Defending Champ: John Merrick
Riviera plays home to the
Los Angeles Open Nissan Open Northern Trust Open this week, welcoming the world’s best to the outskirts of L.A. And this incarnation should be the best in some time, featuring 16 of the top 30 players on the planet, including reigning US Open champ Justin Rose, who makes his 2014 debut. The PGA also gets its first look at a streaking triumvirate of internationals – Charl Schwartzel, Francesco Molinari and Joost Luiten. No Tiger and Rory, though.
The course is one of the more challenging layouts on the PGA schedule; it’s the only one Tiger’s played more than four times without a win – he’s 0-for-11 at Riviera. Yet, it can strangely be had by all types of players. Accurate, shorter drivers with solid iron play can avoid a lot of the headaches that emerge from missing the fairway as the course doesn’t play as long its 7,298 yards. Chalk that up to wonky elevation. Conversely, this can actually assist the long bombers in recovering from sticky situations, as their second shots are usually nothing more than a P-Wedge to green. Recently, however, winners have been those that can consistently shape their 6-Irons, not choke away strokes on the difficult Par-3s and terrific putting. That’s the big one. And it’s not so much about making a bomb from the fringe; it’s been about not pushing (or pulling) those pesky three footers that have proven far more laborious than they look.
Riviera requires elite course management to win. It’s really a shame the celebrity draw wasn’t this week. Alex Smith would have been better suited playing here than Pebble.
HIT THE LINKS
Turns out Clint Eastwood is a big The Fray fan. To the shock of no one, Clint knows how to save a life.
Tiger Woods isn’t off to the best start in 2014, but his niece sure is. 23-year-old Cheyenne Woods triumphed in the land down under over the weekend, making the Australian Masters her first career victory. She wins like her uncle and swings like him too. No, not swinging that way, get your mind out of the gutter. That said, Tiger did just play a round with India’s top female golfer Sharmila Nicollet, who just happens to be an Uber Babe. Watch yourself Lindsay.
Vijay Singh, a man who seeks justice.
South African George Coetzee has been lingering on leaderboards across the world for the past few years, but the guy just has no finish. Until Sunday. He won the Joburg Open on home soil; earning a spot in the Open Championship. Keep Coetzee’s name banked somewhere in your noggin for when he eventually makes American voyage.
Want to be a PGA pro? Probably not going to happen, tough break. But you can learn how to act like one if that makes you feel better. Pretending!!!
Most Fantasy Golf leagues are taking a sabbatical with the Match Play starting next week, and Steve Stricker may be too because of an illness in his family.
Annnndddddd…….. Rory McIlory has decided to play the Scottish Open for the first time since 2009. I guess Rory figures if Hefty can parlay a winning week under the clouds into a Claret Jug, he can too.
Bill Haas – Billy Haas has been consistently mediocre this season. Despite not missing a cut, he’s finished inside the Top 16 just once. Weird, right? He’ll make that two this week, however. Haas knocked off Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, draining a 40-footer on the first playoff hole on this site two years ago, and led on Sunday here last season, before carding a final round 73, finishing in third. Which was probably personally devastating, but just fine for Fantasy gamers.
Keegan Bradley & Webb Simpson – The “B-List” is overflowing with legit options this week. I’m taking a pass on Graham DeLaet, Dustin Johnson, Hunter Mahan and Jordan Spieth, though – my roster only has so many slots. And when forced to choose between analogous alternatives, at Riviera, I favor accuracy, irons and putting over distance off the tee. There are just too many places to bleed strokes if you miss the fairway. Plus, Keegan and Webb have proven themselves at this site in the past: Bradley has a T2 and T16 in his past two trips; Simpson finished in a tie for sixth in 2013 and enters with four Top 10s in five starts this season.
Hideki Matsuyama – Another reason I’m passing on that passel of recognizable names is Matsuyama’s inclusion on the “B-List” too. And I must have him, because the breakthrough is rapidly approaching. Beyond being the 21st ranked player world at age 21, the Japanese phenom has the perfect blend of skills to take over Riviera. His length off the tee compensates for a general lack of accuracy, so he’ll still pile up a ton of GIRs, and when he’s on the green, he brings great honor to his reads – ranking 13th on Tour in strokes gaining putting. Matsuyama’s lethal with the flat stick in his hands, and as we’ve witnessed the past few years, that’s what separate champions and those who merely collect six-figure paydays at the NTO.
Kevin Stadler & John Merrick – It’s a fairly anemic “A-List” this week, with the only big(ish) names in the field being Bubba Watson & Luke Donald. Both have posted decent finishes at Riviera before, but with Bubba coming off blowing it at the Waste Management Open and Donald’s poor play in 2014, this is a great spot to recoup some points in the standings by going slightly off the board. Now, I get taking a previous winner on Tour this season and the defending champ doesn’t seem like a venture into complex game theory, but you need to understand your leaguemates. They love big names like Bubba and (un)Lucky Luke; because they recognize big names, and that’s who they’ll end up taking. You’re far better off rolling with Stadler and Merrick, who don’t necessarily knock you on your ass with flash, but have been ultra consistent. Between them, they’ve made 14 of 14 cuts this season, and probably the sneakiest part of their value is familiarity with Riviera: Merrick is a UCLA man and Stads attended USC. Both have played this course an awful lot.
Jimmy Walker – Here’s a free lesson: Just keep plugging Walker into your lineup every week until the demonic spirit of 2000 Tiger is exorcised from body. He’s already won three times in his first eight starts, joining Woods, Phil Mickelson and David Duval has the only players to accomplish that feat in the past 20 years. Will Walker win again at Riviera? It’s not likely; that’s what probability dictates, at least. Although, the past two years he’s pumped out a T4 and T16 so there.s a chance. He’s a must have, but since everyone’s going to be starting Walker on their “C-List” I’m playing contrarian, leaving him on the bench to begin the event and rolling with Charl Schwartzel instead.
Charl Schwartzel – While Schwartzel’s making his US season debut, he’s no neophyte to the NTO, finishing just a lone stroke out of a playoff here last year. It doesn’t hurt that he’s one of the best, and most accomplished players in the field either. In fact, I would suggest that only helps! The former Masters champ currently sits 18th in the world, and has been rounding back into Green Jacket form lately. Schwartzel’s notched two wins and six top 10s in his past nine events worldwide, and has made 13 consecutive cuts – only finishing lower than 30th once in that stretch.
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