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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Northern Trust Open - Preview

When I think of the Northern Trust Open, I think elite. The course is elite. The field is elite. The list of past champions is elite. Last year's playoff was won by 2011 FedExCup Champion Bill Haas. He bested 2011 PGA Champion Keegan Bradley and Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson. Elite.

Riviera Country Club is the event's host, and most golf fans can envision at least half of the holes without digging too deep in the memory bank. The Par 71 7,349 yard course features a number of memorable holes. It opens with a par 5 that's reachable by the entire field with a 3-wood and a long iron. There's a par 3 with a bunker right in the middle of the green. The par-4 10th is drivable by just about everyone in the field, but if you go for it and miss there's a tricky green awaiting a difficult chip.

In a way, players of moderate length are at a bit of a disadvantage on the par 5s. We've already mentioned that short players can reach the first in two, but only the longest players in the field have a shot at the other two. Shorter players are used to wedging it into the par-5s in three, but the mid-length guys could end up in no-man's land.

Add to that, the par 3s are tough. The par 4s are generally lengthy and tight. In some ways, this course reminds me of both Torrey Pines South and Firestone CC. You can agree or disagree with that, but what is unquestionable is the premium on ball striking. A player must be precise with their irons and must be able to work the ball off the tee.

Past winners in this event include the likes of Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan (Hogan's Alley), Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Fred Couples, Nick Faldo, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and Steve Stricker. Absent from this list of heavyweights are Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus.

There are a couple of guys like Jimmy Walker and Kevin Stadler that require our attention due to form and history, but for the most part we will stick to the field's elite this week.

We will be back tomorrow with the power rankings and more.


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