The next stop on the PGA tour is the Northern Trust Open at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, CA. The early season West Coast swing continues with this stop in LA, and several of the world’s top players are on hand, giving you plenty to think about when you are trying to decide on a headliner for your fantasy lineup this weekend. Good luck.
At just over 7,200 yards, the par-71 course at Riviera CC finds creative ways to challenge the pros: the fourteenth hole is a 176 yard par-3 with an enormous green that looks like it will serve well for target practice – but as it turns out, no matter how big the landing area looks from the tee box, you better not miss the hole by much or the two-tiered green will make two-putting for par seem like a huge victory.
On the tenth hole, there are 20+ guys, at least, who could drive the green without even connecting perfectly. A 315-yard par-4 might seem almost laughable, but distance isn’t the question here: if your tee shot isn’t square in the middle of the fairway (or the green), you will have a number of bunkers to either hit out of or make sure you avoid with your approach.
Despite these challenges, though, there are strokes to be gained here, which makes for an entertaining Sunday, both on the leaderboard and in your fantasy contests. But if a player wants those those scores, he better be on his game. It’s an interesting phenomenon, actually: in the last ten years, the winner has been more than ten strokes under eight times (and the other two were -9). Last year, Bubba Watson won with a -15, and he did it with back-to-back seven-under 64’s on Saturday and Sunday. That’s certainly the kind of golf that will win you a tournament; however, it also shows you that he made the cut at -1. So the guy at the top of his game can find birdies here, sure, but the course is no cakewalk.
You wouldn’t know it from the first hole, which is not only the easiest on the course, but often rated the easiest on the Tour. A short par-5, it sets the trend for the course – players have to score on the three par-5’s if they want to take a run at the top of the leaderboard – Watson was -8 on those three holes last year, including an eagle on #1 on Sunday.
But if you want one thing to take away from this and actually act on it, it’s this: the greens are tough. Real tough. For each of the last few years, the conversion percentage from three feet and in was the lowest of the season, and it was in the bottom four for every distance from three feet right up through eight feet. You want someone putting well right now to contend with these slopes and breaks, and my favorite stat for that is Strokes Gained w/ putting. You can start by looking just at last week, at Pebble Beach, and you’d quickly see that J.B Holmes and Dustin Johnson are near the top of the list, which might be a reason in and of itself to get them into your lineup. Or you could look at Strokes Gained for the 2015 season so far, and give yourself another justification for that Russell Henley pick, or Jimmy Walker, as if you needed one.
Well, there are a lot of choices – a little well-placed justification can help you sleep at night. Don’t knock it.