On The Range Blog - February 15

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On The Range Talent
Host: Gary Williams (Golf Channel)
Analyst: Wayne Player (Instructor & Founder of The Player Approach)
Analyst: Billy Kratzert (4-time PGA TOUR winner)
Analyst: Bill Harmon (Instructor & Caddie for Jay & Bill Haas)

This Week’s Events
Northern Trust Open
Riviera CC - Pacific Palisades, CA
Defending Champion: Aaron Baddeley

Marquee Player
Luke Donald
-#1 in Official World Golf Ranking
-Won 2011 Money Title on the PGA and European Tour
-Led 2011 PGA and European Tour in Putting Average
-Making 2012 PGA TOUR debut
-Swing Instructor: Pat Goss
-Caddie: John McLaren

Course Survey
Riviera CC (Par 71 - 7,298 yards)

-Go low early: The 1st hole is a 503-yard, par 5 and has played the easiest hole on the course every year since course stats began being kept in 1984. Last year, it played the single easiest hole on the PGA TOUR! The past two winners, Aaron Baddeley and Steve Stricker played the hole 4-under for the week (3 birdies, 1 eagle). In 2009, Phil Mickelson played the 1st hole 7-under for the week en route to victory, making 3 eagles and 1 birdie!

-Irons play is important, the driver not so much: Each of the past 6 winners have finished Top 10 in GIR for the week. None of the past 4 winners have finished Top 10 in Driving Distance or Driving Accuracy

-If you do miss the green, you better be able to scramble: Last year’s champion Aaron Baddeley led the field in Sand Save Percentage (100.00%) and Scrambling (90.00%). 2010 champion Steve Stricker led the field in Sand Save Percentage (100.00%) and finished T8 in Scrambling (79.17%). 4 of the past 5 champions have finished Top 10 in Scrambling for the week.

-Score on the Par 4s: Every Par 4 is over 400 yards at Riviera except the drivable 10th hole. 3 of the last 4 winners have led the field in Par 4 scoring.

-Welcome to Poa: Riviera Country Club has poa annua greens, one of the main reasons no course of the 2011 PGA TOUR had a higher percentage of missed putts from Inside 3 feet and Inside 10 feet. It was also the toughest course for lag putting, with players facing an average distance of 2’8” for their second putt.

-Going against a recent trend: There has been a recent string of player blowing big final round leads on the PGA TOUR, but not at the Northern Trust Open. The past 4 years, the player that took the lead into the final round went on to win.

Top 5: European Players
This week our marquee player is Luke Donald, who is making his 2012 PGA TOUR debut. Europeans control the top 4 spots in the Official World Golf Ranking with Donald on top, but do you think he deserves that honor? Wayne Player shares his thoughts on the Top 5 European Players (Share your thoughts or Top 5 in the comments section):

Wayne Player
1. Rory McIlroy ('Rory is simply the most natural talent that European golf has seen since Seve Ballesteros. He has a US Open under his belt and is destined for greatness. Rory is also a very hunble young man who is very charitable.')
2. Luke Donald 
3. Lee Westwood
4. Sergio Garcia
5. Graeme McDowell

Featured Groups
Northern Trust Open
Coverage Begins Thursday at 2:30PM ET on Golf Channel

Thursday, 3:01PM ET
Fred Couples, Jason Day, Sergio Garcia

Thursday, 3:12PM ET
Phil Mickelson, Kyle Stanley, Brandt Snedeker

Friday, 3:01PM ET
Luke Donald, Adam Scott, Nick Watney

Friday, 3:12PM ET
Aaron Baddeley, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson