Stat Attack!: Northern Trust Open preview

By John AntoniniFebruary 11, 2014, 7:50 pm

Riviera Country Club, host course of the Northern Trust Open for all but two years since 1973, is one of the quirkiest venues on the PGA Tour. The sixth hole has a two-tiered green with a bunker in the middle, No. 10 is a drivable par-4, and No. 8 sports two fairways. There are plenty of doglegs, tight fairways, small well-guarded greens and few certain birdie opportunities. It has been well-documented that in 2013 Riviera allowed the fewest number of fairways hit since the tour began keeping records more than 20 years ago (51.82 percent), and its percentage of greens hit (58.01 percent) was the third-lowest on tour last year. What kind of player fares well on such a diabolical venue?

Would you believe three-time tour winner in 2013-14 Jimmy Walker? The AT&T Pebble Beach champion calls Riviera one of his favorite courses, and he finished T16 in L.A. a year ago after finishing T-4 in 2011 and 2012. Never one to worry about hitting fairways - he was last in the field in driving accuracy when he won the Frys.com Open to begin his amazing run last fall - Walker’s is one of the better records at Riviera. Since 2006 he has shot only one round worse than 72 and 13 of his last 24 rounds have been under par.


Jimmy Walker at the Northern Trust Open

 Year Place Scores To Par Money
 2013 T-16 70-70-71-69—280 -4 $99,000
 2012 T-4 72-66-72-69—279 -5

259,875

 2011 T-4 68-71-69-68—276 -8 268,666
 2010 T-37 71-72-71-67—281 -3 26,880
 2009 70 69-70-70-77—286 +2 12,600
 2006 T-39 71-71-72-69—283 -1 20,400
 2005 MC 73-73—146 +4  

But like Br’er Rabbit in the briar patch, there are other players who are at home on the par-71 venue. Four players in this year’s field - including Walker - have finished in the top-five at the Northern Trust Open two times in the last five years.

The top-five club

 Player 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009
 Bill Haas T-3 Won T-12 MC MC
 Dustin Johnson MC T-4 MC T-3 T-10
 Andres Romero T-71 MC T-55 T-5 T-3
 Jimmy Walker T-16 T-4 T-4 T-37 70

 

Three players have appeared eight or more times at the Northern Trust Open and have never missed the cut.

The weekend club

 Player

Cuts made

Top-10s Years

Best finish

 K.J. Choi 13 4 2001-13 T-3, 2009
 Stewart Cink 13 1 1997-13 T-5, 2000
 Matt Kuchar 8 0 2002-13 T-14, 2008

Five players who have won this event in the last 10 years are in the field. But unlike Haas, not all of them have done much beyond their victory

The winner’s club

 Player Year of win

Next best finish since 2004

Last year
 John Merrick 2013 T-54, 2010  
 Bill Haas 2012 T-3, 2013 T-3
 Aaron Baddeley 2011 T-7, 2005 MC
 Charles Howell III 2007 T-47, 2005 MC
 Mike Weir 2004 T-22, 2007 MC

The up-and-down nature of the recent winners make picking a champion this week dicey. If you had John Merrick a year ago after he hadn’t finished better than T-54 in any previous start at Riviera, congratulations. Also, I don’t believe you. Merrick took advantage of what was given him a year ago. He was T-23 in the field in greens in regulation by sticking his approach shots (T-11 in proximity to hole), and he got up and down when he missed the green (19th in scrambling). It’s a formula for victory on any course, but especially Riviera, where the five best finishers in 2013 were in the top 25 in the field in GIR, scrambling and strokes gained/putting.

Northern Trust Open leaders stats in 2013

 Player GIR percentage Proximity to hole Scrambling Strokes gained/putting
 John
 Merrick
63.89 (T-23) 33 feet, 9 in. (11) 65.38 (19) +1.157 (15)
 Charlie
 Beljan
72.22 (1) 33 feet, 1 in. (8) 70.00 (12) +1.657 (9)
 Freddie
 Jacobson
70.83 (T-3) 30 feet, 8 in. (2) 71.43 (T-8) +1.198 (14)
 Bill Haas 68.06 (T-10) 40 feet, 5 in. (T-61) 65.22 (20) +1.799 (4)
 Charl
 Schwartzel
69.44 (T-6) 36 feet, 2 in. (T-31) 77.27 (5)

+1.712 (6)


Webb Simpson has only played the Northern Trust Open twice, but he too, has a record to admire. He was T-15 in 2010 and T-6 a year ago and according to the PGA Tour’s Northern Trust Open media guide, he is the all-time scoring leader at Riviera, averaging 69.00 in his eight rounds there. Seven other players in the top-20 in all-time scoring at the tournament are in the field this week.

