The PGA Tour stays in California for the Northern Trust Open from famed Riviera Country Club this week. This is one of the oldest stops on tour, going back to 1940, and Riviera has been the lone host since 1999.
It has long been known within golfing circles as "Hogan's Alley" after the legendary Ben Hogan won three times here in a span of 18 months (two L.A. Opens and the U.S. Open sandwiched between). Known for a strong field annually, the event will not disappoint again this year.
Because it is early and with the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championships next week, the Northern Trust Open gets the big names to start their tuneup whether it be to jumpstart the season or to prepare for next week.
It’s no walk in the park though. Two years ago, Riviera was ranked as the hardest Par 71 of the non-majors and last year it was ranked as the second hardest, with players posting a 72.62 scoring average. It was also second hardest in greens hit among all courses last year.
While this is a field of plenty of big names, it also marks the PGA Tour season debut for many. Luke Donald (third in the OWGR), Adam Scott (7th), Sergio Garcia (14th), Graeme McDowell (19th) and Ernie Els (24th) all kick off their PGA Tour season this week, although most have played elsewhere. That group has history at Riviera. Donald was a runner-up here in 2010, Garcia finished fourth last year, Scott won in 2007 and Ernie Els finished T10 in 2010. Only McDowell has not fared well here.
Bill Haas (+3,000) is the defending champion, winning on the second playoff hole over Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson. This came after a T12 in 2011 so he obviously does well at Riviera although he did miss the cut in his first two starts here. He was off last week, which may have killed some momentum after a T9 at the Farmers and a T6 at the Waste Management.
Dustin Johnson (+2,000) was a huge disappointment for us as he missed the cut at Pebble Beach, where he had won twice. The good news is that he tends to rebound well with two of his career victories following a medal play missed cut. He missed the cut here in 2011 but sandwiched around that is a T3 in 2010 and a T4 last year. Experience is big at Riviera and Johnson has it along with success.
The oddsmakers are catching up to Jimmy Walker (+2,500) but we will continue to ride him. He has been in our mix two of the last three weeks and while he has finished T4 and T3, he has yet to reward us with a victory. Could this be the week? He is playing some of his best golf ever and, considering he finished T4 at Riviera in both 2011 and 2012, this could definitely be his breakout week.
We are getting some very good value with Matt Kuchar (+3,000), who will be focused and ready after taking the last three weeks off. He played well leading up to the break with two Top 10s, including a T5, and his worst finish is a T16. He has had some mixed results at Riviera but he likes it, playing into the weekend six straight years with his best finish a T14.
Bo Van Pelt (+3,000) can often be found in these picks and despite a relatively slow start, we will take a shot with him again here. He has failed to crack the Top 10 this year after doing so 10 times in 2012. This included a T8 at Riviera where he has four Top-15 finishes in eight starts. He led the field in birdies last year with 19. He missed the cut in 2011 but that was after three missed cuts in his first four starts.
Aaron Baddeley (+4,000) is coming off a T12 at Pebble Beach last week and is 4 for 4 in cuts made with his best finish being a T6 at the Farmers. Coincidentally, in 2011 his best finish coming into Riviera was also a T6 and he won by two shots over Vijay Singh. He finished T11 last year which was his 10th consecutive made cut, so his success here along with a good 2013 start makes him a contender.
We will go with Kevin Stadler (+5,000) for the long-shot pick this week and he fits the mold of current form and history. He missed the cut at the Sony to open his season but has gotten progressively better, going T27 at the Humana Challenge, T11 at the Waste Management and a T3 at the AT&T last week. In his Riviera starts, he isn’t as good but has three straight Top 25s including a T10 and a T12.
Recommended tournament win six pack at the Northern Trust Open - All for 1 unit
Dustin Johnson (+2,000)
Jimmy Walker (+2,500)
Matt Kuchar (+3,000)
Bo Van Pelt (+3,000)
Aaron Baddeley (+4,000)
Kevin Stadler (+5,000)
2012 Record to date after 36 events: +51.6 Units
2013 Record to date after 6 events: +2.5 Units
Hyundai Tournament of Champions -5 Units
Sony Open in Hawaii -5 Units
Humana Challenge - 5 Units
Farmer Insurance Open +3.5 Units
Waste Management Phoenix Open +19 Units
AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am -5 Units