Power Rankings: Northern Trust Open

February 13, 2012
Rob Bolton, PGATOUR.COM fantasy columnist

Riviera Country Club hosts the Northern Trust Open for the 50th time this week. That's a relationship that goes back to the fourth edition of the tournament in 1929 when MacDonald Smith recorded a six-stroke victory over Tommy Armour.

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In recent years, Riviera has served as the site for a convergence of factors. First and foremost, guys that arrive not necessarily in peak form tend not to find their games on the George Thomas design. With a scoring average of 71.833 a year ago, Riviera was the most difficult of 11 par-71s in non-majors in 2011. If repeated this week, that split would easily rank as the most difficult track in relation to par this year.

Not surprisingly, walking away with pars on the par 4s will suffice most of the time. Riviera has averaged ranked inside the top 11 in fewest birdies or better on par 4s in five of the last six years. However, guys that don't hit greens in regulation aren't chalking up automatic bogeys as the course has sat comfortably inside the easiest half in scrambling every year since 2006.

While the course can max out at 7,325 yards, it's a second-shot layout. Its greens have ranked inside the top eight most difficult to hit in regulation in four of the last six years. Yet, with surfaces averaging 5,000 square feet and the course sitting inside the top 15 of most challenging fairways to split in all of the last six years, course management is at a premium. This helps explain why only two of the last 23 champions were first-time winners on the PGA TOUR.

The other predominant dynamic in play is that a handful of the world's top-ranked golfers often circle Riviera for their season debuts. It's no different this week as Luke Donald (first in the Official World Golf Ranking), Jason Day (seventh), Adam Scott (eighth), Sergio Garcia (17th) and non-member K.T. Kim (31st) begin their 2012 schedules.

It appears as if a weather system that will moisten the area early in the week will exit by Thursday. Residual winds might be a factor early in the tournament as a dry pattern digs in. The threat of rain and potentially challenging winds returns on Sunday. High temperatures will gradually decline from the upper 60s to the upper 50s throughout the tournament.

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Power Rankings: Northern Trust Open
Rank Player   Comment
Returns to the site of his last missed cut in a non-major. Used his MC here a year ago as a catalyst moving forward. First start in the U.S. since winning at Disney in October. Sublime short game resulted in three straight top-six finishes here in 2008-10.
The defending champ enters on the heels of a strong week at Pebble Beach where he led the field in birdies en route to a solo fourth. Ranked third in greens hit and carded just four holes over par here last year. Hasn't missed a cut in nine appearances.
The all-time money leader at Riviera is a two-time winner (2008, 2009). Also second here in 2007. Coming off a masterful bogey-free 64 to polish off a two-stroke win at Pebble. Missed just one fairway on Sunday. Ranked T3 in GIR and T10 in putting.
The 18-hole co-leader at Pebble Beach erased any remaining doubt that he's healthy again by finishing in a tie for fifth. Ranked T7 in greens hit, ninth in putting and T7 in birdies. Missed the cut here last year but shared third in 2010 and 10th in 2009.
First start since posting a pair of T4s on the Australian Triple Crown. In 11 starts dating back to a share of third at the AT&T National last summer, he's posted seven top 10s, including a win at Firestone. Unofficial winner here in 2005; solo second in 2006.
He's tied for fifth place in each of the last two events. Under par in every round at Pebble Beach. Finished third here last year and T10 in 2010. Currently 10th on the PGA TOUR in bogey avoidance and 26th in birdies or better on .
Making his 2012 PGA TOUR debut. While he's 0-for-2 at Riviera, his overall record since last year's missed cut is too impressive to ignore. He's posted 12 top 10s in his last 23 starts worldwide. That includes a co-runner-up in Qatar two weeks ago.
Won the Humana Challenge four weeks ago. Sits seventh on TOUR in greens in regulation, 19th in Strokes Gained-Putting and fifth in both the all-around and birdies or better on par 4s. Struggled at Riviera since a T11 in his first appearance in 2008.
First appearance in the United States since the BMW Championship in September. Has four top-25s at the Northern Trust in six starts, but hasn't competed since 2008 (T46). Chased a T12 in Abu Dhabi three weeks ago with a T5 in Qatar.
Played twice on the European Tour's Desert Swing, where he placed T48 in Abu Dhabi and missed the cut in Qatar. However, his record at Riviera is reason alone for his inclusion here: 11 starts; four top 10s (including last year's T7); zero missed cuts.

In 2012, our expert will be publishing his list of players who didn't quite make the top 10 for that particular week. Here are five other players Rob Bolton likes at the Northern Trust Open:

11. Spencer Levin ... Didn't quite bounce all the way back after a disappointing finish at the Waste Management Phoenix Open two weeks ago but he shared ninth at Pebble Beach nonetheless. Tied for 12th in his first appearance at Riviera last year and ranked T12 in greens hit.

12. Jimmy Walker ... Top 10s in two of this last three starts including a T9 at Pebble Beach. Posted one of his season-best fourth-place finishes at Riviera a year ago.

13. Geoff Ogilvy ... Six top 25s in his last nine starts worldwide including a T25 at Pebble Beach. While a lover of the classic tracks, he's had mixed success at Riviera, with just two top 25s in eight appearances; however, that includes a T21 a year ago.

14. Vijay Singh ... Finished two strokes off Aaron Baddeley's pace last year to settle for solo second, but Singh ranked second in putting and led the field in birdies. Tied for 25th at Pebble Beach last week.

15. Ricky Barnes ... Enjoyed a taut week on the Monterey Coast en route to a solo third. Missed 23 greens in regulation but suffered just five bogeys. Posted a solo ninth here in 2010.