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Hope plenty of you were on board last week as Brandt Snedeker delivered a nice 25/1 winner for my preview. Our second winner of 2015 and it was nice to see our PGA Tour Predictor also pick up Snedeker in the top 3. The west coast swing has been dominated by elite players to date and as we finally get to the end of the swing at Riviera Country Club this week the strongest field of 2015 is congregating at Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles to try and win the much coveted Northern Trust Open at Hogan's Alley.
2015 Punters League
Congratulations to John Morris who won the Punters League last week grabbing a £/€25 free bet with Paddy Power into the bargain. John was unsurprisingly the only entry to highlight both Andrew Dodt and Brandt Snedeker last week from his 6 picks. Barry O'Hanrahan continues to lead overall League after Week 6 - enter your 6 players across the Northern Trust and Hero Indian Open via our facebook group now. Good luck!
The European Tour takes a trip to New Delhi for the Hero Indian Open and Paul Williams' preview covers everything you need to know. Meanwhile on the PGA Tour tranquil conditions again will greet the players who arrive at Rivera CC. This week's Northern Trust Preview walks you through some interesting angles that have shaped my final selections:
Course Guide: Riviera is a stretching 7,349 yard, 35-36 Par 71, classical old-style golf course. The course features tight, tree-lined fairways, plenty of uneven fairways plus fast green complexes that average 5,000 sq.ft. and feature plenty of surrounding run-off areas for overly aggressive or wayward approach shots. The course itself favours neither longer or shorter hitters, but finding fairways is extremely difficult and the more accurate off the tee can grab a real advantage. The course features some of the deepest bunkers on Tour and fairway positioning is key as approach shots can be blocked by trees. Every season Riviera plays as one of the hardest courses to hit greens and putting is difficult - especially from 10 feet and in on the fast Bent Poa Annua mix greens.
Riviera Country Club, Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, California: Designer: Neville and Thomas 1926 with Fazio re-design 2008; Course Type: Classical; Par: 71; Length: 7,319 yards; Fairways: Kikuyugrass; Rough: Kikuyugrass 2.5"; Greens: 5,000 sq.ft average Creeping Bent with Poa Annua; Tournament Stimp: 12ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 72.22 (+1.22), Difficulty Rank 7 of 49 courses. 2013: 71.85 (+0.85), Difficulty Rank 11 of 43 courses. 2014: 71.21 (+0.21), Rank 24 of 48 courses.
Course Overview: Riviera CC is one of the most classical and undulating golf courses in the United States. It tests the all-around game of a player and undoubtedly takes time to master. Riviera and Torrey Pines are the only courses on Tour to feature Kikuyugrass fairways and rough. May sound technical but be aware that west coast specialists plus Australians and South Africans have a distinct advantage playing on this - check out the winners list below. Course experience is a real premium on this classical setup that features a testing set of par 4s. It's a course that can't be simply overpowered with Bubba Watson ranking 8th in Fairways Hit and 5th in Approach Shot Proximity last term, but the tournament as ever will be decided on the twelve looks at the par 5s. Most recent winners Merrick and Watson shot -11 (-11/273 winning total) and -8 (-15/269) respectively on the par 5s.
Previous winners: 2014: Bubba Watson; 2013: John Merrick; 2012: Bill Haas; 2011: Aaron Baddeley; 2010: Steve Stricker; 2009: Phil Mickelson; 2008: Phil Mickelson; 2007: Charles Howell III; 2006: Rory Sabbatini; 2005: Adam Scott; 2004: Mike Weir; 2003: Mike Weir; 2002: Len Mattiace 2001: Robert Allenby; 2000: Kirk Triplett.
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week's event that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes
Published Predictor Model: Our published Northern Trust Open predictor is available here. You can build your own tailor-made model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Key players included in the upper reaches of the Predictor include Dustin Johnson (Rank 1), Jimmy Walker, Bubba Watson and Jim Furyk. Just outside the Top 5, Charles Howell III (winner here in 2007), Kevin Na and Alex Prugh look interesting for longer price backers at 80/1, 100/1 and 110/1 respectively at the time of writing.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10 tournament window that stretches back to the Sandersons Farms Championship / HSBC Champions and includes PGA Tour, European Tour and the Hero World Challenge. Players must have played in a minimum of 3 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Quality tends to win at Riviera CC. Classical golf courses tend to produce a better standard of winner and the Northern Trust Open with its close proximity to Hollywood has always made it one of the PGA Tour's best domestic tournaments. So it's hardly surprising to see the in-form trio of Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson sharing co-favouritism with plenty of bookmakers. If Sunday becomes a fight between these guys down the stretch it will make for explosive viewing. But there's hope that a surprise winner could actually break the short-price streak at Riviera this week as local lad John Merrick won 24 months ago here at 250/1 and Aaron Baddeley won on 2011 at a triple-digit price.
Winners & Prices: 2014: Watson 33/1; 2013: Merrick 250/1; 2012: Haas 50/1; 2011: Baddeley 100/1; 2010: Stricker 16/1; 2009: Mickelson 18/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years click here.
Nappy Factor: Here's a list of players in this week's field who have become recent fathers. This is an interesting angle that his historically delivered numerous winners. If you know of further player's don't hesitate to email us or add new names to the thread on our facebook group: Hunter Mahan 6.2.15, Dustin Johnson 20.1.15, D.A. Points 20.1.15, Scott Langley 6.10.14.
