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Northern Trust Open Preview
by Matt Fargo - 02/12/2014
After four straight runner-ups to open our golf season, we were finally able to break through with a win last week at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am. It wasn't easy as we expected it to be though as Jimmy Walker was able to hold on for a one shot win after coming into Sunday with a six-shot lead. It was his third win career win on tour and all three of those wins have come over his last eight starts. He followed up his last win at the Sony with a missed cut at the Farmers.
The tour stays in California for the Northern Trust Open from famed Riviera Country Club. 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. It 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). Known for a strong field annually, the event will not disappoint again this year.
Because it is early and with the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championships next week, the Northern Trust Open gets the big names to start their tuneup whether it be just to jumpstart the season or to prepare for next week. It is no walk in the park though. Three years ago, Riviera was ranked as the hardest par 71 of the non-Majors and two years ago it was ranked as the second hardest, with players posting a 72.62 scoring average. Last year it ranked fourth hardest with a 71.85 scoring average.
Creative shot making is important at Riviera as it is not a bombers paradise. Equally important is experience and course knowledge. While John Merrick picked up his first PGA Tour win last year, the Northern Trust Open had not produced a first-time winner since 2002. It was not his first start at Riviera though as he was making his sixth career start here. Basically, we can throw rookies and first timers out of the mix to go with experienced players and ones that like the track.
The favorite is Dustin Johnson (+1,200) but we aren't sure which Johnson shows up. It has been feast or famine here in his six starts at Riviera as starting last year, he has gone Cut, T4, Cut, T3, T10, T59. He is coming off a T2 last week at the AT&T which followed up a T6 in his only other 2014 start. He opened the season in the fall with a win at the WGC-HSBC Champions in November.
We used Hunter Mahan (+2,000) last week and while he was around the whole week, he had some swing issues Sunday but we will grab him again this week. He ended up finishing sixth at Pebble Beach which came after a T4 in Phoenix. This has not been his best event but he does own three top 25's including a career best T8 last year. He hasn't won since April 2012 and he is too good to go this long without a win.
Bill Haas (+2,200) could be flying under the radar here as he has not made a lot of noise yet this year but that is what presents us with value. His last two finishes have been a T43 and a T34 so he doesn't come in hot but he did have a T6 at the Humana Challenge three starts back. He won this event in 2012 which was sandwiched in-between a T3 last year and a T12 in 2011.
Jason Dufner (+3,500) is getting exceptional odds. He is ranked 16th in the world yet there are player ranked much lower that are favored more. Granted he has not had a lot of success here as his best finish is a T29 but he has experience as he has played in the event four times and that experience can go a long way considering he is a much better player now. He finished solo fifth at the Hyundai Tournament of champions.
Charles Howell III (+5,000) has been a letdown for us early in the season as he has been unable to get the job done but has still played very well. He is coming off a T6 at the Waste Management which was his sixth top ten since the fall season began. He has been consistently good and he has a lot of experience here. While his best finish here since 2008 is a T55, he won this event in 2007, his last tour victory.
For a longshot we will go with K.J. Choi (+6,000). He has not been on top of his game for a while now but this is a place he loves. He has never missed a cut at Riviera in 13 starts and while his last two finishes have been a T33 and T24, he does own four top sevens including a T3 in 2009. He comes in off a missed cut at the AT&T but he did have a T2 at the Sony so he is definitely capable.
Recommended Tournament Win Five Pack at the Northern Trust Open - All for 1 Unit
Hunter Mahan (+2,000)
Bill Haas (+2,200)
Jason Dufner (+3,500)
Charles Howell III (+5,000)
K.J. Choi (+6,000)
2014 Record to date after 5 events: +2 Units
Sony Open in Hawaii -5 Units
Humana Challenge -5 Units
Farmers Insurance Open -5 Units
Waste Management Phoenix Open -5 Units
AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am +22 Units