Active scoring average leaders at Riviera

 Player Scoring avg./rank Rounds
 Webb Simpson 69.00/1 8
  J.B. Holmes 69.69/4 26
 Fred Couples 69.87/6 115
 Ernie Els 70.06/11 34
 K.J. Choi 70.08/14 50
 Robert Allenby 70.14/16 50
 Dustin Johnson 70.20.18 20
 Bill Haas 70.25.19 29

During this wrap-around season it’s easy to forget that Simpson’s 2013-14 victory came in the fall at Las Vegas. Still he’s had a good Pacific swing. Like Walker, who also won in the fall, Simpson has been one of the tour’s top players since January. In fact, there are 14 players with three or more top-25 finishes on Tour during the past six weeks, and nine of them are playing the Northern Trust Open.

West Coast warriors

 Player

Starts

Top-10s Top-25s Best
 Pat Perez 5 3 4

T2-Farmers, T7-Pebble, T8-Sony, 11-Phoenix

 Harris
 English           
4 2 3 4-Sony, 9-Phoenix, T11-Hyundai
 Jimmy Walker 4 2 3 1-Sony, 1-Pebble, T21-Hyundai
 Jordan Spieth 4 2 3 2-Hyundai, T4-Pebble, T19-Farmers
 Kevin Na 4 2 3 T4-Pebble, T8-Sony, T19-Phoenix
 Webb Simpson 3 2 3 T3-Hyundai, 10-Phoenix, T23-Humana
 Will MacKenzie 4 1 3

T7-Farmers, T13-Humana, T13-Pebble

 Jason Kokrak 4 0 3 T15-Phoenix, T19-Pebble, T20-Sony
 Martin Laird 4 0 3 T19-Phoenix, 20-Hyundai,
T25-Humana

Perez has been one of the most consistent players on tour in 2014, and if you’re thinking about picking him in a fantasy league this week, he does have some success at the Northern Trust. Making his 13th start, he has made 10 cuts with a solo eighth in 2007 as his best showing.

Adding sparkle to the Northern Trust is the host of European Tour golfers or dual-tour golfers who have made their way to America and are playing this week as a run-up to the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Some have played well in foreign lands this winter, some not so well, and some not at all. But their presence gives the Northern Trust Open 26 of the top 50 players on the World Ranking. With a projected strength of field of 434 points, it is the best-rated tournament in 2014 according to the standards set by the World Ranking.

International stars at the Northern Trust Open

 Player Rank Recent results
 Ian Poulter 14

It’s his third start in the U.S. in four weeks, but with little success (T-47 Farmers, MC Phoenix).

 Charl
 Schwartzel      
18

He won the Alfred Dunhill title in December, but has been cold since the calendar switched. T59 last week in Joburg.

 Victor
 Dubuisson
29

Fifth at the Volvo Champions in January, he was T-13 last week at Pebble Beach.

 Lee
 Westwood
33

Like Poulter, he’s stayed away from the Euro Tour in 2014. Also like Poulter, he’s struggled in America (MC at Pebble).

 Louis
 Oosthuizen 
34

He won the Volvo Golf Champions the second week of January, but hasn’t played since.

 Ernie Els 35

He hasn’t played the PGA Tour since the HSBC Champions, and missed the cut in his most recent start in Dubai.

 G. F’dez-
 Castano
38

Two MC’s in the U.S. (Farmers, Phoenix) after two top-20s to end 2013 in South Africa

 Joost Luiten 41

He’s been third, sixth and T-23 in three Euro events since the calendar turned. 

 Francesco
 Molinari
45

A T-13 two weeks ago in Dubai was his only world-wide start in 2014.


One final note: Fred Couples is playing his 32nd Northern Trust Open this week. He has made 28 cuts and won in 1990 and 1992. He was second in 1993, 1994 and 1996 and has 14 top-10s. More recently, he was T-7 in 2011 and has made the cut in 11 of 13 PGA Tour starts in the last three years.

If you haven’t already done so, please follow me on Twitter at @johnantoninigc.

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Fleetwood fires 63, waits to see if score is enough

By Rex HoggardJune 17, 2018, 8:52 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Tommy Fleetwood became the sixth player to shoot 63 at the U.S. Open, and just the second to do it in the final round. Now he waits.

