The final week of Poa annua before the Tour heads back to Florida next week.
The Tiger Woods Foundation puts on this tournament but sadly, Tiger Woods won’t be participating as Hogan’s Alley heats up.
Northern Trust Open
The Riviera Country Club
Pacific Palisades, California
Yards: 7,332 per the official scorecard
Par: 71 (35-36)
Greens: Poa annua, Creeping Bentgrass; only 5,000 square feet on average (small).
Rough: Kikuyugrass at 1.5″
Water Hazards: 0
Course Architect(s): George C. Thomas and William P. Bell (1928); Tom Fazio (2008)
Purse: $7 million; $1.260 million (winner); 500 FedExCup Points
Defending Champion: Bubba Watson won for the second time in three years by one shot over Adam Scott and Jason Kokrak.
- 144 players; Stroke play; top 70 professionals and ties play the weekend
- This is the 91st edition of the NTO, the fourth-longest running event on Tour.
Frys.com: Brendan Steele
CIMB: Justin Thomas
WGC-HSBC: Hideki Matsuyama
Sanderson Farms: Cody Gribble**
Shriners: Rod Pampling
OHL Mayakoba: Pat Perez
RSM Classic: Mackenzie Hughes**
SBS TOC: Justin Thomas
Sony Open: Justin Thomas
CB Challenge: Hudson Swafford*
Farmers: Jon Rahm*
WMPO: Hideki Matsuyama
AT&T Pebble Beach: Jordan Spieth
**First-time winner AND rookie winner
This magnificent layout that has withstood the test of time has a very rich history. It’s hosted the 1948 U.S. Open, won by Ben Hogan, two PGA Championships (1983, 1995) plus a U.S. Senior Open (1998). Nicknamed “Hogan’s Alley” after the famed Texan, Riviera will also host the U.S. Amateur later this summer.
Rich in history this fantastic track tests every club in the bag plus the six inches between your ears. From multiple doglegs, Kikuyugrass and greens that bump, bobble and wobble, there’s no faking it around this joint. Throw in the maddening drivable No. 10 and it’s a party. Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson and Mike Weir have all won here twice this century and they’ve all won the Masters. Only Weir qualifies as a dink-and-dunker and won back-to-back titles here in 2003-2004.
I’ll be looking for West Coast players who can handle the Poa for the third week in the last four. Based on the winners below, it’s going to take some power plus GIR this week to ring the bell. Experience is a huge factor here as with most classic courses as knowing where to miss is just as important as knowing what to avoid. Keeping the ball below the hole is a must and grinding out pars is rarely frowned on.
The weather will be a factor again this week. Rain is in the forecast for Friday and the winds, as of Monday night, are supposed to pick up in the afternoon. As of now, it screams Late-Early for the draw. With an inch of rain expected Friday through the end of play, this course will get even longer and more difficult.
Previous Champions (since 2000)
2016: Bubba Watson, 268
2015: James Hahn, 276*
2014: Bubba Watson, 269
2013: John Merrick, 273*
2012: Bill Haas, 277*
2011: Aaron Baddeley, 272
2010: Steve Stricker, 268
2009: Phil Mickelson, 269
2008: Phil Mickelson, 272
2007: Charles Howell, 268
2006: Rory Sabbatini, 271
2005: Adam Scott, 133**
2004: Mike Weir, 267#
2003: Mike Weir, 275#
2002: Len Mattiace, 269
2001: Robert Allenby, 276*
2000: Kirk Triplett, 272#
** Unofficial victory as the tournament was shortened to 36 holes
# Not playing this week
Facts and Figures:
- Tournament Record: 264, Lanny Wadkins (1985)
- Course Record: 61, Ted Tryba (1991)
- There have been four Tour maidens broken here since 2000 including Merrick and Hahn in the last four years.
- Players teeing it up here for the first time have never won a 72-hole event but Adam Scott won a weather-shortened 36-hole even in 2005.
- Rookies don’t fare well here, be warned. You won’t find many in the top 10 over the last five or so years. Harold Varner was T-26 last year to lead the way.
- Since 1995 just three players have defended their championship (Corey Pavin 1994-95; Mike Weir 2004-05; Phil Mickelson 2008-09).
- A playoff has been needed to determine a champion in three of the last five years. Watson won by a sole shot last year.
