Expert Picks: Northern Trust Open

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 12, 2013, 7:55 pm

This week the PGA Tour heads to historic Riviera Country Club outside Los Angeles, where Bill Haas will defend his title at the Northern Trust Open. Each week, a panel of experts will offer up their picks from four groups of players based on Golf Channel's new fantasy game, Fantasy Challenge. We will also keep track of their scores and standings. The panel includes: senior writers Rex Hoggard, Randall Mell and Jason Sobel; contributors John Hawkins and Win McMurry; editorial director Jay Coffin; 'Morning Drive' host Gary Williams and staff writer Ryan Lavner. They will also be joined by former 'Saturday Night Live' star Norm Macdonald, who will serve as a celebrity guest throughout the fantasy season.

Rex Hoggard

Group 1: Luke Donald: Last year's champion, Bill Haas, ranked first in putting at Riviera for the week and after Brandt Snedeker (who is taking the week off), Donald is the game's best with the flat stick.

Group 2: Peter Hanson: Makes his 2013 PGA Tour debut this week, but has already had a solid start to the season, having finished tied for ninth in Abu Dhabi and T-22 at the Qatar Masters.

Group 3: Geoff Ogilvy: Although his move back to Scottsdale hasn't translated into better results on Tour (he has missed three cuts in four starts), the Australian plays his best on classic layouts like Riviera.

Group 4: John Mallinger: The SoCal resident has never played well in Los Angeles, but he has historically posted his best finishes on the West Coast and is due for a solid week.

Jason Sobel

Group 1: Luke Donald: First start of the season doesn't scare me, because I know he's been outworking nearly everyone else during his time off.

Group 2: Hunter Mahan: I was on him last week when he was in contention going into the weekend at Pebble. He's ripe for a West Coast win, and getting to pick him in Group 2 is a steal.

Group 3: Bryce Molder: Really liked the way he finished at Pebble, with four birdies in his last five holes. Look for the momentum to continue this week.

Group 4: Patrick Cantlay: Bargain basement steal of the week with the L.A. kid playing some impressive golf coming into his hometown event.

Win McMurry

Group 1: Bubba Watson: With a T-4 and 15th-place finish this year, added to how he closed out 2012, Bubba has finished inside the top 25 in nine of his last 10 starts on Tour. He has three top 20s at Riviera since 2008, including a T-13 finish last year. Left-handers have fared well here, wiht both Mike Weir and Phil Mickelson going back-to-back for a total of four wins ont he property over the last decade.

Group 2: Jimmy Walker: He's certainly not the biggest name in this group, but he has it all coming into this week at a place where he has finished T-4 the last two years. And this year, he has a T-4 finish at Torrey Pines to go with a T-3 this past week at Pebble Beach.

Group 3: Bryce Molder: He's quietly been putting together a great season thus far and is 12th in driving accuracy and third in strokes gained putting. Three of his four starts this year have resulted in top 25s, including a T-12 finish last week at Pebble. He has played well in the past at Riviera as well, as evidenced by his T-17 result last year and a T-32 finish in 2010.

Group 4: Fred Couples: The sentimental pick here, but of all the guys in Group 4 he has the most consistent recent history here at Riviera, wiht four top 10s in the last 10 years. As recently as 2011, Couples was in contention heading into Sunday before finishing T-7. In his one start this season on the Champions Tour, he finished fourth at Hualalai.

Ryan Lavner

Group 1: Charl Schwartzel: Here's a guy even hotter than Sneds - in his last six worldwide starts, Schwartzel has gone 2nd-1st-1st-2nd-T3-5th.

Group 2: Jimmy Walker: Has top 4s in two of his last three starts, and at Riviera has T-4s in each of his last two appearances. Could get his first win this week.

Group 3: Kevin Stadler: Has a T-11 and T-3 in his last two starts. Decent record at Riviera, too, with top-25 finishes in each of his last three appearances.

Group 4: James Driscoll: Not much to choose from here, but going with Driscoll, who has made the cut in three consecutive starts, including a T-9 finish last week at Pebble.

Norm Macdonald (Celebrity guest)

Group 1: Lee Westwood

Group 2: Chris Kirk

Group 3: Ryo Ishikawa

Group 4: Chad Campbell

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.