picks were duds, too.
Overall, this week was a bust. A total box office bust.
Past 5 Winners at the NTO
- 2015: James Hahn
- 2014: Bubba Watson
- 2013: John Merrick
- 2012: Bill Haas
- 2011: Aaron Baddeley
Course Overview: Riviera CC
Years of celebrity matches, Los Angeles weather and PGA Tour contested events have led to the lore of Riviera. One of Ben Hogan’s homes on Tour, Riviera’s storied history and difficult test of golf leaves it revered among Tour players each year. It’s was Tiger’s first career PGA Tour event. Curious that Rory is making his first career stop here in 2016, some 10 years older than Tiger was in his first visit.
Riviera features one of the most iconic par-4s in all of golf, the par-4 10th. A drivable par-4 with a devilish green, it’s a conversation piece all week.
The first tee shot is another memorable one for Tour players, launching a tee shot off the hill and into the California valley. An easy starting hole, the first provides golfers with a great chance for birdie.
Now you tell me, is there a course with an easier starting hole that’s as difficult as Riviera? I’m not so sure.
This Week’s Picks
Five from the Fairway (Contenders)
1. KJ Choi
My number one contender this week (aside from my winner I’ll select further down), is KJ Choi. He’s a pick that could virtually qualify as a sleeper, as he hadn’t finished in the top-10 in all of 2015. But Choi’s past status here, style of play, and current form make him a player I see a lot of people looking to this week.
Choi has played in this event pretty much every year of his career. There aren’t going to be many players who know the course this week as well as the methodical Korean.
In the past 10 years, Choi’s worst finish here has been a 33rd place finish in 2013. He’s had 3 top-10s in the past 10 years and had another T5 in 2003.
He finished in second place a few weeks ago coming down the stretch at the Farmers Insurance Open, ultimately being taken by the weather. At 45 years of age, he seems to be recapturing some of his game. Statistically so far this year, he’s 27th in driving accuracy and 9th in scrambling.
I like Choi this week for some solid play.
If you can think of a player with a better mindset/approach to golf than KJ Choi, then I call you a liar. pic.twitter.com/CDA7ATEljv
— Troy Klongerbo (@troyklongerbo) February 1, 2016
2. Bill Haas
So odd, Bill Haas’ play sometimes. He goes from being one of those “winners,” picking off Tour wins at a faster pace than Tour stars Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, and Sergio Garcia (someone fact check that), to becoming fairly irrelevant for stretches–that is, with missed cuts.
In a four year stretch at Riviera from 2011-2014, Haas finished inside the top-25 each year, tallying a win in 2012 and a 3rd in 2013. Last year though, he was an MC, just as he was here in 2011 and 2010.
He’s compiled a good start to his season, playing his way to a nice top-10 last week and a top-10 three weeks ago, but he sprinkled in another MC in between. He’s third in driving accuracy thus far in 2016 and I see that benefitting him this week.
A good finish for Haas is what I’ll expect.
3. Harris English
After an impressive 25-year old campaign in 2014 with 7 top-10 finishes and a win, English seemed poised to be a rising star on the Tour.
Not that he’s played bad since, he just hasn’t had the level of high finishes perhaps some were expecting. He found himself in a playoff at the 2015 Farmers after winning events in both 2013 and 2014. He makes A LOT of cuts, but he has yet to become a consistent fixture in contention week-in-week-out.
English was a top-10 finisher here in 2014 and has a game which seems to be in good form, including a Sunday 66 at the Waste Management where he finished 3rd.
Top-25 in strokes gained total so far in the 2015-2016 season.
English for some contention this week. A top-10.
More Contenders to Consider
- J.B Holmes
- Dustin Johnson
- Paul Casey
- Hideki Matsuyama, obviously
One from the Rough (Sleepers)
Bryce Molder, baby. The Georgia Tech kid. He’s my sleeper pick this week to rip Riviera down to its knees!
Well, perhaps that’s a bit audacious of me. He won’t bring Riviera to its knees, but the selection of Molder this week is an audacious one. I see a sneaky week coming down the pipeline for the 37-year old.
Ranked 186th in the world, Molder isn’t a player you’d expect to be playing good golf. In fact, last week at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, he didn’t play well. But before that, he’d fired a Saturday 64 at the Waste Management Open en route to a T6 finish.
His putting seems to be the key. Two weeks ago at the WMPO, he was +1.173 in stokes gained putting. He sandwiched that performance with -1.610 and -2.422 at Pebble and Torrey.
Riviera is not known for the most pure putting surfaces, but it hasn’t seemed to deter Molder in the past here. He’s made the cut here in four straight years and had a three year stretch with T17 or better, including a 6th place finish.
I like Molder for a sneaky, sneaky top-10 this week.
The Man With the Trophy
A curious selection, you may think? I would agree. In a field filled with stars in Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama, Sergio Garcia and Bubba Watson, you may wonder how Luke Donald earned his way into my winners slot this week.
After all, the former world number one has dropped all the way down to 87th in the world rankings. In his past 5 showings here, he’s missed two cuts and DNP once.
But during the days when he was playing his best golf, this stop outside of LA was a nice little check-cashing haven for the Donalds. In 2008, 2009, and 2010, Donald finished no worse than 6th.
So why Donald, you ask? Because Donald Trump, of course!
No, no. Honestly, it’s a feeling more than anything.
Luke Donald was quietly putting together a great week at Pebble, on his way to a top-10 finish (which would have been his first since the Travelers last July), before a bogey at 17 and a double bogey at the finishing hole bumped him down to a T26. A disappointing ending, but I feel motivation heading into a week where he’s had loads of success.
His combination of driving distance, driving accuracy and greens in regulation thus far in 2015-2016 is nothing short of dismal, but last week the numbers were okay. They seemed to be improving. He putted well too, gained +.805 with the flat stick.
I think maybe I’m just cheering for Luke this week. To get his game back and find contention again. I have a feeling that his week, is this week.
He’ll channel the success from the past for a triumphant run up the leaderboard. Luke Donald, for the win!
Not to mention, he gave us a great laugh with this series of tweets after Vaughn Taylor’s win.