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Steve Bamford's Tips for the 2012 Northern Trust Open. Follow Us On Twitter @Golfbetting
Riviera Country Club, along with Torrey Pines, are the first meaningful classical golf courses of any PGA Tour season. OK, last week's AT&T at Pebble Beach is a classical golf test, but its nature as a Pro-Am, allied to the fact that 36 holes are played elsewhere, waters down the tournament. For me quality players 'always' rise to the top on this classical Par 71 in the suburbs of LA. You can't fluke a victory here and Riviera tests every attribute of a golfers' game especially Ball-Striking and Putting. This won't be a -20 birdie fest. Look at the past champions list and you get a feel for the quality of player that wins on the tight confines of this 7,279 yard Par 71 test in Pacific Palisades: Baddeley, Stricker, Mickelson (x2), Sabbatini, Scott, Weir, Allenby, Els, Stadler, Pavin, Faldo, Kite, Couples (x2) Watson, Irwin, Miller, Wadkins and Palmer. Not a bad group of players I think you'll agree.
Riviera has long been known within golfing circles as 'Hogan's Alley', a nickname bestowed upon it by three-time Masters Champion Jimmy Demaret after Ben Hogan won the 1947 & 1948 LA Opens and then captured the US Open again at Riviera in the summer of 1948. This Par 71 is a tight classical test, where errant drives are punished by blocked 2nd shots. It's also the first time that the vast majority of the pros will face bent grass greens (over-seeded with Poa Annua) in 2012 after a plethora of tournaments played on Bermuda, Bermuda Poa Trivialis or Poa Annua surfaces across South Africa, The Gulf and the Western States of the US.
Riviera itself always attracts a top-class field and next week's WGC Matchplay in Arizona has certainly helped attract a number of interesting players to the event, many of whom are making their 2012 US debuts. World Number 1 Luke Donald, Jason Day, Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia and Retief Goosen all make their US debuts this week. The classical nature of the course tied in with the PGA Tour's highest purse fund to date of $6.6 million attracts the best to LA.
What's crystal clear for me is that this classical golf course rewards the best golfers. Cream rises to the top and the champions list is littered with quality players who have won full PGA Tour events previous to crossing the finishing line here. The in-built difficulty of Riviera isn't it's length or even deep rough off the fairways. No, Riviera instead features changes of elevation, fast greens that are difficult to hit, plenty of holes that feature dog-legs and overhanging trees which all combined to make it the 10th hardest course on the 2011 PGA Tour. It's evident therefore that players have to be up to speed as it's incredibly difficult to make a US season debut here and play at 100%. Course experience is critical with big trouble away from the short stuff, a collection of incredibly difficult Par 4s and small greens leading to bogies-a-plenty for the wayward.
So my Northern Trust team features known quantities who thrive on classical golf courses where patience and par making is imperative. I'm also focussing on players who are fully up to speed on the PGA Tour this season and who have recorded decent Top 10 results here in the past:
You may think I'm a little crazy tipping Mr Harrington this week but I have no qualms taking the 3-time Major champion. It's worth noting that in Ryder Cup year Harrington, somewhat under the radar, has finished in the Top 10 3 times in his past 5 tournaments. When it comes to plotting a path around a challenging golf course, Paddy takes some beating and in my view he is very close to winning a tournament. That win will need to be on a course that suits both in terms of course length and the relatively high score total required to win. So for me Padraig, who is growing in confidence by the week, could seriously contend around Riviera. He began working with swing coach Pete Cowen last August and with a new mental and practice coach Dave Alred, famous for coaching Luke Donald and Jonny Wilkinson. Changes both to his swing and his mental game have taken time to bed themselves in but the World Number 86 - who isn't a feature at the WGC World Matchplay next week - knows it's pretty much now or never if he wants to play in the WGC at Doral and ultimately the Ryder Cup. Indeed at Pebble Beach last week Harrington stated "It's going to just come down to me winning tournaments, I have a quantum leap to get into the team. It's not one of those years that I'm going to just play nicely and gather points. Whether I win in the U.S. or win in Europe, it will come down to just winning." His wedge play and putting at Pebble was immaculate and his 5 appearances at Riviera have produced 7th on debut in 2007 and 3rd in 2008. RESULT: T44
