Professional / Fantasy

Fantasy Forecast: Northern Trust Open preview

Jordan Spieth
Jordan Spieth (Getty)

Northern Trust Open

The Riviera Country Club

Pacific Palisades, Calif.


  • Yards: 7,332 per the official scorecard
  • Par: 71 (35-36)
  • Greens: Poa annua, Creeping Bentgrass; only 5,000 square feet on average (small)
  • Rough: Kikuyu grass at 2.5″
  • Bunkers: 60
  • Water Hazards: 0
  • Course Architect(s): George C. Thomas and William P. Bell (1928); Tom Fazio (2008)
  • Purse: $6.8 million; $1.244 million (winner); 500 FedExCup Points
  • Defending Champion: James Hahn won a three-man, three-hole playoff over Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey to claim his first victory on Tour. Casey was eliminated on the second playoff hole.


  • 144 players; Stroke play; cut: top 70 professionals and ties
  • This is the 90th edition of the NTO, the fourth-longest running event on Tour.

2015-16 Winners


In 2014-15, there were 14 players in their 20s who won tournaments. They accounted for a whopping 24 victories in 47 events.

Under 30 Winners (at time of victory)

  • Emiliano Grillo, 23;
  • Smylie Kaufman, 23; Shriners
  • Justin Thomas, 22; CIMB
  • Peter Malnati, 28; SFC
  • Jordan Spieth, 22; HTOC
  • Hideki Matsuyama, 23; WMPO

Prime-Time Players

The guys between 30-39 years of age produced 16 multiple champions in 17 events last season.

Winners 30-39

  • Russell Knox, 30; HSBC Champions
  • Graeme McDowell, 36; OHL Mayakoba
  • Kevin Kisner, 31; RSM Classic
  • Fabian Gomez, 37; Sony Open
  • Jason Dufner, 38; CB Challenge
  • Brandt Snedeker, 35; Farmers Insurance Open
  • Vaughn Taylor, 39; Pebble Beach Pro-Am

Old Guard

There were only four winners last season from 47 events (Furyk, Cejka, Love III and Harrington). Sentimentality has no place in fantasy golf, folks, NOT EVEN IF YOU TALK LOUDER SO THEY CAN HEAR YOU.

Winners 40-plus

None, yet, as Phil Mickelson couldn’t hold his 54-hole, two-shot lead last week. He finished second; you might have heard.


Last year the only rookie to pick up a first-place check was Canadian Nick Taylor. This season it took ONE EVENT to match that total.

  • Rookie Winners
  • Emiliano Grillo;
  • Smylie Kaufman; Shriners

First-Time Winners

Rookies, journeyman, up-and-comers, I’ll keep track of them all. It’s a life-changer.

First-Time Winners Trend

  • 2013: 12
  • 2014: 10
  • 2015: 11
  • 2016: 6 and counting
  • Emiliano Grillo (
  • Smylie Kaufman (Shriners)
  • Justin Thomas (CIMB)
  • Peter Malnati (SFC)
  • Russell Knox (WGC-HSBC Champions)
  • Kevin Kisner (RSM)

The Particulars:

Fantastic Riviera has factored in the history of golf since opening its doors in the late 1920s. It has hosted the 1948 U.S. Open, won by Ben Hogan, a pair of PGA Championships (1983, 1995) and a U.S. Senior Open (1998). That rich history will continue as it will host the U.S. Amateur next summer.

Known as “Hogan’s Alley” for Ben Hogan’s dominance in the late 40s, Riviera was also the site of the first woman to play a Tour event when Babe Zaharias teed it in 1938. Joe Louis was the first African-American to play a Tour event here in 1952. I’ll bet a few coins that you’ll see the famous picture of the first paycheck that Jack Nicklaus ever received as this was his first event as a professional in 1962. Interestingly enough, it’s is also one of the few places where Tiger Woods, a Southern California native coincidentally, teed it five times as a pro and never won.

