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Monday, February 10, 2014

Northern Trust Open - Power Rankings

With the research for the Northern Trust Open well underway, let’s put pen to paper and ink this week’s power rankings.

Actually, before we do that, I want to take a quick peek back. 

I was trading emails with fellow Rotoworld staffer Mike Glasscott on Sunday evening and we were marveling at how a guy like Jason Day failed to live up to everyone’s hype this week. His form was perfect and his course history very good, yet he didn't make the playing cut (MDF). Of course, we did so while hurting our arms patting each other on the back for plugging Jimmy Walker in as our one-and-done picks, but I digress.

During the conversation, we agreed that there seems to be one of those every week.

That got me wondering where the top-ranked player on my power ranking finished each week this season, and where the winner rested on the power ranking. Here goes:
  • Frys.com Open – Winner: Jimmy Walker (2nd in Power Rankings). Top-ranked player (TRP) was Billy Horschel (MC by one).  
  • Shriners – Winner: Webb Simpson (7th). TRP was Graham DeLaet (MC by one)
  • CIMB – Winner: Ryan Moore (Not Ranked). TRP was Keegan Bradley (10th)
  • WGC-HSBC – Winner: Dustin Johnson (Not Ranked). TRP was Sergio Garcia (4th)
  • McGladrey – Winner: Chris Kirk (8th), TRP was Webb Simpson (T7)
  • OHL Classic – Winner: Harris English (11th), TRP was Brian Gay (T45)
  • HTOC – Winner: Zach Johnson (3 Star (ranked differently that week)), TRP was Dustin Johnson (T6)
  • Sony – Winner: Jimmy Walker (Next 5), TRP was Zach Johnson (T8)
  • Humana – Winner: Patrick Reed (NR), TRP was Webb Simpson (T23)
  • Farmers – Winner: Scott Stallings (NR), TRP was Tiger Woods (MDF)
  • WMPO – Winner: Kevin Stadler (NR), TRP was Ryan Palmer (T48)
  • AT&T – Winner: Jimmy Walker (3rd), TRP was Jason Day (MDF)

Quick takeaways, in 12 tournaments the eventual winner was listed inside the top 12 (power rankings) on five occasions, and mentioned in the next 5 or otherwise twice more (7/12). The top ranked player has yet to win, but finished inside the top 10 on five occasions, though twice missing the cut and twice more MDFing.

Most of the time, a guy who tops my power rankings is widely considered among the favorites by numerous sources. I have to wonder if the expectations, internal or external, weigh heavy on the player. After all, when current form and course history are a major part of the equation, they realize when they are playing well and headed to a venue where they have enjoyed success.

Further, more times than not, the winner has been on my published short list.

I’m not going to change the way I do my rankings by flipping the top 3 to the 4-6 range, or anything like that, but I want to point out the current trend. That is, there’s value in spending some of your own time researching the guys in that 5-17 range.

Now that you’ve indulged me for a few moments, here we go with what you came here for:
  1. Jimmy Walker – I’m leading off with him because I really don’t know where else to put him. He’s the hottest player on the planet playing his favorite course on TOUR, where he finished T4, T4, T16 in his last three starts. Winning once in a season is a big deal. Winning twice in a season is a huge step towards the elite. Once you've won three times in eight starts, what’s a fourth? Do I believe he’ll win his third start in four tournaments? Not really, but where else do I put him? He made just one bogey in difficult conditions over the first 54 holes last week.
  2. Dustin Johnson – He’s played twice this year, both on courses where he was a past winner, and finished T6 (HTOC) and T2 (Pebble). His record includes three top-10 finishes in six starts at Riviera, with two top fours. Two of those three top 10s came off wins at Pebble, and the other came off a T5. See where this trend is heading?
  3. Graham DeLaet – There are others with better course history here (T44, T21 in two starts), but he is trending in the right direction on a course that requires some seasoning. He also has a current trend (back-to-back runners-up) that is identical to that of Brandt Snedeker when he won Pebble in 2013. He’s soooo close, and this course sets up well for elite ball-strikers. He may be the best ball-striker in the world. Seriously.
  4. Bill Haas – He’s figured this course out, going T12, 1, T3 in his last three trips. His form is just OK, with T6, T43 and T34 in his last three. Obviously, this is a nod to his course history over form. Of note, he’s putted extremely well here over the last few years, which is both good and bad. A poor performance this week likely means the putter let him down, but great putting and decent ball-striking means a top 10.
  5. Webb Simpson – We’ll go back-to-back with Wake Forest grads. Simpson’s only played here twice, but both went for top 15s (T15 in ’10 and T6 LY). His form has also been solid all season.
  6. Keegan Bradley – The elephant in the room is his second-round 80 to miss the cut at the WMPO. What was that? If you throw that out, he had a couple of top 20s headed into Phoenix and was T2 and T17 at Riviera with no rounds over par in his last eight. That 80 will scare people off his scent, so he could wind up being a good buy.
  7. Ryan Moore – Moore is 6/7 here with a T4, T17, T27 run here in his last three. While it’s apparent the trend is working backwards, they are still all respectable finishes. I would also argue that he’s having a better season this year than any other, so it’s reasonable to expect a better-than-average performance out of him this week. He’s finished 10th and 6th in his two 2014 starts.
  8. Jordan Spieth – He’s been the 36-hole leader or co-leader in his last two starts, but has not responded well in the third round. He did, however, bounce back with a really nice final round at Pebble and managed a T4 last week. He’s only played here once, missing the cut as an amateur in 2012.
  9. Hunter Mahan – Somewhat fulfilled his lofty expectations last week with a top 10, but it should have / could have been even better. Unlike the WMPO, where he was trying to mount a late charge, hanging around the lead for a few days got to him and he looked frustrated and tight down the stretch. Still, back-to-back top-six finishes is excellent form. He only has one top 10 in eight tries at Riviera, but it came last year (T8).
  10. Bubba Watson – From a current trend standpoint (T23, T2), I’ve got him a little too low. He’s a little all over the place here, missing half of his six cuts, but posting top 20s each time he sees the weekend. My lean is that this is another top 20, but you have to account for the fact that he’s missed half his cuts.
  11. Marc Leishman – Another guy I may have too low, his missed cut at the WMPO was preceded by a fifth and a T2. He’s a respectable three for four here with a pair of top 20s.
  12. Kevin Na – Coming off a T4 at Pebble, he’s 6/10 here with a T10 in ’10 and a third in ’11. Form meets history.

Wild Card:
  • Justin Rose – Deserves a mention for multiple reasons. This is his first start of 2014 after an extended break to let the tendinitis in his shoulder calm down. Before that, he was on fire everywhere he played across the globe. He’s 7/8, with a T9 and a T13 in his last two starts here. I don’t know that I’d invest in him quite yet, but he is worth a close study for the upcoming WGCs.

Next 5: Harris English, Jim Furyk,Hideki Matsuyama, Pat Perez and Charl Schwartzel

First two out: Matt Kuchar and Cameron Tringale

I hope this wasn't information overload. We’ll be back tomorrow to look at some games. 

Until then, best of luck to all!

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