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Monday, February 11, 2013

Northern Trust Open - Power Rankings

When diving into the Northern Trust Open, several things became apparent. For starters, we will see several high-ranking studs like Adam Scott and Luke Donald for the first time in 2013. We will also get the first U.S. glimpse of Charl Schwartzel and Sergio Garcia. Further, several guys who would normally be among the contenders, namely Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson, must be reconsidered after less than impressive weeks at Pebble Beach.

On the bright side, there are a number of players with some steady trends worth noting. Kevin Stadler, Jimmy Walker and Ryan Moore all fit that bill. Defending champion Bill Haas also falls into that category.

When we put it all together and shake it up, here's what we get. The Dandy Dozen; Riviera Style:

  1. Jimmy Walker - There are about three years worth of trends leading up to this week for Walker. For starters, he's tied for fourth each of the last two years in this event, and he's coming off a T3 at Pebble Beach including a final-round 66 that was tied for the fourth lowest round of the day. Looking deeper, his T4 in 2011 was preceded by a T29 at the Farmers and a T9 at Pebble Beach. His T4 in 2012 was preceded by a T8 at the Farmers and a T9 at Pebble. This year, he was T4 at the Farmers and T3 at Pebble. This sort of reminds me of Jason Dufner before he won his first event in New Orleans last year. Literally everything was pointing to it and he got it done. The same can be said for Walker. It's racked up for him, he's just got to hit the shot.
  2. Bill Haas - Last year's champ started the year slow with a balky putter, but rebounded to post top 10s in his last two events before taking Pebble Beach off. He's made 5/7 cuts here with a T12 in '11 preceding his win in '12.
  3. Charl Schwartzel - This pick has risk for two reasons. He's never played Riviera and this is his first U.S. start. For those of you that haven't paid attention to the South African since he last played on the PGA TOUR in the fall of 2012, he's hotter than Brandt Snedeker. He finished runner-up in South Africa last week (shooting 20-under), and preceded that with two wins in his last two starts of 2012. At week's end, he's the guy that if you don't take him and he does well you'll look back and say "it was so obvious," but if you take him and it busts you'll say "what was I even thinking."
  4. Keegan Bradley - He's played here twice, missing the cut in '11 and losing in a playoff last year. I expect a strong performance out of Bradley, I mentioned yesterday that aspects of Riviera remind me of Firestone CC. That happens to be where Bradley claimed the WGC-Bridgestone last summer. His form is a bit iffy, but the week off could have allowed him to work out any minor kinks and come in well rested.
  5. Luke Donald - We've mentioned that this is our first look at the Englishman this year, but his pedigree and event history warrant strong consideration. He's made the cut 7/11 times with two third-place finishes and three other top 25s. 
  6. Adam Scott - Scott is also making his debut, but he has a rain-shortened win and a runner-up the year following. While those are his only top 10s and came in his first two starts here, he's made 5/6 cuts and owns four top 25s including a T17 last year.
  7. Ryan Moore - Moore had a fourth-place finish two weeks ago in Phoenix before taking last week off. What's interesting about that is that he almost always plays the week prior to Riviera, but looking back a number of years the exception was 2011. He turned that week off to post a T4 at Riviera. That could be why he sat out the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
  8. Sergio Garcia - He knocked the rust off with a couple of starts on the European Tour, including a T2 in Qatar and a T17 in Dubai. He tied for fourth last year in this event, owning six cuts in seven tries with five top 25s and two top 10s. It makes sense, given ball-striking has always been a strength. He could be a sneaky pick.
  9. Aaron Baddeley - He's made 10/10 cuts with four top 25s and a win in 2011. He's also trending decently well. What's noticeable is his penchant for putting up back-to-back strong performances at Pebble and Riviera. In 2011 he was T6 at Pebble and won at Riviera. In 2012 he was fourth at Pebble and T11 at Riviera. He was T12 at Pebble last week. 
  10. Phil Mickelson - This is sort of reminiscent of how I felt about Lefty coming out of Torrey Pines. I knew he had a chance at the Waste Management Phoenix Open despite a T51 at Torrey. He looked lost at times at Pebble in his T60, making a mess of the famous 18th hole both times he played it. In four starts this year, he has a win an three finishes outside the top 35 (2 out of the top 50). He lost in a playoff last year and owns two wins in this event. He's Phil. Who knows?
  11. Kevin Stadler - Stadler parlayed a great final round at the Waste Management Phoenix Open into a T11 and moved on to Pebble to throw up a T3. His record in this event is pretty good. He's made four out of five cuts (including each of his last four) with three top 25s, but nothing better than a T10. He's a streaky player, so burning him this week makes plenty of sense in the right format.
  12. Chris Kirk - His record here is horrible. Ignoring that, he's very hot with two top fives already in 2013 including a runner-up last week. These stats must be considered: 1st in scrambling, 2nd in SGP and scoring average and fourth in birdie average. This is a classic case of how a hot player responds to a course where his history is poor. 
Next 5: Bo Van Pelt, J.B. Holmes, Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson and Lee Westwood

I want to hit on one member of the "Next 5" in a little more depth. Dustin Johnson is a bit of an enigma right now, but I expect it to be short lived. His win to start the year in Hawaii may have taken a little hunger away from him and his new romance would distract almost anyone. He'll get it together at some point this year, likely in time for the majors. It could be this week, but I can't endorse him again until I see at least three good rounds out of him in a week.

Tomorrow I will hit all of the various fantasy games. After last week's gaffe, I want to assure everyone that the last thing I did before posting this week's power rankings was check the field on PGATOUR.com. If I've included someone not in the field this week, I'm pointing my finger elsewhere!

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