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Northern Trust Open Preview and Picks
by Matt Fargo - 02/14/2012
The PGA Tour continues with the California swing as it stops at Riviera Country Club for the Northern Trust Open. Formerly known as the Nissan Open, this event usually brings in a solid field and that is the case again this year. This is one of the oldest stops on tour as the event goes back to 1940 and Riviera has been the lone host since 1999. With the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championships next week, this is a tune up for a lot of the big names in the field.
Riviera Country Club has long been known within golfing circles as "Hogan's Alley" after the legendary Ben Hogan won three times here in a span of 18 months (two L.A. Opens and the U.S. Open sandwiched between). This is the 50th time Riviera has hosted this event so there is some added splendor. The layout will be around 7,300 yards and last year it played as the toughest Par 71 course of all non-Majors. Course management is still the most important factor and knowledge of the track is almost mandatory.
The top five in the current FedEx standings are in the field as well as 31 of the top 50 of the Official World Golf Rankings including four of the top 10. We also have nine past champions and a very stellar 14 Majors winners in the field. Fan favorites include Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Fred Couples while making debuts this week are Luke Donald, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia. Overall this is one of the deepest fields we have seen so far this season and it comes at the best possible time.
Phil Mickelson (+1,200) is coming off his first win of the season last week at Pebble Beach and comes in as the favorite this week. He heads to Riviera with a solid track record as he won here in 2008 and 2009 while finishing second five years ago but last year finished a disappointing T35. The short price offers little value and winning consecutive weeks on tour is difficult.
Luke Donald (+1,500) is making his PGA Tour debut and the OWGR leader should be pretty motivated. After posting three straight top six finishes at Riviera, the missed the cut last year and that was his only missed cut besides The Open Championship. His last event in the United States was last October as he won the Children's Miracle Network Classic which sewed up POY honors.
Dustin Johnson (+2,000) was in the hunt at Pebble Beach once again and was looking great after an opening round 63 but he could not make a move after that. He finished T5 but it was encouraging after a rough start to the year. He missed the cut here last year but that was after a T55 at Pebble so he was not in good form at the time. Prior to that he finished T3 in 2010 and T10 in 2009 at Riviera.
Jason Day (+2,500) is also making his 2012 PGA Tour debut this week but that doesn't mean he will be showing any rust. He is coming off a T2 at the Qater Masters two weeks ago which followed up a missed cut in Abu Dhabi the previous week. That momentum should carry forward as he has missed the cut in his two starts at Riviera but at least now he is more familiar with the layout.
Aaron Baddeley (+3,000) was also on our list last week and after opening Sunday with four birdies through six holes, back-to-back bogeys on seven and eight killed his chances. He still finished solo fourth and he brings that momentum to Riviera where he is the defending Northern Trust Open Champion. That came after a T6 at Pebble so it could be a similar story. He has never missed the cut in this event.
Similar to what Kyle Stanley did two weeks ago, Spencer Levin (+5,000) rebounded after his epic meltdown. He did not win like Stanley did but he finished T9 at Pebble Beach that included three sub-70 rounds. Last year he finished T4 at the AT&T National Pro Am and followed that up with a T12 at Riviera which was his first start here. This would be a great stage for his first PGA Tour win.
This week's longshot will be with Retief Goosen (+6,000). His stock has dropped considerably and it is hard to believe it has been eight years since his last U.S. Open victory. He last won in 2009 and posted only one top ten last year but he has a solo second and a solo third in two of his European starts this year. After skipping the Northern Trust two years ago, his finished T12 here last year.
Recommended Tournament Win Five Pack at the Northern Trust Open (all for One Unit)
Dustin Johnson (+2,000)
Jason Day (+2,500)
Aaron Baddeley (+3,000)
Spencer Levin (+5,000)
Retief Goosen (+6,000)
Record to date after five events: +1 Unit
Sony Open -5 Units
Humana Challenge -6 Units
Farmers Insurance Open +22 Units
Waste Management Phoenix Open -5 Units
AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am -5 Units