As mentioned yesterday, I've narrowed my one-and-done focus for the Northern Trust Open to three players. Graham DeLaet, Bill Haas and Dustin Johnson.
Here’s the case for each:
- DeLaet – Trend at Rivera Country Club has gotten progressively better over his short history, but the real attraction is his current form. His back-to-back T2s are impossible to ignore. Digging deeper, there’s a reason. The putter. In 2012, he ranked 156th in strokes gained-putting and 27th in ball-striking. That improved to 76th in SGP and 1st in ball-striking in 2013. For the new season, he ranks 5th in SGP and 1st in ball-striking. As his elite ball-striking has held firm, his putter has improved dramatically. In his T44 at the 2012 Northern Trust Open, he lost 1.046 strokes per round with the flat stick. In 2013, he tied for 21st and gained .562 strokes putting. Essentially, his season SGP splits are accurately reflected in this event. That bodes really well for this week.
- Haas – Much like DeLaet, the story is in his putter. A trend that jumped out at me that is a big reason why he’s frustrating in weekly formats is the direct correlation to his putter and his finishes. Since 2010, he’s won five tournaments. In 2010 he won twice, and those were the only two tournaments where he gained more than 1.00 strokes per round with the flat stick. In 2011, he gained a season-best 2.048 SGP at East Lake and won the TOUR Championship (his second best was a 1.967 at Quail Hollow and he finished fourth). In 2012, he gained 2.032 at Riviera (best of the season) and won. His 1.116 at the Wyndham was second best and went for a T7. In 2013, you guessed it, his 2.496 SGP at AT&T National was the best and he won, while his 1.799 at Riviera was his second best and he tied for third. So the theory is, you want to burn Haas on his best putting weeks. Coincidentally, there really isn’t any correlation from one week to the next that will indicate how he will putt. What I can do is look back at his last few trips to Riviera and see that this is one of his best courses with the flat stick. Simply put, if he putts, he’ll have a shot on Sunday.
- DJ – The reasoning for Johnson is much less scientific. Each of his top 10s at Riviera have come on the heels of a top 10 (two being wins) at Pebble Beach. He tied for second at Pebble last week.
Last week, it was narrowed to Jimmy Walker (Win), Hunter Mahan (solo 6) and Jason Day (MDF), so there certainly is an element of luck, even from the short list.
This week I’m taking Graham DeLaet. While the cases for the others are strong, I’m a tad concerned about Haas’ form. I don’t have a good reason not to take DJ, other than GDL just beat him out by a hair.
One final note. DeLaet is just too strong to leave off my Yahoo! team. I’m removing Spieth and inserting DeLaet.
Starters for round one are now Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Graham DeLaet and Kevin Na.
Best of luck to all!