Doral and Augusta OWGR Bubble: Sunday marks the first cut-off for Official World Golf Ranking Top 50 qualification for the first World Golf Championship tournament at Doral plus Augusta looms ever larger on the horizon. Here is a list of players in this week's field who are on the bubble for qualifying for Doral. Current OWGR in brackets: Marc Leishman (49), Harris English (57), Francesco Molinari (60), Graham Delaet (64), Kevin Streelman (65), Charley Hoffman (69), Ben Martin (71), Ernie Els (72), Nick Watney (75), Matt Jones (77), Robert Streb (78), Sang-moon Bae (79), Angel Cabrera (81).
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for Riviera is here. Calm conditions look like they have travelled down the coast from Pebble Beach for this week's action. A slight breeze will affect play across all four afternoons and it looks like it may increase ever so slightly for Sunday. This part of California was hit be unseasonable levels of rain across December and early January so there maybe potentially be slightly more rough, but no rain in February will make for traditionally firm conditions.
There is undoubtedly a form link between Riviera and a couple of other classical golf courses. The course here features Kikuyugrass fairways and rough, a feature which is only shared with Torrey Pines. So it's hardly a surprise to see that recent winners Baddeley, Haas, Merrick and Watson have all finished 11th or better (Merrick's was at the 2008 U.S. Open) down the coast in San Diego. Steve Stricker who won here in 2010 has no Torrey Pines form of note, however he'd finished 2nd here 12 months earlier showing he could handle the Kikuyu.
I'm also looking for upwardly mobile ball-strikers this week who have strong links to Augusta. Bubba Watson, Charl Schwartzel, Dustin Johnson, Steve Sticker and Phil Mickelson (2007/08 Champion) all adorn recent leaderboards here and those links go back to another left-handed player Mike Weir (2003/04 Champion). Even Aaron Baddeley (17th 2009) and John Merrick (5th 2009) had both achieved decent results at Augusta National prior to winning here. Tie all of this in with the recent trend for short-priced winners: Reed (22/1), Walker (16/1), Haas (30/1), Koepka (50/1), Day (14/1) and Snedeker 25/1. All of whom had strong west coast form prior to winning their respective titles.
Key Bookmaker Offer: Take a look at Coral's Golf Guarantee. Enhanced Winner Only option, your choice of 5 Places each-way or 6 Places each-way, plus In-Play tournament betting across the Overall, Top 5 and Top 10 markets through to the last putt on Sunday. Full details here.
My selections are as follows:
I tried to resist getting involved with the Top 3 this week, but I can't avoid backing defending Champion Bubba Watson for a number of reasons. He firstly sits in the top 15 across Driving Accuracy, Greens In Regulation and Putting Average in the skill rankings detailed above. Secondly fellow left-handers and Augusta Champions Mickelson and Weir have both successfully defended here and thirdly I think that Bubba will be highly motivated this week to retain a title for the first time in his career - that would be a huge mental boost in his attempts to defend the Green Jacket. Bubba openly states that he loves overseeded course setups and he topped Bogey Avoidance at TPC Scottsdale. Result: T14
English is another player who we need to watch this week as he seeks to re-claim and cement a place in the OWGR Top 50 (ideally by Sunday) to ensure entry at Doral in a fortnight and naturally Augusta National in April. English has worked hard with his swing coach Scott Hamilton since he hired him in the late summer of last year and there's no doubt that his ball-striking in 2015 has been consistently good. 3rd at Waialae, 30th at PGA West, plus 40th at TPC Scottsdale all came from consistent approach rather than the Georgian's acclaimed putter. However English's performance at Torrey Pines where he led from the middle of Round 2 and showed huge character to birdie the last to force his way into a play-off was different as it was powered by a razor sharp scrambling and putting performance. Ranks 6th in Bogey Avoidance for the season and finished a creditable 10th here 12 months ago. Result: T30
West coast specialist Nick Watney is another winner-in-waiting for me and he impressed last week at Pebble Beach with a performance which was packed full of birdies and great putting the like of which we have not seen from him since the close of 2012. At 75th in the OWGR Watney is making real progress towards a coveted Top 50 spot and the Californian's CV is packed full of highly relevant results across Kapalua, TPC Scottsdale, Torrey Pines, Doral, Augusta, TPC River Highlands and Aronimink. Nick's wins tend to come after a run of Top 10 finishes, so this week offers a huge opportunity for the 34 year-old who is making his 7th start here. Result: T22
World Number 49 Marc Leishman is 'on the bubble' when it comes to qualifying for Doral and that arouses my interest this week in the Australian who has a rather handy record at Torrey Pines and was 4th at Augusta as recently as 22 months ago. Recent form of 9(Sheshan)-11(Aus PGA)- 37(Waialae)-27(Torrey Pines) shows a player who's in decent enough nick and the 31 year-old from Victoria was 8th and 6th after 36 holes at Waialae and Torrey Pines. The fact that Marc was an improving 17th for Ball Striking in San Diego a fortnight ago is great news for us, especially as 5 appearances at Riviera have delivered 4 pay cheques and 2 Top-17 finishes. Result: MC
Whilst Charlie Beljan grabbed the acclaim of outsider punters last week, I have to say I was mightily impressed with Alex Prugh who bagged 10th, after finishing 5th at Torrey Pines the week before. Prugh was another who was heavily backed last week, but I'm going to jump on this week. It's evident when looking at his web.com and PGA Tour career that Prugh plays in patches of form and it's crystal clear that he plays his best golf on Poa Annua greens. Rewind to 2010 and Alex finished 5th at PGA West, 5th at Torrey Pines and 10th here at Riviera in 3 consecutive weeks. On the basis that the Washington State man has never finished in the Top 20 of a Tour event outside of Hawaii/California I don't think the 31 year old will be complacent at Riviera. With Ball-Striking ranks that read 7th PGA West, 9th Torrey Pines and 1st Pebble Beach, Prugh knows he's never played better and this week marks his real chance to earn his full playing privileges for 2015/16. Result: T30
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel