Northern Trust Open

Analysis and write-up provided by KendoVT. Don’t forget to scroll to the bottom to see each player’s tournament history.

Course Description

The PGA Tour stays in California this week as golfers descend to Los Angeles for the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club. Riviera CC is a 7,300 yard par 71 course with four par 3s and three par 5s. Riviera is known as one of the best and most challenging courses on Tour. Off the tee, golfers will see tight fairways, many fairway bunkers, and challenging doglegs, especially to the right side which should favor right handed golfers who hit a fade or lefties that play a draw. The fairways and rough use kikuyu grass. This grass is rare to the United States and could cause many problems if the golfers hit it in the rough, especially if they have little experience with kikuyu grass. Kikuyu grass is very popular in golf courses in South Africa and Asian countries so that might be something to look at when selecting your golfers for DraftKings this week. Though the rough won’t be too tall, it is very thick. The kikuyu grass tends to grab and bury golf balls that fall into the rough making approach shots much more difficult to control or to get any spin.

On the flip side, if golfers hit fairways, their golf balls will sit up perfectly because of the spongy nature of kikuyu grass but since there is a lot of slope on the fairways, golfers will have to deal with a lot of fade/draw lies. The greens use a combination of bent grass and poa annua grass. They will be very small, fast, firm, undulating, multi tiered, and surrounded by bunkers and false fronts. The 6th hole actually has a bunker RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE GREEN, which should make for good entertainment this week. Many people compare this course to Augusta and correlations have been made between golfers that perform well at Augusta and golfers that perform well here. Other than James Hahn last year, every golfer that has won this tournament in the last 26 years has finished inside the Top 22 at the Masters at some point in their careers. Also 16 of the last 26 winners at Riviera have either won or came in 2nd at Augusta at some point in their careers. Another interesting tidbit, only twice in the last 11 years has there not been a two time winner on Tour through the first 14 events in a season.

This is the 14th event and no one has won twice yet this year. The golfers who have won already this year and are in the field this week are: Jordan Spieth, Smylie Kaufman, Justin Thomas, Peter Malnati, Fabian Gomez, Jason Dufner, Hideki Matsuyama, and Vaughn Taylor.

Looking at the course description above and trends for the course the last few years, a few key stats come to mind. I will be using these stats, current form, and course history to select golfers for my DraftKings lineups this week.

Key Stats For The Course
***In order of importance with the most important first. Not including Strokes Gained Putting (SG:P), which is a key stat every week.

Strokes Gained Tee to Green (SG:T2G):
The tight fairways and small greens make Riviera a difficult course. Looking at trends from the last ten years 34/41 golfers that finished T3 or better were inside the Top 72 in SG:T2G for that specific year. The majority of these golfers were inside the Top 50 in SG:T2G. The average SG:T2G ranking of golfers that finished T3 or better the last ten years is 36th.

Good Drive Percentage (GD%):
Even though this course needs accuracy off the tee, the trends say bombers still do well at Riviera, so if you decide to look at driving distance this week, I can’t fault you. Personally I will be looking more at GD%. GD% is defined as the number of fairways hit, plus the number of greens or fringe in regulation when the drive was not in the fairway on the tee shot, divided by the number of par 4 and par 5s played. I think this stat should be important since you need to hit fairways and you need to hit greens when you don’t hit the fairway. I like this stat a lot this week.

Proximity from 150-175 yards (Prox150):
The majority of the par 4s on the course range from 400-475 yards. This will leave many approach shots from the 150-175 yard range. In the last ten years 35% of all approaches to the green were from this distance.

Scrambling (Scr):
The greens are tiny, firm, and fast with massive undulation and false fronts. Add that to the nasty kikuyu rough around the fairways and the fact that there will be many fade/draw lies from the fairways themselves, greens are definitely going to be missed. How well a golfer gets it up and down will be very important to contend this week.

Par 5 Scoring (P5):
Even though there are only three par 5s on the course, P5 scoring will be important. The par 4s are mostly all very difficult. Scoring has to come from the par 5s to do well at Riviera. The 1st hole is one of the easiest par 5s on Tour and if golfers don’t finish the week -4 on hole 1, they will be losing strokes to the field. 30/41 golfers that finished T3 or better the last ten years were ranked 72nd or better in P5 for that specific year. The average P5 ranking for those same players the last ten years is 45th.

High End Picks ($9000 and up)
*** I will be using stats from 2016 but I will take a peak at last year’s stats where needed.

Jordan Spieth ($13,200):
Spieth disappointed a lot of people last week but still managed a Top 25 finish by performing very well on Sunday. Because of his poor performance by his standards, I am hoping he will be lower owned than he should be. Yes, he is expensive so I won’t be using him in cash games, but there are a lot of good value plays this week so using him in GPPs just makes sense. Having Rory in the field could motivate him and he has good course history with a 4th place finish last year and a 12th before that. (GPP Only)

Hideki Matsuyama ($11,100):
Matsuyama is coming off his second Tour victory at Phoenix a couple of weeks ago, where he took down Fowler in a very entertaining playoff. He finished 4th at Riviera last year and has excellent stats for the course. He’s 2nd in SG:T2G, 43rd in P5, 58th in DD, 88th in GD%, 25th in Scr, and 60th in Prox150. If his putter gets hot, he can contend. Matsuyama and Spieth are the only two golfers on Tour under the age of 25 with two or more wins. It feels like Matsuyama has been around forever but people forget how young he is and his future looks very bright. (GPP and Cash)

Justin Rose ($10,800):
Rose has great stats for the course, made seven of his last eight cuts at Riviera, and is coming off a 6th place finish last week at Pebble. Basically everything is lining up for him to do well this week and he is one of my favorites to win. I know it’s a small sample size but so far in the 2015-2016 season he is 35th in SG:T2G, 43rd in P5, 15th in DD, 15th in GD%, 7th in Sand Saves (lots of bunkers at Riviera), and 9th in SG:P. Expect a high finish from Rose if not the outright win. (GPP and Cash)

Jimmy Walker ($10,600):
Walker has been having a solid year so far, finishing no worse than 13th in his last five events on Tour. He loves this course. He has made his last eight cuts at Riviera with two Top 4 finishes. The worry I have about him this week is that he didn’t drive the ball that well off the tee last week even though he finished 11th. If he misses too many fairways here, he could get in a lot of trouble because of the kikuyu grass. For that reason alone, I don’t recommend him for cash games this week. (GPP only)

Bubba Watson ($10,400):
In my opinion, Bubba could be in the class of Rory, Spieth, and Day if he could just improve the mental aspect of his game. The talent is obviously there but if he’s playing a course he doesn’t like, his game is usually affected negatively. Luckily for him, he doesn’t have to worry about that this week because he loves Riviera CC. It makes sense because his key stats fit the course. He’s 7th in SG:T2G, 35th in P5, 4th in DD, 10th in GD%, and 65th in Prox150. He won this event a couple of years ago and I think he can contend again this week. (GPP and Cash)

Charles Schwartzel ($9,600):
Schwartzel is coming off a victory on the European Tour last week. He plays well at Riviera with three made cuts in three tries and two Top 5 finishes. He plays on kikuyu grass all the time in his home country of South Africa which should give him a slight edge. He also is a former Masters champion which correlates into doing well on this course. He is another one of my favorites to win this week. (GPP and Cash)

Bill Haas ($9,200):
Haas missed the cut last year at Riviera but in the four years prior he finished 23rd, 3rd, 1st, and 12th. He has had a pretty good year so far with 5/6 made cuts and three Top 10 finishes. His stats for the course are solid. He’s 54th in SG:T2G, 49th in P5, 57th in GD%, 5th in Scr, and 61st in SG:P. (GPP and Cash)

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Commentary based on DraftKings strategy and scoring.