The 2016 Northern Trust Open is a loaded event, with several of the world’s top-ranked players converging on Riviera this week.
Those players include both Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, but where do they stand with the week’s 10 best contenders?
10. James Hahn
The memories will be good for Hahn at Riviera and the Northern Trust Open, as he’s returning to the spot of his lone PGA Tour victory in 2015.
Hahn hasn’t been his best in recent weeks, but he’d made six consecutive cuts before last week. In several of those tournaments, Hahn was contending for 2-3 rounds and faltered at the end. Playing a course where he’s had success, Hahn’s chances of playing a good start-to-finish tournament are greatly increased.
Defending champions have not had a heck of a lot of luck at the Northern Trust Open since Phil Mickelson’s wins in 2008 and 2009, but Hahn enters this week as one of the favorites.
9. Charl Schwartzel
We haven’t seen a lot of the 2011 Masters Champion in the United States this year, but he’s certainly been playing well around the rest of the world.
Schwartzel won the Alfred Dunhill Championship by four strokes at the end of November. Just last week, he won the Tshwane Open by eight strokes, shooting 64,66, and 63 over the final three rounds.
Now that is what I've been looking for in my putter for a long time. Winning never gets old! Very satisfying. Thanks for all the support
— Charl Schwartzel (@CA_Schwartzel) February 14, 2016
Schwartzel has two top five finishes at Riviera (2013, 2014) and if he’s got a hot putter, he’ll be winning again this season.
8. Freddie Jacobson
Ryan Lavner of the Golf Channel likes Jacobson’s chances this week and really, his argument is pretty hard to refute.
“The player for me is Freddie Jacobson. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that after his son’s health scare last fall, he know has top fives in three of his last four tournaments. Now that we’re turning our attention to Hogan’s Alley, he also has a good record here — a top three finish in 2013. Riviera’s really one of the best courses for Freddie Jacobson’s game. Players are going to miss a lot of greens; he has one of the best short games on the PGA Tour.”
Indeed, the three top-five finishes in his last four events also include a tie for fourth in each of his last two events, which both came in California.
At worst, Jacobson be a factor on Sunday at the Northern Trust Open.
7. Bill Haas
There are a few things to like about Haas this week.
First of all, he’s coming in playing well, having recorded two Top-10 finishes in his last three tournaments. A golfer playing as well as Haas should definitely be considered a favorite, especially if he’s playing a course that suits his game.
Which brings us to the second point. Haas had five Top-25 finishes at Riviera, one tie for third, and a win in 2012, which came in dramatic fashion against Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson.
In general, the west coast has been kind to Haas throughout his career, as he has half of his career wins in California. It would not be at all surprising to see another one this week.
6. Bubba Watson
While Watson is not coming into the Northern Trust Open on a high note, he really can’t be any lower than this.
Riviera just suits Watson well. He won the tournament two years ago, shooting matching 64’s on the weekend. Last year, he wasn’t as sharp, but still managed to tie for 14th place.
Bubba hasn’t exactly had a great few weeks of golf, but the Waste Management Open and AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am are two of the more unique tournaments on tour, with noisy crowds in Scottsdale and the celebrities taking center stage in Monterey.
Watson did have an issue with a fan in his 2014 victory, but the return a normal tournament and a normal crowd should suit him well.
5. Justin Rose
The No. 7 player in the world, Rose is a pure grinder. He’s played in four tournaments in the 2015-16 season and has recorded three Top-15 finishes. Most recently, Rose tied for sixth a week ago at Pebble Beach, carding three rounds in the 60’s. If he does that again, Rose may well be holding the trophy at the end of the week.
Rose has also played well at Riviera throughout his career, notching two Top-15 performances at the Northern Trust Open. It makes sense, as Rose’s accuracy plays well at a course like Riviera.
It would be surprising if Rose didn’t notch another Top-10 this week and if he’s in that range and is putting well, Rose is a real threat to win.
4. Jimmy Walker
While he’s never won there, Walker spoke very highly of Riviera in a 2015 interview with Golfweek’s Jeff Babineau.
“Riviera is my favorite tournament of the year. The golf course is just so good, it’s just different than anything at home. I don’t mind the poa greens; I know it kills some guys, but it’s fine with me. The ball rolls true. You go places and you get comfortable. It’s the way the holes look, the way the terrain looks. It just fits my eye.”
That’s a solid recommendation. While Walker has never entered the winner’s circle at Riviera, he has contended there in the past, tying for fourth twice.
Lastly, Walker also has a strong history in California and in the early season’s West Coast Tournaments. Two of his five tournament wins have come in California, while two others came in Hawaii. This is the last leg of this season’s west coast swing.
Expect Walker to be a factor.
3. Dustin Johnson
While he’s never won the Northern Trust Open, Johnson has a strong history at Riviera, highlighted by consecutive second place finishes that includes a playoff defeat last year.
The potentially poor weather that the Los Angeles area will face during this week’s tournament should play well into the hands of D.J.
Early tee times may have to deal with weather at the @NTrustOpen. Here's a little known fact: @DJohnsonPGA likes playing in rainy weather!
— Joey Diovisalvi (@CoachJoeyD) February 17, 2016
Johnson hasn’t had a great 2016 so far, but that speaks more to how talented he is and how high his expectations are. He’s made the cut in all four full-field events he’s played in this season and has only one finish out of the Top-20.
At a course that’s been good to him in the past, consider it a major upset if Johnson isn’t a significant factor coming down the stretch on Sunday.
2. Jordan Spieth
While Spieth may not quite have the feelings for Riviera that Jimmy Walker has, he’s certainly fond of the course.
Riviera this week.. In my top 5 courses I've ever played
— Jordan Spieth (@JordanSpieth) February 15, 2016
That’s definitely something you like to see from a guy who’s going through a slump. Well, a slump for his incredibly high standards, anyway.
Spieth has recently stated that he’s fatigued, which is understandable given how much traveling he’s done over the last several weeks. But while he is playing for a second straight week, the trip from Monterey to Los Angeles isn’t exactly a long one.
Spieth wasn’t really a factor in Monterey last week. Don’t expect the world’s top ranked golfer to fail to contend in two consecutive weeks.
1. Rory McIlroy
Unlike some of these other players, there’s no real history at Riviera or similar courses to cite for McIlroy. No, it’s much simpler than that.
While McIlroy might be the world’s third-ranked golfer behind Jordan Spieth and Jason Day, he still has a gear that nobody else on tour quite has. If Spieth was riding a hot streak, he might get this spot above McIlory, but McIlroy is coming in on a stronger note, at least in his most recent outings, recording a Top-10 in each of his last two European Tour starts.
This is the first time we’ll see McIlroy in the United States in 2016, and we should expect fireworks.