- James Hahn’s 278 was the highest winning score this century. It was also wet and nasty that week.
- There were only 11 bogey-free rounds last year with very nice weather. #Hard.
- 22 birdies led the field last year.
Course Ratings since 2010
2016: 21st-most difficult of 50 used
2015: hardest par-71 on Tour (weather)
In order of preference for this week and this tournament
Jordan Spieth: Last week’s champion goes tops this week because of his ball-striking, not his putting. Spieth finished the week third in GIR on the smallest greens used on Tour and did it while dealing with weather. He’s had plenty of cracks at Riviera and it’s not lost on me that his best finish of T-4 was in less than optimum conditions in 2015.
Dustin Johnson: He’s done everything but win at this gem as he’s hit the top 10 in six of nine tries. He’s finished T-4, MC, second, T-2 and fourth the last five years and that includes an upset playoff loss to James Hahn. It’s a home game for him as the Gretzky Clan, for the second week in a row, will be involved. There’s no question he’s comfortable and there’s no questioning his talent and form (T-6, T-2, MC and third) plus no Tiger Woods in his group this week. He’s another who won’t mind a bit of weather or wind.
Hideki Matsuyama: Last time out he won at WMPO so there’s not much to question in the form department. He leads the Tour in scoring and is a terrific player tee-to-green. Like Spieth, he has no problem adapting to classic designs as 10 of his 12 rounds here are par or better. His three finishes are T-22, T-4 and T-11 reinforcing that getting ball in play off the tee and onto the green are key factors this week.
Adam Scott: The Aussie knocked the rust off with a January start in Singapore where he finished T-9. The 2005 champ missed out on a playoff by a shot last year, his fourth top 10 in eight starts. The last time finished outside the top 15 when making the cut was at The Open last summer.
Jason Day: I like what I saw last Sunday after Day struggled to get the ball in the hole on Saturday. His bounce-back 67 after Saturday’s 75 on the same track was a huge boost for gamers as Day could have said the hell with it and mailed it in. His power and short game will resonate more than usual if par is a good score this week.
Sergio Garcia: His only two MCs in the last 12 months were at this event and the PGA Championship, a span of 21 events. His love-hate relationship with Riviera was evidenced in 2015 when he bogeyed the final two holes to miss the playoff by a shot. He also closed with 64 in 2012 to finish T-4. His win at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic last time out takes care of the confidence and it resonates that he’s playing this event for the fifth year in a row.
Brandt Snedeker: King of the Poa annua pop putting stroke, Riviera hasn’t been kind to him over the years. As usual he’s been knocking on the costal California tracks but couldn’t close the deal playing in the final group at Torrey Pines (T-9) or catch Spieth last week (4th). Both of those results suggest that’s he’s brewing. This will be his seventh try here and I’m expecting his best finish of T-17 to be wiped out this week.
Patrick Reed: This will only be his second trip to Riviera (MC, 2013) but I’m more interested in what I saw last week at Pebble Beach (T-23). He was on the wrong side of the draw playing Pebble Beach in nasty conditions on Thursday and still broke par. He followed that up with 66 (-5) in less-than-ideal conditions on Friday at MPCC. He made 21 birdies for the week and was T-2 PPGIR. He had his two best rounds in the worst weather and hit 15 of 18 greens each day. Having a short game like he does won’t hurt either!
Justin Thomas: I can’t possibly worry about a MC last time out as he’s been torching most every course he’s run into recently. He sits in the top 10 in SG: TTG, Putting and Total so all of the pieces are moving right along. Rookies don’t usually fare well here but he was just one shot off the 36-hole lead in 2015 before fading on the weekend. Of his eight rounds here over the last two years, half are UNDER par and half are OVER par. His season so far breaks that tie!
Bill Haas: The 2012 champ needed to beat Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley in a playoff with a birdie on No. 10. Course historians will point out that he hasn’t played the weekend in two years. I’ll point out he missed by a shot last year and two years ago his wife told him not to unpack as she was ready to pop at any minute. That might put a guy off! Before those two MC Haas rattled off T-12, WIN, T-3 and T-23 so he knows how to get it around here. He’s knocked the rust off with T-13 at Waialae and T-17 at Palm Springs to start his 2017.
