The Northern Trust Open (The Nissan Open until 2008) is teeing off Thursday morning in Los Angeles. Bubba Watson is returning from a two-week break to defend his title against a very competitive field that includes Sergio Garcia ($9,700) making his first US appearance since November, along with several other players from the top of the world rankings. The choices this weekend will make you think hard about how to spend your $50,000. Good luck.

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Bubba Watson ($14,500) – A winner here behind two bogey-free rounds of 64 to close it out on the weekend, he obviously has the game to take on the challenges presented by Riviera Country Club. With the distance to take advantage of the shorter holes, the accuracy to stay out of trouble and the putting stroke to finish off holes, there is a reason he’s the most expensive guy on the board.

PGA: Northern Trust Open

 

 

Dustin Johnson ($13,700) – The argument for waiting to see how consistent he can be before starting to trust him is that he can’t get that much more expensive. The argument against waiting is simple: do it, and someone could ride him to a W over you this weekend. Easily. DJ has the game – we’ve known that for a long time, and he seems to have returned to the game looking forward and not back, in complete control out there on the course. With four rounds under 70 last weekend, he displayed some incredible shot-making, carding 24 birdies, and also showed the consistency you need to be a regular in the top-10.

Jimmy Walker ($12,300) – As much as I love Bubba and DJ, I would feel guilty not mentioning Walker here, especially since he’s probably the guy I will turn to in my lineups if I am looking for a little savings at the top. A former winner here who has always played well during this western stretch of the Tour, he has been on fire lately. His putting has been consistently good, putting him in the top ten in strokes gained with his putter, a skill that will serve him well here, and perhaps push his well-rounded game over the top in this one.

J.B Holmes ($8,800) – What’s not to like? He shot 65 last Sunday to finish T10, following up a T2 at Torrey Pines the week before. He has a phenomenal track record here, finishing T12 or better every single year from 2008-2012.

Russell Henley ($7,700) – He has been playing solid golf this year, with two top-20’s in January, and no missed cuts on the season. He’s competed against other solid fields, and he has acquitted himself well, displaying an all-around game that can get him in position to compete. He plays the kind of mistake-free golf, when he is going well, that can allow him to weather the tough holes this weekend, and he has been putting very well in terms of Strokes Gained, which hopefully means he will capitalize when he puts himself in the position to card birdies.

Robert Streb ($7,400) – I’ll be honest, these less expensive picks are based on one thing: putting. Strep and Henley are both stroking the ball well right now, which could be the difference this weekend. Most players have the length to card birdies where a birdie is a reasonable goal, so long as they nail the putts, which is easier said than done.

Charlie Beljan ($7,200) – Before you waive off last weekend’s performance as a fluke (3rd at Pebble Beach), remember that he has a playoff loss and a solo 2nd in the last two years at this tournament.