Previous Champions (since 2000)

  • 2015: James Hahn 276*
  • 2014: Bubba Watson 269
  • 2013: John Merrick 273*
  • 2012: Bill Haas 277*
  • 2011: Aaron Baddeley 272
  • 2010: Steve Stricker 268
  • 2009: Phil Mickelson 269
  • 2008: Phil Mickelson 272
  • 2007: Charles Howell 268
  • 2006: Rory Sabbatini 271
  • 2005: Adam Scott 133**
  • 2004: Mike Weir 267#
  • 2003: Mike Weir 275#
  • 2002: Len Mattiace 269
  • 2001: Robert Allenby 276*
  • 2000: Kirk Triplett 272#

*playoff; unofficial victory as the tournament was shortened to 36 holes; #not playing this week

Facts and Figures:

  • Tournament Record: 264, Lanny Wadkins (1985)
  • Course Record: 61, Ted Tryba (1991)
  • First-time winners on Tour: only four since the turn of the century but two of the last three years (Merrick and Hahn).
  • There has never been a rookie winner; Blayne Barber (T-10), Carlos Oritz (T-20) were the two highest last year.
  • Adam Scott’s “victory” was in his first attempt but was considered unofficial after weather halted the event after just 36 holes.
  • Since 1995, just three players have defended their championship (Corey Pavin 1994-95; Mike Weir 2004-05; Phil Mickelson 2008-09).
  • Left-handers Weir, Mickelson and Watson have all won here and at Augusta.
  • A playoff has been needed to determine a champion in three of the last four years.
  • 278 from James Hahn was the highest winning score this century.

Course Ratings since 2010

  • 2015: fifth most difficult; hardest par-71
  • 2014: 24th
  • 2013: 13th
  • 2012: 7th
  • 2011: 10th
  • 2010: 20th

Riviera is a grand, old fashioned layout that has gotten better with time. The pros love a course that forces them to use all 14 clubs in the bag, and they’re not upset that it sits right in front of them. Doglegs require tee shots that move right and left. Smallish greens require accurate iron play and then the nerve to trust the lines on the bent/Poa surfaces that can play havoc later in the day.

If the hot Los Angeles weather continues and the course plays firm and fast, there’s no doubt that the premium players will be licking their chops. Before the clouds and fog rolled in last year, the best in the world were running tee shots through the fairway and having trouble holding the small target putting surfaces. Experience (read: patience) will rule the week this week as par is a very good score and taking bogey is better than double or worse. The Kikuyu rough will present judgment issues on where to land the ball if fairways or greens are missed. The Poa greens will require concentration on every putt outside the leather. Experience pays here. This is a recording.

The players who have had success here keep the ball below the hole when possible, feast on the par fives, stay out of trouble on the difficult No. 10 and take any and all pars they can fit on the scorecard. With the exception of Mike Weir and Steve Stricker, this bad boy leans in the favor of big-hitting ball strikers, shown above.

The weather this week will heat up from the 60s on Thursday into the 80s on Sunday and sunshine looks to be the order minus a cloudy start on Thursday.

The Field


In order of preference for this week and this tournament

Jordan Spieth: Posted eight of 10 rounds here at par or better on one of the hardest courses annually; knocked the rust off last week with T-21 at Pebble; closed with bogey-free 66 plus only made six bogeys for the week; harder the course, the more I like him.

Hideki Matsuyama: Won at WMPO last time out; fantastic ball-striker that should shine again in LA; of eight career rounds, six are below par (T-23, T-4); not crazy about anyone going back-to-back, especially in a field of this size, but he’ll gladly fly under most “fans” radar. Not mine.

Rory McIlroy: Course form doesn’t exist, but we’re way past that; Holywood meets Hollywood, and the Northern Irishman’s start is shining with T-3, T-6 to begin his season; love him even more on a track where ball-striking and power stand out. Check and check.

Dustin Johnson: Hit the top 10 in five of six weekends played including second and P-2 the last two years; family game this week as the in-laws live up the street at Sherwood Country Club; half of his last 14 rounds here are in the 60s; he’ll need a sharper week striping it, but there’s no doubt he’ll be comfy.

Bubba Watson: This will be the 10th year in a row at Riviera; 2014 champ closed 64-64; went 43 holes in a row without a bogey ending in the first round last year; nothing outside of T-17 in five weekends from nine events; no weather = happy Bubba; shaping shots = happy Bubba.

Sergio Garcia: Pair of T-4s and a T-13 in three trips in the last four years; has rounds of 64 and 65 here; demanding courses accentuate his ball-striking, but his short game is an excellent insurance policy.

