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Northern Trust Open preview, picks and analysis

By: Golfshake Editor | Mon 15 Feb 2016 | Comments


JORDAN SPIETH and Rory McIlroy renew their rivalry at the Northern Trust Open at the stunning Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, with the sponsors praying that the two tyros will be going at it hammer and tongs for the lead on Sunday.

McIlroy has not played here before and is using the event as part of his extended preparation for The Masters in April, when he makes his latest attempt to complete the career Grand Slam. He will find a golf course that should suit him down to the ground - if he has sorted out the kinks in his driving that were so much in evidence at the Dubai Desert Classic, where he missed more fairways than he hit. McIlroy is normally one of the straighter players in world golf, and he is also one of the longest.

To refresh your memory, this is the course that features a bunker in the middle of the green at the par-three sixth hole, has a drivable par four (the 10th) and features a challenging stretch of holes known as Hogan's Alley. The great Ben Hogan won three times in 18 months at Riviera - the LA Open twice and the 1948 US Open.

The field features five of the world's top 10 and 15 of the top 30. Sergio Garcia, of Spain, is also making his first appearance of 2016 on the PGA Tour. He has fond memories of the course, having narrowly missed out last year after dropping a shot at the final hole. Garcia may be a trifle undercooked but if he can hole a few putts you just never know.

James Hahn won last year, coming through a three-hole playoff against Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey to secure the title. The American holed a 25-foot birdie putt on the 14th to secure his maiden victory. Hahn is an underrated player, but it would still be a surprise if he were to make a successful defence. Hideki Matsuyama, who won the Phoenix Open, was just one shot short of making the playoff. The Japanese golfer is one of the most patient players in the world and will not be afraid of winning again.

It is an important week for Robert Streb and Chris Kirk, who both need a decent week in order to remain in the world's top 50 and thus qualify for the forthcoming WGC-Cadillac Championship, which will be staged at Trump Doral despite the Tour's reservations about some of the comments made by the man who owns it, Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate. It has already been announced that the event will not be played at the venue in 2017, by which time he could be US president.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzBhk8XWPXg

Meanwhile back at Riviera, Charles Howell III is one of the best ball strikers on the planet. He consistently hits the ball a long, long way, finds fairways and greens and is a decent putter. So would somebody care to explain how it is that Howell has won just twice on the PGA Tour, and nothing at all since 2007?

It is an utter mystery to me. I have watched this guy up close and his swing is perfect. He also cares passionately about the history and traditions of the game and works incredibly hard. He is still only 36, but you sense that his chance has gone. He has played nine times so far during this wraparound season and has made the cut on every occasion. Howell has shown remarkable consistency, with two top-10 finishes and eight top-25 finishes to his credit. He already has almost $1m in prize money to his credit and for all of these reasons he is my pick as the best each way bet.

Spieth's form at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am was disappointing, but only went to prove that the man is human. However, he rarely has successive bad weeks so expect him to be in contention this week.

Betting Picks

To Win: Rory McIlroy. Is here to win

Each Way: Charles Howell III. I have high hopes for this guy

Each Way: Brandt Snedeker. Already a winner this season

Fantasy Picks

Rory McIlroy. Due another win in the US

Charles Howell III. Come on Charlie

Brandt Snedeker. Back to his brilliant best

Jordan Spieth. Sure to have a good week

Justin Thomas. Win number two is just around the corner

Kevin Na. Infuriating, but consistent

Hideki Matsuyama. Fabulous player

Dustin Johnson. Ready to get his season up and running

James Hahn. Back here with good memories

Paul Casey. Europe will miss him in the Ryder Cup


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Tags: rory mcilroy PGA Tour Jordan Spieth





 




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