I am genuinely shocked that Phil Mickelson is available at a more than backable 10/1 this week after his win at Pebble Beach last week. Tiger's return and a Sunday pairing with the old enemy produced the very best golf seen from Mickelson since Augusta 2010. Let's be 100% clear here, Lefty was absolutely brilliant on Sunday and nobody on the planet could have lived with him around the classical Pebble Par 72. Whilst watching the final round unfold it became clear that Mickelson's driving was approaching it's very best and he also hit 75% of Greens in Regulation across the whole tournament. Some intense Butch Harmon sessions in combination with tweaks to his driver managed to bring Phil back to life! Ok so let's fast forward to Riviera this week. Looking back at Mickelson's career, his CV is littered with hot periods of contention where a win has been followed by another or at the very least a Top 5 finish. Indeed his aforementioned Masters win almost 2 years ago was backed up with a 2nd behind Rory McIlroy at the classical Quail Hollow. In 2009 he won here at Riviera, then marched on to win his next stoke play outing at World Golf Championship event at Doral, and in 2007 his win at Pebble Beach was followed up by a play-off defeat to Howell III (can you believe that!) at Riviera a week later. With no WGC Matchplay to distract him this week, the greatest classical golf course player of the past 4 seasons – and that includes Tiger - must be licking his lips at the prospect of playing in LA this week where he won in 08 and 09. A win this week will virtually guarantee his spot in the Ryder Cup (which many were seriously questioning pre-Pebble) by the close of February and more importantly will provide the perfect platform for Augusta where he will bid to win his 4th Green Jacket. RESULT: T2, Lost In Playoff
I feel a little for Dustin Johnson who is often misconstrued as a battering ram of a bomber who has the perfect game for resort courses. Look at the facts though and little more could be further from the truth. DJ is actually a brilliant ball striker whose power fade is absolutely perfect for Riviera. When his putter is compliant he is a very difficult to man to beat on a classical golf course. Well I have news for you the reader, he found his putter at Pebble Beach last week so it's time to jump on board the South Carolina resident who finished 2nd to Darren Clarke in the toughest of conditions at Sandwich last year. Another fact worth bearing in mind this week is that Johnson is no lover of Bermuda putting surfaces and in fact comes alive on Bent and Poa Annua greens, so this week's combo will suit him down to the ground. Previous Top 10 finishes at Riviera is an important factor so 10th (09) and 3rd (10) fit the bill perfectly. His CV is also littered with top finishes on classical and technical courses which link to Riviera like: Torrey 3rd (11), Pebble Beach 1st (09 & 10), TPC Four Seasons 4th (09), Muirfield 4th (11), 5th Whistling Straits (10), 1st Plainfield (11), 4th Boston (09) and 1st Cog Hill (10). Johnson is one of those rare American talents for me, i.e. a young star who has the ability to win a Major Championship. Riviera provides the perfect blank canvass for D.J. to highlight those abilities this week. RESULT: T4
Motivation always plays a key role in my tips and Ryan Moore must feel like an outsider looking in right now. Moore, who grew up in Washington State, went to college in Nevada and lives in Scottsdale Arizona, unsurprisingly has a decent west coast record over the past few years. 12 months ago he teed up at Riviera knowing he was playing in the WGC Matchplay the following week, plus Doral and Augusta – incidentally he finished 4th at Riviera, made the Quarters at Dove Mountain and was 35th at Augusta. Now though Moore, who is most at home on bent greens and on classical golf courses, won't play the Matchplay (unless 2 players in the field withdraw) next week or Doral in March or Augusta in April unless he starts to grab high quality finishes and boost his current OWGR of 67. His target is Top 50 the week prior to Doral so he needs to contend……and fast! Moore who won his only PGA Tour victory on the bent greens at tree-lined Sedgefield in 2009 came to my attention last week at Pebble where on a course he doesn't get on with (he hates coastal golf) he semi contended before falling back to finish 20th due mainly to confidence returning to his putting. Moore, who is playing fit again after a shoulder injury curtailed 2011, loves classical courses as 2nd at Aronimink (10), 2nd at Muirfield (07) and 3rd at Cog Hill (09) highlights perfectly. 100/1 feels extremely generous with other bookies pricing Ryan as short as 70/1. RESULT: T17
I'll finish this week with a little Top 10 tickle on Aussie Marc Leishman who often pops up on bent green classical formats, where low scoring isn't required. Leishman, who is based in Virginia, came to the attention of the golfing world when he finished 2nd in his rookie season at Cog Hill in 2009. 2010 delivered 2nd at Torrey Pines, 15th on debut at Riviera, 7th at Aronimink and 11th at Cog Hill and 2011 started well with a superb 3rd behind Martin Laird at Bay Hill. I think we can safely say that Leishman only comes to the party on classical tracks! Since Bay Hill, Leishman has struggled with his game but a return home to Australia over the winter offered up an opportunity to rebuild his game and his confidence so a morale boosting 6th ahead of luminaries such as Senden, Bubba, Day, Yang and Fowler is worthy of note. Sure enough a lacklustre US debut at Torrey Pines was followed up by a decent 15th at the alien Scottsdale where his putter fired back into life in combination with +70% Greens in Regulation. Don't be surprised to see young Marc in the mix this week on a track that will suit perfectly. RESULT: T17
Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 17:40GMT 14.2.12 but naturally subject to fluctuation