Jimmy Walker: Stated that this is his favorite course on Tour; played his last eight weekends at Riviera; last year’s T-41 broke a four-year run of T-20 or better; sniffed around with T-6 at Torrey and T-11, including 63 on Saturday, at Pebble Beach.

Charl Schwartzel: Ended 2015 with T-4 at the Dubai World Championship plus mopping the floor with the fields in South Africa on the European Tour (1st, T-9); opened ’16 with a win last week at Tshwane Open, also in his native South Africa; he’s used to Kikuyu and loves Riviera as 11 of 12 rounds the last three years are par or better; T-3 in ’13, T-5 in ’14 before T-41 last year.

J.B. Holmes: From 2008-12 rattled off consecutive T-12 or better; played eight of nine weekends as his power can eat up this place; contended last year again before 76 on Sunday knocked him to T-22; T-6, T-6, T-11 entering the week makes for a second and third look.

Bill Haas: 2012 champ knocked out Mickelson and Keegan Bradley in a playoff; beat Hunter Mahan in a playoff for $10 million in ’11 at the Tour Championship; pair of top 10s in his last three on Tour suggests he’s ready to par the pants off the place again this week.

Justin Rose: Loading up on the West Coast this year because he’s tired of dealing with allergies in the Florida Swing; didn’t fire at Torrey but bounced at Pebble Beach with T-6; this will be his 10th start in LA.

Freddie Jacobson: Top 10, ski vacation, top 10; stretching back to ’15, three of his last four T-5 or better; T-3 here in 2014; just saddle it up.

Harris English: He’s won and played well on courses where moving the ball through the trees is required; T-3 at ball-strikers track in Phoenix and closed with 73 in difficult conditions at Torrey Pines; T-10 here in ’14.

Matt Jones: Kikuyu also grows in Australia and South Africa, so it’s no wonder why some of these fellas don’t mind it; only MC is since the PGA; T-11 last week with 21 birdies.

Adam Scott: Too classy to leave off and too lightly raced to move up; has hit the top 17 five times in seven starts including a win, second and T-10 on his last visit in 2013.

Next Tier

Form plays, eye-catchers who make great support staff, not in order

James Hahn: Don’t play angry; merits a look for all of the same reasons I had last week!

John Huh: Form is scintillating with back-to-back top 10s and improvement four weeks in a row.

Vaughn Taylor: Fired a sandwich pair of 68s last year (T-22) inside a pair of 74s; super iron player and free as a bird after his win last week; top 10 or last wouldn’t surprise me, but he gets the love after the win.

Ben Crane: There’s no exact formula but leaning on players who’ve been playing well isn’t the worst angle; only two rounds above par in his three (T-24, T-25, T-24).

Justin Thomas: Sat one off the 36-hole lead here last year before a 75-75 weekend (T-41); interested to see what he learned.

Cameron Tringale: SoCal native enters off MC, MC but hasn’t missed here in five tries; last year’s T-47 was first finish outside T-21; only four rounds of 20 above par.

Keegan Bradley: A pair of top fours and nothing outside the top 20 in his last four gives gamers hope this week; the putter is holding him back, but his long game could be the difference this week.

Aaron Baddeley: Found 11 of 13 weekends here; won in 2011; slipped off the radar the last two weeks but was T-8 at tenuous Torrey Pines.

Brendan Steele: Backed his T-10 in ’14 with T-14 last year; SoCal native can stripe it; made three cuts on the bounce on Tour.

K.J. Choi: Never missed in 15 tries; nothing worse than T-33 the last 11 years. Automatic after solo second at Torrey and T-17 WMPO; not letting MC last week bother.

Billy Horschel: 68-70-68 to close last time out suggest he’s getting more comfortable with his new PXG sticks; maiden voyage at Riviera could be the recipe to snap him back into form as he digs hard tracks.

Luke Donald: There’s something in there brewing, but it hasn’t been put together for all four rounds. Yet. Has shown the ability to get low and blow up at Riviera so hang on.

Off the Beaten Path

Course horses, long shots, cheeky picks, DFS last call, red herrings

Mark Hubbard: West Coaster has made nine of 10 cuts this season.

Bernd Wiesberger: Three top 26 or better finishes in the Middle East has kicked his season off on the right foot; first time in LA tempers the love.