Francesco Molinari: Since winning the Italian Open last September, he’s rattled off three top 10’s and nothing worse than T-14 in his next five world-wide starts. The Italian, whose form has stretched over five months, doesn’t find too much trouble off the tee and into the greens and he should be more comfortable on these greens in his fourth consecutive visit.
Bubba Watson: His form isn’t on point (T-25, MC in two tries) and the forecast of rain and more rain won’t make him happy. He doesn’t care for moisture on the club face and a forecasted inch of rain on Friday and more on Saturday isn’t encouraging. I can’t ignore his two wins and T-14 in the last three years but I’m nervous about sticking him with this forecast. Beware.
J.B. Holmes: I might be stretching here but if I’m going to stretch, I’ll gladly do it with a guy who can cut every corner on this course. Over the years the big hitter has made nine of 10 cuts and seven of those are top 25 or better. He only made six bogeys last week and his classy 67 on Sunday has my attention.
Brendan Steele: In the six events after his win to open the new season the California native hasn’t finished worse than T-31 in six tries. In his four starts of 2017 he’s posted T-6, T-6, T-20 and T-16. He’s not going to win many putting contests but I trust him on Poa and I trust him tee-to-green. He’s also made his last five cuts on this track.
Phil Mickelson: Don’t game angry. Don’t game angry. Don’t game angry. He was nine holes away from a big finish last week before the wheels fell off. Since I played him in #OAD last week, I have absolutely no doubt that he’ll finally hit the top 10 this week. I’m usually a day late plus a dollar short. In his second “tour of duty” at Riviera he spit out second, WIN, WIN, T-45, T-35, T-2 and T-21 from 2007 to 2013.
Form plays, eye-catchers who make great support staff, not in order
Marc Leishman: Renowned weather player has rattled off five consecutive T-24’s or better finishes worldwide; T-5 here last year and has T-17 and T-15 in five of seven weekends he’s played.
Charl Schwartzel: The South African grew up on Kikuyugrass and he’s quite comfortable at Riviera. His first try in 2013 he was T-3 and backed that up the following year finishing fifth. T-41 and T-45 followed but he shot 68 on Friday last year with a double and a triple! I’m not crazy that he played in Malaysia last week but the upside is that he MC. #LongFlightShortRecovery.
Paul Casey: T-39 or better in his last four attempts which includes a playoff defeat to Hahn in 2015 under tough conditions plus T-12 and T-22. Each start in 2017 is inching closer so I’ll jump in this week before he pops.
Ryan Moore: One poor outing (T-61, WMPO) isn’t going to scare me off a guy who’s made 16 cuts in a row (T-2) on Tour. He’s played here every year since 2007 and has rattled off T-4, T-17, T-27, MC, T-22 and 10th last year in his six. The weather keeps him just out of the top group.
Shane Lowry: For the second year in a row he’s going about his business in California and Arizona and cashing checks. His T-33 at Torrey Pines improved to T-16 at TPC Scottsdale and went even better, T-14, last week at Pebble Beach.
Jim Furyk: He’s played 16 of the 19 weekends he’s teed it up at Riviera and five of the last six are T-23 or better.
Adam Hadwin: He was T-3 last week in pars made at Pebble Beach and has been a quick study at Riviera. There’s plenty to like with T-22 and T-16 in his only two starts the last two seasons.
Ben An: He won the BMW PGA Championship at Wenworth on a tough track. He was cruising through 54-holes in Scottsdale before he blew a tire and finished sixth. His first time at Riviera will have his attention from the start and I’m interested to see if he has the chops to handle it.
Keegan Bradley: He’s shown enough signs of life that he deserves a look this week. His ball-striking and course form are the easy connectors. I like the angle that the weather will make par a very good score and I don’t have to remind you about his putter.
Branden Grace: Form is temporary, class is permanent will be the argument here. Remember, Schwartzel’s first trip around here was pretty good so I’d expect Grace has picked his brains a few times about what it takes here. Last time he played a big, wet, long course he took home T-4 at the PGA Championship. He probably should be higher up the list.
Martin Laird: He’s racked up 14 of his last 15 weekends on Tour and has top 10’s in half of his last four starts. His T-11 here last year was his best in seven tries.
