Northern Trust Open
Fresh off Brandt Snedeker’s inevitable first win of the year at the Pebble Beach pro-am last week, the PGA Tour moves onto one of the classic courses on the tour, the Riviera Country Club. The Northern Trust Open is a high profile build up to next week’s WGC Accenture Match Play Championship. It is known as a ‘thinking man’s course’ and is definitely one of the more entertaining tournaments as opposed to the birdie free-for-alls we have been having over the previous weeks.
Course form is essential here, with one top 5 finish leading to many more for the majority of the best performers here. One thing to be very wary of this week is players using this tournament as a warm up for next week’s World Match Play. For us, that means the likes of Adam Scott, Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell, Ernie Els and even Charl Schwartzel in his first appearance out of his home country will all be using this week to fine tune their game. It is a real shame as this sort of course cries out at someone like Luke Donald taking the spoils here.
The Riviera Country Club is an average distance of 7,349 yards. It is one where iron play, GIR and driving accuracy is crucial. Length off the tee can help, as JB Holmes has proven the last few years, but by and large the real strategists on the tour will do well. Weather is likely to play a big role this week as well with high winds being forecast. The shot makers on the tour will certainly be more suited to these conditions.
With it starting on Valentine’s Day, we’re hoping there is love in the air for our picks this week.
Lee Westwood (28/1 Paddy Power)
Mr Lee Westwood. A man we are always tentative about when backing. Mainly because his record on the greens is not the best on the tour! A cliché that seems to be branded about a lot is “If only Lee Westwood could Putt”. Last year on the PGA Tour he was 3rd in GIR and then 174th in putting which tells the story. But we believe this can be Lee Westwood’s year for his first major or at least pick up a win on the PGA Tour. But lets not take nothing away from him, 39 professional wins and finishing either 3rd or 2nd in all four majors shows he is one of the best players in the game. You can always call Lee Westwood a thinker with GIR and driving accuracy being his main attributes, and he is definitely one of the best iron players in the world. This year has seen some consistent performances, with a T5 at the Dubai Desert Classic, and then a T11 and 5th in his two tournaments before that. Last week at Pebble Beach saw him start off really well being -4 after day one but then average performances over the next 3 rounds saw him finish T46 and -3. But of course this week is a different animal with birdies being a lot harder to come by. With Lee entering his 40’s this year, time you could say is running out for him to record wins, but this seems like the perfect place for him to get one!
Keegan Bradley (30/1 Paddy Power)
After missing the cut here in his first appearance in 2011, Keegan narrowly lost out in a play-off to Bill Haas here last year. With only 3 wins on the PGA Tour, you have to say a 2nd place here for someone so inexperienced shows that he has a knack for the course. We have almost chosen Bradley to counter act our #1 pick Westwood. If you look in the putting statistics it is a severe contrast to Westwood’s: 1st in one-putt percentage and 2nd in strokes gained through putting last year makes Bradley a demon on the Riviera greens. Who can forget his sensational putting and fist pumping at last year’s Ryder Cup? With the course being so difficult putting could be make or break at the top end of the leaderboard with every shot being vital. We are of course banking on some stunning iron play from Lee Westwood in this respect.
At just 26 he is a magnificent talent and already has a major title under his belt. His control of the ball and combined current and course form makes him a must pick for us this week.
Ryan Moore (35/1 Paddy Power)
This man is someone we always like to back and has a big future ahead of him. We picked Moore two weeks ago in his last appearance at a tidy 66/1 and he weighed in with a solo 4th at the WM Phoenix Open. Of course his odds being almost halved show how people are now starting to recognise him as one of the players to watch on tour. Ryan has cut the amount of tournaments he plays in this year to focus on the bigger events such as this week’s. He will naturally be a lot fresher going into this week and has done well here in the past. 4th in 2011 and 17th last year shows he knows this track well and with his 2nd PGA Tour win under his belt in October last year, Ryan Moore is a menacing prospect for this year. He has had 5 top 10’s in his last 7 starts on the tour now. The American has also ranked in the top 10 for ball striking in his last two starts here. Even if we weren’t big fans of Ryan Moore, he is someone you have to look at this week.
James Hahn (80/1 Paddy Power)
James Hahn has caught our eye for two reasons recently. Firstly in his first year on the PGA he has had some quite remarkable performances, T4 at the Humana Challenge, T16 at the Phoenix Open and then T3 at last week’s Pebble Beach Pro-am. For a rookie that is some going! Secondly, we will take you back to the 16th hole of the Waste Management Phoenix Open where Mr Hahn holes for birdie…
Incredible scenes. We at DownThe18th love any sort of humour on the tour and it is refreshing to see these things. Besides his Gangnam style antics, his consistency has been very eye opening. Hahn finds himself 11th in the FedExCup standings and 10th in money leaders. He is also 5th in total birdies and 3rd in eagles, so he will know where to pick up shots this week. Of course this is his first time at the Northern Trust Open but a relatively low price of 80/1 for a rookie shows how much respect he is being given. Watch out for him this week, in more ways than one.
Kevin Na (80/1 Paddy Power)
We hadn’t seen Kevin Na’s name in the press in recent months but a solid performance last week brought him to our attention. With a few more birdies on the last round, Na could’ve easily placed. He eventually had to settle for a -8 T22. Interestingly whilst looking at course form his name popped up again, finishing 25th, 10th and 3rd in 3 of his last 4 outings here. Pair that with his high price, Na is a tasty prospect. At only 29, he has his best years ahead of him and already has 1 PGA title to his name showing he has the nerve when at the business end of the leaderboard. There are some more stats that are very striking too. Na is 1st in Birdie or better conversion %, 1st in GIR from 75-100 yards and 6th in strokes gained through putting. Breaking the putting down even further, he is 3rd in putting from 15-25’ and 25’+ and 1st 20-25’. He is a very interesting prospect this week and we’re looking forward to seeing how he performs.