Northern Trust Open at Riviera preview, picks + predictions, plus the Driver-Off-The-Deck BOLD Play of the Week #HogansAlley

I love the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing.  Starting out in Hawaii, rolling through the Southwest and the annual birdie blitz that is the Humana Challenge (yep, it’ll always be known as “The Hope” in my head too), then over to Torrey Pines, followed by the world’s largest outdoor cocktail party (with a golf tournament in the background- the Phoenix Open), then to Pebble and then last but not least, onward to Riviera.  All fun tournaments and all fun venues, but in my mind, Riviera takes the cake.

Riviera is one of just a handful of courses on the PGA Tour that stand the test of time.  Even as the Tour gets Rocketballzier, Riviera just laughs in the face of technology and the world’s best.  Tight fairways, small greens, thick/”bunchy” rough make this one of the toughest non-major courses on Tour (4th toughest non-major par 71 last year to be exact).  It’s a course that truly equalizes the playing field, as bombers + bashers like Dustin Johnson and Keegan Bradley 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.

This year’s field is again stacked, with the aforementioned four, along with Webb Simpson, Louis Oosthuizen, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Hunter Mahan, Bill Haas, Jordan Spieth, Ryan Moore, Justin Rose, golf’s hottest player Jimmy Walker and many more.

My picks stalled a bit last week at Pebble in that foggy and sloshy weather, but I still scraped out a top 5 with Kevin Na and decent showings by Jason Kokrak and Russell Knox.  Time for a major-like showing at Riviera (#gameface):

LOCKZILLAS (Last Week: Day MDF, Kokrak t-19th)

Graham DeLaet
Graham DeLaet
– This gritty, bearded Canadian is right on the cusp of bursting through Jimmy Walker style into the winner’s circle (ok, I don’t know if he’ll win 3 times this year like Jimmy, but he certainly has the talent to do so).  T-2nd in Phoenix and a t-2nd at Torrey Pines so far this year, as well as t-21st here last year.  Absolute LOCKZILLA-house for a top 10 or better this week.

Charles Howell III
Charles Howell III
– If you want to pick a player who will guaranteed play well but also guaranteed not win this week, Chucky three sticks is your guy.  CHIII is a past champ here and has an immense level of talent, but just doesn’t have the mental fortitude or the flatstick to consistently win on Tour.  But, t-6th in Phoenix, as well as a t-8th at the Sony Open several weeks prior proves his game is in good form, never mind his bumpy track record since winning here in ’07.  I like Chuck to scrap his way into another top 10 this week.

SEMI-FLIER (Last Week: Na t-4th)

Brian Davis
Brian Davis
– No, I’m not just picking this English chap because he has the same name as my two sons- Davis, Brian.  His play has been steadily improving this season, going 7 for 8 on cuts made (dating back to the fall), capped off by a t-13th at Pebble Beach last week.  He’s had his share of MC’s at Riviera, but also finished t-17th in ’09 and t-3rd in ’05 in the rain-shortened event.  Call it a gut feeling that he’s lurking on the leaderboard this weekend.

HOSEL-ROCKET BUST (Palmer t-32nd)

Louis Oosthuizen
Louis Oosthuizen
– Louis decided to start off the New Year by winning on the European Tour (something he’s done several times now), but that doesn’t mean you should be rolling the dice with this tractor-loving South African yet.  Louis has one of the sweetest swings in the game, and it does seem strange every time he hits a stray shot, but in just his second ever trip to Riviera (t-62nd in 2011) and coming off a month off from competitive play, I’d stay away this week.  #MC

DRIVER-OFF-THE-DECK BOLD PLAY OF THE WEEK (Knox t-27th)

Hideki Matsuyama
Hideki Matsuyama
– Generally I don’t take first-timers at a classic, challenging track like Riviera, but Hideki is the exception to most norms.  He finished t-16th at Torrey and t-4th in Phoenix all while still nursing a left wrist injury.  If he’s healthy, he’s a threat to win anywhere, and call it a hunch that he makes a serious splash in SoCal this week.

#isitThursdayyet

Joel Harrington
@joel4deepgolf

Speak Your Mind

*