Anirban Lahiri: The world traveler won’t be bothered by another long flight this week! His 2017 started in Hawaii (MC) followed by T-25 in Palm Springs then T-19 in Dubai. To put the cherry on top, he played in Malaysia last week and finished T-7. He’s like a shark! If he stops swimming, he’ll die!!
Pat Perez: Excellent news for gamers last week as his T-14 at Pebble alleviated all fears of a lingering back problem that forced his WD the week prior. Do you know who is tied with Matsuyama for the most top 10’s this season on Tour? He played the weekend in 12 of 15 tries so he knows how to get it around here in any conditions.
Seung-yul Noh: Check out his recent form chart from my recap of Pebble Beach here before you rationalize his T-16, T-20 and T-22 in his last three trips to Riviera.
Off the Beaten Path
Course horses, long shots, cheeky picks, DFS last call, red herrings
Harris English: He’s four from four with a top 10 the last four seasons. He was T-14 at Torrey Pines but T-57 at Scottsdale the week following.
Brian Harman: Like Weir, Mickelson and Watson he plays from the wrong side of the ball. Harman has never had multiple top 10’s at ANY EVENT on Tour. He was T-3 here in 2013. #Caution.
Cody Gribble: Like Weir, Mickelson and Watson he plays form the wrong side of the ball. He’s also MC in three straight.
Nick Watney: He putted the dimples off the ball last week to finish T-14. Professional gamers will remind you that’s not normal for Watney but he will hit plenty of GIR. Let’s see what a little momentum can do…
Jhonattan Vegas: He’s played in 17 of his last 18 weekends.
Kyle Reifers: In his only eight rounds here the last two years, six have been par or better and two have been 72. He’s finished T-8 and T-26 but there’s a recent he’s down here. #RecentForm.
Stewart Cink: He’s made 14 of 15 cuts here dating back to 1997. There are plenty of formats that reward cuts made!
Tony Finau: I’m hiding him down here hoping most of you have given up. He’s hit the top 23 in his first four events of the year including T-4 at Torrey Pines.
Thomas Pieters: Just like having Patrick Cantlay in the column last week, you gotta have Pieters in here this week! He was the 2012 NCAA individual champion on this track but MC and T-23 in the Middle East isn’t enough for me to go crazy. It’s angle, sure, but there are eight of the top 10 players in the world here this week.
Patrick Rodgers: Total homer pick from me but gamers should have seen enough at Torrey Pines to see why this fits.
Jason Kokrak: He broke out of his slump in a big way last week with T-23 at Pebble Beach that included a first round 77. He’s made four of five cuts at Riviera and missed a playoff by a shot last year closing with 68.
K.J. Choi: He’s never MC in 16 tries. This is not a typo. He’s also MC in his last six tries on Tour. Something’s gotta give!
Cameron Tringale: He hasn’t missed in six tries with four T-25 or better. His recent form is also frustrating.
Injured, rusty or not the track this week
Charles Howell, III: No, I’m not crazy. Pro gamers will be nodding in agreement with my right now because they’ve tried pounding this square peg into the round hole that is Riviera. Howell’s last win on Tour came here in 2007 but he’s played every year since and not finished better than T-55. That’s nine events in a row. You wanna snap the curse? Ga’head! Not me!
Jimmy Walker: Known as his favorite course, Riviera hasn’t translated recently. His last seven rounds spanning three years are par or worse. After not firing at Waialae, Torrey Pines or Pebble Beach, this decision is easier to make.
Justin Rose: In a loaded field, I’m not going to reach for a guy that has only one top 10 in 10 tries and had to stick it out through 6 hour rounds last week. I’d have NO PROBLEM pairing him with somebody who’s handled this track in DFS if the price is right but he’s not a lead dog THIS week.
Matt Kuchar: We’re in uncharted territory here gamers. He’s MC at a rate we haven’t seen and he’s bucking his own trends. The bad news is that he’s only hit the top 10 once in 10 tries. The good news is that it was last year. He’s also played nine weekends of those 10 events. He MC last week in weather on a shorter course. I’m out.
Kevin Na: He’s played 15 consecutive rounds here par or worse over the last five years.
Coming Later This Week:
Wednesday I’ll present my gaming angles for the week so keep your eyes peeled at mikeglasscott.com and @MikeGlasscott for more information.
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