2016 Northern Trust Open Picks, Including the Driver-Off-The-Deck BOLD Play of the Week #isitThursdayyet

There are a select few non-major tourneys that every player on the PGA Tour covets to win in their careers.  The PLAYERS Championship of course immediately springs to mind, as does the Tour Championship.  Throw in Jack and Arnie’s events and no doubt there are some premiere non-majors, highlighted by their indelible tracks. 

This week’s Northern Trust Open belongs in that top-of-the-notch mix, as its host track Riviera CC is one of the most venerable on Tour, having hosted multiple major championships and being dubbed “Hogan’s Alley,” as the Hawk Ben Hogan himself won the LA Open here three times and also took home the trophy at the 1948 U.S. Open this same track.  No doubt, history just oozes from the stunning Riviera clubhouse that sits atop the fantastically awesome natural amphitheater that surrounds the 18th green.

Riviera is a par 71 that stretches up to 7,322 yards from the tips.  Scoring averages typically range in the mid-72s per round (72.59 last year), making it one of the toughest non-major tracks that these guys play annually.  Its small poa greens are headache-city and the thick, bunchy rough swallows up golf balls like nobody’s business.  It’s a course that truly equalizes the playing field, as bombers + bashers like Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson are leveled with plodders and game-managers like Jim Furyk and Matt Kuchar.  It’s the epitome of great design and a wonderful host venue for an annual PGA Tour event.

Overall a disappointing week for my picks last week at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, although I continued my heater in the Hosel-Rocket BUST category as I spot on nailed the overrated Ian Poulter to miss the cut, which he did wildly in shooting a hilarious +10 for three rounds.

Now, let’s hop into some picks for this week:

LOCKZILLA (Last week: Dustin Johnson t-41st)

Justin Rose
Justin Rose
– Fresh off a t-6th in his Pebble Beach debut, Rosey comes in with some solid momentum this week on a course where his ball-striking prowess should really shine through.  I specifically remember last year how Rose struggled during the West Coast swing, then showed flashes of his major champion self the week before the Masters at the Shell Houston Open.  That SHO showing was ultimately derailed by a few big numbers down the stretch, but in just watching him I could tell that he was so close to putting it all together.  The very next week despite being a top 5 in the world talent, he entered the Masters with very little fanfare and finally put 4 rounds together, ultimately finishing t-2nd, then came out and won in his next start at the Zurich Classic.  That’s where I’m telling you we are at right now with Rose—the contention before the win.  Helps that we’re on a track where he has two top 15s in his past 3 appearances, including a t-9th in 2011 and a t-13th in 2012.  A podium finish is coming your way from the Englishman this week.

SEMI-FLIER (Last week: Lowry t-41st)

Bill Haas
Bill Haas
– Definitely the definition of boom or bust at the NTO, as Haas has a win, a t-3rd and two other top 25s, as well as 3 missed cuts here in his past 7 appearances.  I’m predicting more of the boom this week, as despite struggling with the putter down the stretch at Pebble on Sunday, he still managed a t-8th finish, for his second top 10 of this calendar year (t-9th at the Career Builder).  Expect another t-10th-ish finish from the 33-year-old this week.

HOSEL-ROCKET BUST (Last week: Poulter MC)

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy
– Zing!  I’ve been on a major heater in this category for the past month, most recently predicting the overrated Englishman Ian Poulter would miss the cut last week at Pebble, which he wildly did.  This week?  None other than world #3 Rory McIlroy.  Arguably more talented than any golfing soul on the planet, but unarguably still wildly inconsistent at times.   Making his Riviera debut won’t go smoothly for Rors, as his putter will let him down on these perplexing, maniacal greens.  Wait til next week at the Honda to fire up Rors, then thank me later.


Luke Donald
Luke Donald
– It’s hard to believe that the former world #1’s game has sank this far to include him in the BOLD category, but all that means is that it’s time to take advantage while others overlook him.  Early in his career, Donald made Riviera his first American start of the calendar year, and for years he saw quite a bit of success here, including a runner-up in ’10, t-6th in ’09, t-3rd in ’08, t-12th in ’06 and t-13th in ’05.  Ok so yeah, those solid finishes go back a ways, but he did also finish t-16th here just 3 years back in 2013 and there’s not doubt that revisiting a course as revered as Riviera is good enough to get his juices flowing once again.  His game is showing flashes of returning to form, as he finished t-26th at Pebble last week, his second top 30 in 3 events this calendar year (t-28th at the Sony Open).  He’s fallen so far in the World Rankings that he’s falling out of eligibility for many tourneys that have been mainstays on his schedule for years, and he’s not taking it lightly.  Expect a top 25 this week with top 10 upside from the Englishman, then keep an even closer eye on him as we head to the Florida swing.


Joel Harrington

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