Northern Trust Open experts' picks

February, 11, 2014

Each week of the season, our experts share their insights into which players fit the criteria for our four categories: Horse for the Course (a golfer who knows the track inside and out), Birdie Buster (a guy who could take it low this week), Super Sleeper (a player who could unexpectedly contend) and Winner.

This week's tournament: The Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif.

Horse for the Course

Michael Collins, senior golf analyst: Aaron Baddeley
Eleven straight times the soft-spoken Australian has teed it up in this tournament; he's missed one cut and is ranked ninth in all-time money won here. Did I mention he was the champion in 2011? Sprinkle some oats around Riviera, because this horse is gonna eat!

Farrell Evans, senior golf writer: Fred Couples
The World Golf Hall of Famer is making a record 32nd start in the Northern Trust Open. He has won this event (1990, 1992) twice and finished second three times. At 54, it's difficult to imagine Couples winning, but count on him being in contention early in the event.

Bob Harig, senior golf writer: Fred Couples
OK, so he's 54, but Couples loves Riviera more than any other venue save for Augusta National. He is making a record 32nd start in the tournament.

Kevin Maguire, senior golf editor: Webb Simpson
His track history at this tournament isn't long, but in two starts, the 2012 U.S. Open champ owns a T-6 (in 2013) to go along with a T-15 (in 2010). That bodes well for the major champ who hasn't finished outside the top 25 in the 2013-14 wraparound season.

Birdie Buster

Collins: Hunter Mahan
Coming off his second top-10 in a row, Mahan is back in a groove we've seen from him before in a Ryder Cup year (2010). Right now he's well outside the top nine in Ryder Cup points, but a couple of top-five finishes and a win will lock him in. I expect a top-five this week.

Evans: Charles Howell III
At Pebble Beach, he took his tour-leading fifth top-10 of the year with a tie for sixth. The last of his two previous tour victories came here in 2007. However, he has missed the cut the past two years.

Harig: Jimmy Walker
The man is on fire. He has won three of his first eight starts in the 2013-14 season, matching a feat accomplished by only Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and David Duval. And he loves Riviera.

Maguire: Pat Perez
Perez's past three starts: T-2 at Torrey Pines, 11th in Phoenix and T-7 at Pebble that helped deposit more than $700K in his bank account. Riviera hasn't always been kind to Perez, but the way he's playing so far in 2014, we're willing to overlook some history.

Super Sleeper

Collins: Charl Schwartzel
I still say he's the best, most underrated major champion we have in golf right now. And it's OK if you saw this and said to yourself, "Oh yeah, THAT guy. He's not a sleeper!" He is if you didn't remember him until I told you! But don't feel too bad. This is his first start on the PGA Tour this season.

Evans: Will MacKenzie
The two-time PGA Tour winner is quietly putting together a good season after two years on the Tour. His tie for 13th at Pebble Beach was his sixth top-15 in eight events.

Harig: Justin Rose
He is the second-to-last top 50 player (Steve Stricker is the only holdout) to make his 2014 debut, and he's coming off shoulder soreness that caused him to take it slow. He might need some time to ease into the season.

Maguire: Freddie Jacobson
No offense to the Swede, but he's probably not the most popular Freddie in the field this week (seeing as Fred Couples is again teeing it up at Riviera for a 32nd time.) That being said, Jacobson played well there the past couple of years, including a T-3 in 2013.


Collins: Bill Haas
So far this year, Haas is 6-for-6 in cuts made, with two top-10s and a worst finish of 43rd. The previous three times he's played this track, he's finished 12th (2011), first (2012) and third (2013). To say this course "fits his eye" would be the understatement of the month.

Evans: Jimmy Walker
This late bloomer is looking for his fourth win in the wraparound season and third in the state of California. In both 2011 and 2012, he finished T-4 at the Northern Trust. Last year, he finished in a tie for 16th. With those recent memories of the tournament and coming off a win at Pebble Beach, he is going to be tough to beat.

Harig: Jordan Spieth
He's in contention seemingly every week, undone by some poor Saturday rounds of late. He gets past the third-round blues and goes on to his second career PGA Tour victory.

Maguire: Jimmy Walker
He could miss every cut between now and the Ryder Cup, which he will surely make for Team USA, and Walker would still have a career season -- by far. Given that he's got a pair of T-4s at Riviera in the past three years, don't expect Walker to hit that wall of exhaustion until next week at the WGC-Match Play.





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