Fleetwood teed off almost 2 ½ hours before – and six strokes behind – the leaders at Shinnecock Hills on Sunday, but stormed into the hunt thanks to four consecutive birdies starting at the 12th hole. The Englishman’s round was even more impressive considering he didn’t birdie either of the layout’s par 5s.


U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage


Fleetwood finished at 2 over par – after missing a 9-foot putt for birdie and 62 at the 18th – which was tied for second place and one stroke off the lead held by Brooks Koepka when he completed his round.

After speaking with the media, Fleetwood went to the locker room to await a possible playoff, which was changed this year from an 18-hole overtime to just two holes of aggregate play.

“We'll go and relax a little bit and just see,” said Fleetwood, who rolled in 159 feet of birdies putts. “Only time will tell what's going to happen today at the course. If it was like yesterday, I'd feel a little more comfortable than now.”

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Fowler follows 84 with 65, praises Shinnecock setup

By Rex HoggardJune 17, 2018, 5:44 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – As promised, the USGA dialed back Shinnecock Hills for Sunday’s final round, watering the greens overnight and deferring to more user-friendly hole locations.

The evidence of this was on the leaderboard, with four early finishers having shot under-par rounds, including Rickie Fowler, who closed with a round-of-the-week 65. There were just three under-par cards on Saturday.

“That's the golf course I enjoy playing. Obviously, pin placements were a lot safer,” said Fowler, who had just one bogey on Sunday and opened his day with a 4-under 31 on his opening nine. “The pins today will definitely allow for the greens to firm up and get fast, and we'll see how much they dry out. It was definitely more receptive this morning than yesterday, that's for sure.”


U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage


It was a 19-stroke turnaround for Fowler, who ballooned to a third-round 84 on Day 3 during what most contend were the week’s toughest conditions. Fowler had put himself into contention going into the weekend thanks to a second-round 69, but struggled on Saturday afternoon like much of the field.

Fowler said the setup was vastly different to what players faced on Saturday and that even if the winds increase for the afternoon tee times the course will remain playable, unlike Round 3 when many players said the USGA “lost” the golf course.

“They did a good job of staying safe,” Fowler said, “because if it does dry out, it will still be very playable.”

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Phil celebrates par on 13, ducks media after round

By Ryan LavnerJune 17, 2018, 5:35 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Phil Mickelson didn’t have another meltdown at the U.S. Open.

Back on the 13th green Sunday – less than 24 hours after taking a two-shot penalty for hitting a moving ball and recording a sextuple-bogey 10 – Mickelson poured in a 10-footer and raised his arms in mock triumph, as if he’d finally won that elusive major title.

Not quite.

He’d simply made par.

“It looked like he won the Masters,” said playing partner Rickie Fowler. “He didn’t jump, but he had a little celebration there.”


U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage


The par save and the final-round 69 were one of the lone bright spots during what was an adventurous week for Lefty, even by his unpredictable standards. Mickelson’s shocking swat was still the talk of this Open, especially after USGA executive director Mike Davis revealed Saturday night that Mickelson had called him to ask for more clarification on the rule he said that he knew he’d broken.

Despite some calls for him to withdraw from the tournament, Mickelson displayed his usual cheerful demeanor inside the ropes with Fowler.

“He joked about it right as we went down the first hole,” Fowler said.

Fowler said that he didn’t know “if I would have had the wits like Phil to run after it” on 13, but added that it never should have come to that in the first place.

“He could have saved himself a shot by just letting it go and taking unplayable, but then that would still look pretty funny too,” he said. “The course shouldn’t play that way.”

If you’re wondering whether Mickelson would be defiant or contrite on Sunday, we don’t know the answer. He declined to stop and speak with the media, deciding instead to sign autographs for more than a half hour and then offering a few short answers before ducking into player hospitality.

“The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’” he said. “I don’t know.”

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USGA slows greens, alters hole locations for Sunday

By Ryan LavnerJune 17, 2018, 3:29 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – After admitting that it went too far with the setup Saturday at the U.S. Open, USGA officials made some modifications for the final round.

In a statement released Sunday morning, the USGA said that it watered Shinnecock Hills’ greens an “appropriate level” and slowed down the surfaces nearly a foot on the Stimpmeter.


U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog | Full coverage


That was in anticipation of a sunny, dry forecast that calls for temperatures to reach 80 degrees and wind gusts up to 20 mph.

They said the setup for the final day is similar to what was used in Round 1, when officials braced for 30-mph winds.

Some of the hole locations were also adjusted based on the forecast – changes, the USGA said, that were meant to “maintain a challenge yet fair U.S. Open test.”