Three players to watch at the Northern Trust Open

February, 14, 2012
02/14/12
10:49
AM ET
Southern California, you've got a tough act to follow this week.

After a tremendous weekend at Pebble Beach that ended with a brilliant final round by Phil Mickelson, the Tour moves to historic Riviera CC this week for the Northern Trust Open.

Trivia question

Top-ranked amateurs Patrick Cantlay and Jordan Spieth will be in the field this week at Riviera. Who is the last amateur to win a PGA Tour event? (Answer below)
If the tournament's field is any indication, though, it may be able to provide a fitting follow-up to Pebble. Four of the top 10 players in the world (including world No. 1 Luke Donald) will be in the field, as well as 14 different major champions.

Numbers Game this week will primarily focus on the week ahead at Riviera, but we would be remiss if we didn't delve a bit into the numbers surrounding Sunday's polarized pairing of Mickelson and Tiger Woods at Pebble Beach. Polarized in terms of the scores posted, that is.

A few of the key numerals that stood out:

7: On Saturday, Woods was a perfect 14-for-14 on putts of 10 feet or shorter. Sunday, Tiger missed seven of those putts (16-for-23). Tiger's "strokes gained  putting" total on Sunday was a staggering minus-5.23. Phil Mickelson's, by comparison, was plus-4.78. This means that on the putting surface alone, Phil was an amazing 10 full strokes better than Tiger on Sunday -- something your eyes alone probably deduced.

13: In Tiger's two starts this year at Abu Dhabi and Pebble, he had a legitimate shot on Sunday at closing the deal and snapping his winless drought (which now stands at 27 official worldwide events, and 22 PGA Tour starts). And each of those Sundays, he was beaten by his playing partner. Robert Rock shot 70 (Woods, 72) at Abu Dhabi, and Mickelson a sparkling 64 at Pebble Beach (Woods, 75). A 13-stroke difference when you combine the two.

5: Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have played together five times in the final round of a tournament since 2007. In all five of those rounds, Mickelson shot the lower score. Phil's total "margin of victory," if you will, in those five rounds, is 19 shots (11 of which came Sunday).

The most important two numbers from Sunday, though: zero, which is how many bogeys Mickelson made Sunday, and 40, as in Phil becoming the ninth member of the PGA Tour 40-win club.


Three on the tee has plenty to choose from in an elite field this week. How about an amateur to keep an eye on? Numbers Game calls to the tee:

PATRICK CANTLAY Last year, the lowest score shot on the PGA Tour came from an amateur. Patrick Cantlay's 60 (10-under) at the Travelers Championship last June was the highlight of his PGA Tour season, but it might not have been his most impressive feat. The UCLA junior made the cut in all five of his starts, and finished in the top 25 in four of them.

Cantlay, the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world (according to the R&A), will have company in the prodigy department this week, though. World No. 2 Jordan Spieth, a freshman at Texas, will make his fourth career PGA Tour start this week at Riviera. Spieth has helped lead the Longhorns to four straight team victories and a No. 1 ranking.

By the way, the Division I men's golf championship will be held at Riviera beginning May 29. Expect Cantlay and Spieth to be fighting for that title.

LUKE DONALD: Last year's PGA Tour Player of the Year makes his 2012 debut this week. Donald's last PGA Tour season was brilliantly consistent: He finished in the top 10 in 14 of 19 events last year en route to winning the scoring average title (68.86). Donald's flat stick make him his money -- in addition to leading the circuit in earnings and scoring, he was first on Tour in "strokes gained  putting," putting average, and 3-putt avoidance.

Donald's worst score on the PGA Tour in 2011 came in the second round of the Northern Trust. An 8-over 78 gave him his first and only missed cut of the year. In his next start, though, he never trailed in any match at the WGC-Accenture Match Play en route to victory.

For the world No. 1, though, 2012 will be about his performance in majors. Donald only had 12 rounds (out of 67) over par in sanctioned PGA Tour events last year. Six of those 12 rounds came in major championships.

DUSTIN JOHNSON: The world's 10th-ranked player will tee it up for the fifth straight week (that includes his withdrawal back at the Humana Challenge). Though he finished tied for fifth last weekend at Pebble Beach, maybe the bomber could use a week off.

Johnson is a combined 18-under in the first round over the past three events. That number is 1 under in the second round, 1 over in the third round, and 2 over in the final round. Is Johnson's repaired knee possibly still nagging him as these tournaments progress? It's something to keep an eye on this week at Riviera, especially if he goes low early.


Trivia answer

Question: Top-ranked amateurs Patrick Cantlay and Jordan Spieth will be in the field this week at Riviera. Who is the last amateur to win a PGA Tour event?

Answer: Phil Mickelson, 1991 Northern Telecom Open

Don't be surprised if you see a lot of low numbers early on in rounds this week at Riviera.

The first hole at Riviera, a 503-yard par 5, was the easiest hole on the PGA Tour in 2011. In fact, it's ranked among the three easiest holes on Tour in each of the past three seasons. There have been 90 eagles made on the first hole at Riviera since 2009. That's 18 more than any other hole on Tour in that span.

To succeed at the Northern Trust, taking advantage of the first hole is a must. Each of the last three winners of this event have eagled the first hole at least once during the tournament. Since 2006, the winners of this event have played the first hole to a combined score of 25 under par.

Justin Ray is a senior researcher with ESPN Stats & Information. He has contributed to ESPN's golf coverage since joining the network out of college in 2008. He is based in Austin, Texas, with the new Longhorn Network. Send comments and suggestions to Justin.Ray@espn.com.

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