2014 Northern Trust Open Betting Preview

The closing hole at Riviera. (Courtesy: danperry.com)

The closing hole at Riviera. (Courtesy: danperry.com)

Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth head up a quality field at iconic Riviera Country Club as the PGA Tour stops in Los Angeles for the 2014 Northern Trust Open.

2014 Northern Trust Open Fact Sheet

  • Course: Riviera Country Club
  • Location: Pacific Palisades, California
  • Yardage: 7,349 yards, par 71
  • Defending Champion: John Merrick
  • Five Consensus Favourites: Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Webb Simpson, Hunter Mahan and Jimmy Walker

TV Schedule:

  • Thursday – 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
  • Friday – 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM ET (Golf Channel)
  • Saturday – 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM ET (Golf Channel) & 3:00 to 6:00 PM ET (CBS)
  • Sunday – 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM ET (Golf Channel) & 3:00 to 6:30 PM ET (CBS)

Key Storyline(s) This Week

There really isn’t one big storyline to follow this week, but there are a couple of notable things to keep an eye on:

  • Barring any other withdrawals from the event, and there are reports that Steve Stricker could be one more, we know the field for next week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play. However, those who are in the event can alter their place in the Official World Golf Rankings and change the projected pairings.
  • Justin Rose is playing in his first event since the middle of December in Thailand after having some shoulder trouble.
  • Jimmy Walker is in the field and will be seeking his fourth win of the season.

Riviera Country Club

Riviera is always known as a thinking man’s course, and one where every club in the bag usually comes into play. Tight fairways and small greens are littered throughout the course, which usually means that a premium is placed on ball striking. It’s one of my favourite stops of the year, with some truly memorable holes, most notably:

Par-3 4th (236 yards)
Ben Hogan called this the best par-3 in America, and while I’m not sure that’s still true today, it’s right up there. It plays long at 236 yards and has a massive bunker guarding the left-hand side of the green. In the last five years, the handicap on the hole has been 2-2-4-5-4, so most players will be happy to get away with four pars here this week.

Par-3 6th (199 yards)
The 6th would be a standard par-3, but it’s famous for having a bunker right in the middle of the green. It’s one of those things that you either love or hate, with those who hate it suggesting that it’s nothing more than a gimmick. At the very least, it can provide some interesting shots depending on where players leave themselves, and where the pin is located on that day.

Par-4 10th (315 yards)
The 10th is a definite swing hole. With the short distance, the green can be driven, but extreme accuracy is required with deep bunkers guarding the green. Those who successfully drive the green will have a huge advantage, but if they miss, they could take themselves out of the event. You might recall that last year after losing in the playoff to Merrick, Charlie Beljan wasn’t overly fond of the hole.

Par-4 15th (487 yards)
The 15th is the longest par-4 on the course, and is consistently one of the toughest holes on the layout. Most players will have to hit a power fade to avoid the bunker on the right side of the fairway, but if they can do that, they should be set up pretty well for an approach into the largest green on the course. It’s not easy once you get on the green though, as it is multi-tiered, which can lead to some very difficult two-putts.

Par-4 18th (475 yards)
The closing hole at Riviera is one of the most recognizable finales in all of golf. The tee shot is uphill and completely blind to the players, and finding the fairway is pretty much required to hit the green in two shots. The green sits in a bowl with the clubhouse on top, creating an amphitheater like atmosphere around the closing hole.

Thoughts On The Favourites

  • Dustin Johnson: Just couldn’t do enough to catch Walker on Sunday at Pebble, but the runner-up finish gave him five straight inside the top-12, dating back to last year’s Tour Championship. He’s had some success here too, with three top-10’s in six total appearances.
  • Jordan Spieth: Spieth continues to impress, and managed to battle back to get into a tie for fourth after a rough third round 78 at Pebble last week, but something doesn’t feel right to me about him this week. Missed the cut here in his first appearance at Riviera.
  • Webb Simpson: Simpson has quietly put together one of the best runs on the PGA Tour since the new season started back in October. He started with a win at the Shriners and hasn’t been out of the top-25 in four events since. He’s played well in his two starts at Riviera as well, with only one round over par and two top-15’s.
  • Hunter Mahan: Mahan was in contention all week at Pebble, but just couldn’t seem to put it all together on the weekend when the conditions got a little more difficult. He’s had a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to success at Riviera, but he did have his best finish last year, getting into a tie for 8th.
  • Jimmy Walker: At this point, Walker is going to be considered a threat in every tournament he enters and rightfully so. It’s difficult to see him not being in contention this week, as he goes for his fourth win of the season and he seems to like Riviera. Keep in mind that his last round above par at the course came in the final round back in 2009.

Suggested Plays

Graham DeLaet (Best Odds 22-1 at bet365)

Nothing fantastic about his record at Riviera, but he did improve in his second go at the course last year, plus he’s been the runner-up in back to back events. One of the best ball strikers on the PGA Tour needs to get rewarded soon with a win, and Riviera is a great place for DeLaet to pick up that maiden victory.

Bill Haas (Best Odds 28-1 at bwin)

In his first five appearances at Riviera, Haas was beaten up pretty good, but since then, he’s been solid with three finishes in the top-12, including a win in 2012. It’s been a slow start to the season by his standards, but I think he’ll get back into contention this week.

Hideki Matsuyama (Best Odds 35-1 at 888 Sport)

I’m usually dead set against taking players in their course debuts, but I’m pretty bullish when it comes to Matsuyama and his chances. Plus, he hasn’t really had much trouble in first appearances at other places, so I’m hoping that stays true again this week.

Charl Schwartzel (Best Odds 40-1 at bet365)

Schwartzel should have won this tournament last year, but the putter betrayed him on the weekend and he finished tied for third, one shot out of the Beljan/Merrick playoff. He’s been on a bit of a cold streak lately, which explains why you can get him at this kind of price, but with his talent, 40-1 is too good to pass up.

Charles Howell III (Best Odds 51-1 at BETDAQ)

When Howell beat Phil Mickelson in a playoff here back in 2007, people would have been shocked if you told them that he would still be looking for the next win seven years later. He’s a better player now then he was back then though, and I’m hoping that his penchant for back-dooring top-10 finishes gets him a little higher up the board this week.

Ernie Els (Best Odds 180-1 at Betfair)

The list of places that Ernie has won at is a long one, so it’s no surprise that Riviera is one of the venues that he has triumphed at. Granted that was back in 1999, but at this kind of price, take the chance that he might be able to pick up at least a good finish on an each-way bet.

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