Jason Gore: Racked out 11 of the last 12 weekends, including all eight in the news season; played up the street at Pepperdine.

Adam Hadwin: Plodding along with T-6 and T-17 in two of his last three; T-22 in his maiden voyage last year.

Lucas Glover: A pair of top 20s in his last three gets a look; another ball-striker that lurks.

Stewart Cink: Made 13 of 14 here and T-21 last week is his best in eight starts this season.

William McGirt: 54-hole leader here in ’14; T-14 last year.

Andy Sullivan: I like T-22, T-2 in his last two in the Middle East. I don’t like his first time in LA. Somewhere in the middle is probably the right answer but I’m not building around him.

Si Woo Kim: Just keeps on keepin’ on; played his last seven weekends on Tour. Not bad for 20.

Kyle Reifers: One look at this joint last year and finished T-8; played the final three rounds par or better after opening with 72.

S.Y. Noh: T-16 on his maiden, T-22 last year suggests he enjoys this track.

Bryce Molder: Crushed fantasy teams last week at Pebble but he’s been T-21 or better three of the last four years here without a MC.

Pat Perez: Another SoCal native, Perez has played 12 of 14 weekends at Riviera but only one top 10.

Chad Campbell: T-31, T-17 in his last two and could thrive on a ball-strikers track.


Injured, rusty or not the track this week

Matt Kuchar: Slow start this season on courses where he’s fired in the past; no top 10s here in nine tries; actually MC his last visit in ’14. Save him for courses where he rakes. There are PLENTY of them. Run.

Brendon Todd: His recent form trumps any course form; MC in three of his last four (T-56).

Charles Howell III: His recent form is excellent. His form this time of year is ALWAYS excellent. His course form here stinks. Since his win here in 2007, he’s never finished better than T56. Only four rounds in that streak are under par. Only two are in the 60s. Those are some massive trends to buck.

Kevin Na: After back-to-back top 10s in 2010-11, he’s MC twice and not finished better than T-61 in four tries. Na thanks.

John Merrick: Nothing before he won here. Nothing since.


Rookies and or newbies who catch my eye on a weekly basis that gamers should start keeping tabs on. The inspiration of this column was from Jordan Spieth’s performance on sponsor’s exemptions in early 2013. Other graduates from this column include Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Reed, Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger, Tony Finau and Grillo. Let’s add Smylie Kaufman to the list as well as he won in his second event on Tour with his card! Patrick Rodgers, T-6, Smylie Kaufman, T-10; Harold Varner III, T-48, gets a special mention as he was T-4 entering Sunday before a disastrous 79 wiped out his three excellent rounds. #LearningCurves

Shriners: Kaufman’s victory sees him join Grillo in the “graduates” section now. Wow. That didn’t take long! money leader and all-around leader Patton Kizzire (T-2) missed a playoff by one shot as did Brett Stegmaier (T-2). It was Kizzire’s first start with a Tour card and Stegmaier’s second. #Sizzle. Patrick Rodgers was T-13.

CIMB: Cameron Smith couldn’t recapture his magic of his solo fifth in 2014, but his T-37 gives him another solid dose of experience.

WGC-HSBC Champions: Haotong Li, 20, finished T-7, the best finish by a Chinese player in any Tour event.

Sanderson Farms Championship: Patrick Rodgers, T-20.

OHL Mayakoba: Harold Varner III, T-5; Patrick Rodgers, T-10.

RSM: Tom Hoge, T9.

HTOC: No mentions at a “winners ONLY” event!

Sony: Zac Blair, 3rd; Si Woo Kim, 4th;

CB Challenge: Si Woo Kim, T-9. This is a recording. List and Hadwin have played a full year on Tour previously!

Farmers: Paul Dunne, the amateur who led The Open after 54 holes last year at St. Andrews, backed up his solo ninth in Joburg with T-13 at Torrey South. Oh, and Si Woo Kim hit the top 20 again. Patton Kizzire hit the top 10 for the third time in seven starts.

WMPO: You shouldn’t be just figuring out who Patrick Rodgers is (T-17)…

AT&T Pebble Beach: Cameron Smith, T-11.


Wednesday I’ll present my gaming angles for the week, so keep your eyes peeled at @GolfweekMag, @GolfweekFantasy and @MikeGlasscott for more information.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out through Twitter or email me at [email protected]

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