Northern Trust Open Preview & Picks

The first tournament that I’ll be making picks for the 2016 season and I’m hoping to build off a successful year last season. I didn’t track things as well as I should have so I’ll do a better job this year. I’m judging my picks on both where they finish and total money winnings.

Riviera Country Club

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Riviera is one of the toughest courses that the PGA Tour visits each year. The scores were quite low until 2012 (changes were made) and the current situation will make the scores a little higher than usual. The course plays around 7,300 and is a par-71 (three par-5’s). The primary reason the course is difficult (besides the obvious reasons like the rough, set-up, etc. and distance) is the absence of a fourth par-5. PGA players typically are going to make a birdie on a par 5 (all three holes averaged under-par last year). The players don’t get to have that extra scoring hole at Riviera.

Levi’s Picks

I’ll pick three players who are in the current OWGR Top 20 and two (occasionally more) players who are ranked outside that number.

The field is really strong this week, but I’ll go with Rory McIlroy (#3), Dustin Johnson (#8), Hideki Matsuyama (#12), Charl Schwartzel (#31), and Danny Lee (#34).

I like McIlroy this week and I’m aware he’s never played the course before. He’s played in two tournaments so far (finishing no worse than T-6th) and should be motivated to take back his crown as the game’s best player. McIlroy lost (shockingly) a lot of ground in the eyes of many fans last season due to an injury and a great season by Jordan Spieth (and Jason Day). I’m also not concerned about his workout habits and I think Brandel Chamblee (who had one PGA Tour win in his career) needs to chill out with the criticism.

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Dustin Johnson has finished 2nd the last two seasons. He’s got tremendous length and his ability to carry the ball such ridiculous lengths (probably a better indicator of who hits the ball the furthest than total yardage) means he’s a safe choice on a tough course. The layout is fairly long and the course can play a little too soft. Johnson didn’t play well last week, however, he’s going to play a familiar course this week. Matsuyama finished T-4th last season and won the Phoenix Open.

Schwartzel has a great swing and in his last four tournaments (dating back to last season) he’s won twice. Danny Lee was a decorated amateur and in 2008 he won the Western Amateur and the U.S. Amateur (18 years and 1 months of age). It took him some time to become established on the PGA Tour, but he won the Greenbrier Classic last season and has played well since.  Lee is accurate with his driver and should be in a good position despite being one of the shorter hitters on the PGA Tour.

The Winner: Dustin Johnson

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I think Johnson will (finally) get the win after consecutive 2nd place finishes. He should be able to use his length to put himself in manageable situations on each hole. I think he’ll be successful regardless of whether the course plays soft or hard. I am sure many people will pick Jordan Spieth, however, I am still apprehensive about the fatigue he expressed due to his hectic travel schedule recently. Johnson seems like the safer choice based on his prior performances in this tournament.

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