Northern Trust Open
Played at a sometimes Major venue in Riviera Country Club, this event has the look of a Major championship in every respect other than the absence of Tiger Woods. 8 of the world?s top-10 line up, and 17 of the top-20 as everyone fights for the scraps left behind by Tiger. But after unlikely wins from JB Holmes and Steve Lowery over the past fortnight, what price another outsider?
Phil Mickelson heads the market from Adam Scott and Rory Sabbatini, with everyone else at least 20/1. I?d never write Mickelson off these days, and he could very plausibly make amends for throwing this event away last year. However, the rough is more penal this time, with slightly emphasis on driving distance. In any case, I couldn?t back the favourite against a field of this stature when they missed the cut last time out.
Scott won a rain-shortened Nissan Open here in 2005, and followed up with 2nd the following year. If he can repeat the brilliance shown when winning his last tournament in Qatar, then the Aussie will take plenty of beating. I?m not over-excited about the price though, which has already accounted for those positive factors. As for Sabbatini, he too has won at Riviera before and has a solid chance, but again his odds of 18/1 hardly scream value.
Alternatively, KJ CHOI continues to be under-estimated by layers. Perhaps its because he?s Korean and therefore lacks the media profile of some of his main rivals. Just three starts ago, Choi landed his third PGA Tour win in seven months at the Sony Open. In that same period he also finished runner-up twice, a record I?m pretty sure nobody bar Tiger could better. Since the Sony, he?s missed the cut at Torrey Pines – a venue I never expected him to prosper anyway – and hit three rounds of 68 or better to make the top-20 at Scottsdale. Riviera suits Choi’s game much more than either of those two venues, and I expect him to have a good crack at beating his previous personal best on this course, 5th in 2003.
I?m in danger of giving back all the profits made from backing MIKE WEIR last autumn unless he delivers again soon. This will be the fourth time I?ve backed the Canadian left-hander this year, but such is his Riviera record that he cannot be abandoned just yet. Twice a winner on this course, he is clearly ideally suited to the layout and, in fairness, played pretty well at the weekend to come back from a poor start to finish 14th.
Having finished tied with Weir at Pebble Beach, PADRAIG HARRINGTON is also worth persevering with. If it wasn?t for an extremely untimely disaster hole in round two, Ireland?s finest may well have made the frame. Pod only played Riviera for the first time last year, doing well to overcome that disadvantage and finish 7th. This old fashioned golf course looks right up Harrington?s street, as few are better at manufacturing iron shots.
For similar reasons, Riviera looks like another course on which AARON BADDELEY can cement his growing reputation as one of the leading twenty-somethings around. In his first few years in the States, Badds struggled for consistency so his previous record here may be better than it looks at first glance. He?s made all five cuts here, finishing 7th in 2005 and 13th last year. As the young Aussie has improved considerably in the meantime, this looks an ideal opportunity to land a third PGA Tour title.
And seeing as I?ve already identified TREVOR IMMELMAN as a potential money list winner (without Woods obviously), I must back him while 80/1 is available. The South African star finished 7th on his first trip to Riviera back in 2006, suggesting that he would win an event here some day during what is expected to be a long and lucrative career. As I?ve argued before, last season?s poor results can be written off as he had a terrible run with illness and injury.