Sports Betting Weekly

Northern Trust Open

When: Thursday, 19 February 2015 (FINISHED)
Where: Riviera Country Club California
The USPGA tour’s Californian swing continues apace this weekend as another all-star field converges at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades for the 2015 edition of the Northern Trust Open.

Having first teed off in 1926 and been held at “the Riv” on a near-continuous basis since 1973, the Northern Trust Open is actually the fourth oldest event on the tour behind the BMW Championship, the Canadian Open and the Valero Texas Open and is a hugely popular PGA stop steeped in history.

The tournament’s list of previous winners is a veritable who’s-who of golfing greats, with household names like Arnold Palmer, Fred Couples and Phil Mickleson all tasting success in California over the years – and the 2015 field certainly honours the event’s reputation for attracting big-name players.

Reigning champion, Bubba Watson, returns for this year’s edition of the Northern Trust Open, but competing alongside him will be 14 other players ranked inside golf’s top 50, including Jordan Spieth, Jim Furyk and Sergio Garcia, in what looks to be one of the event’s strongest ever line-ups.

Although the tournament has an illustrious roll call of former champions, there are plenty of PGA Hall of Famers that have been thwarted by the course over the years, as despite not being the longest circuit on the tour, the “the Riv” really does require golfers to use every single club in their bag.

While the average distance to the green on each hole is not the biggest, the smaller-than-average greens mean that long game accuracy is absolutely vital. Furthermore, with the course featuring very few straight holes, being able to shape the ball is also very important as there are a number of left to right doglegs scattered throughout the grounds to really test golfers’ ability to fade their shots.

Fortunately for those competing, there is only a slight chance of rain throughout the weekend and very little in the way of wind, but should the heavens open and the ground become heavy, there will be less opportunity for tee shots to roll on, meaning long and accurate drives will be necessary.

All in all, then, “the Riv” is one of the trickier courses on the Californian swing – and with such a variety of skills required to succeed, don’t expect this to be the place for any hopefuls to find their form with a breakout performance. Instead turn your attention to those who are already performing well going into the event and those with prior experience of the lay of the land in Pacific Palisades.


Somewhat unusually for a PGA event, the bookmakers are at a bit of a loss as to who to name their favourite for the Northern Trust Open, with 2014 champ Watson currently tied with two other players – Spieth and last year’s runner-up, Dustin Johnson – at 12/1 to lift this year’s trophy.

Having recorded the strongest finish in the history of the tournament with a bogey-free, seven-under-par 64 at last year’s Northern Trust Open, there can be no denying that Watson has the pedigree to perform this year. A natural at finding the greens, Watson will hold a big advantage on the course’s three par fives and comes into the event on the back of a decent showing in Phoenix.

Playing in only his third event back after taking a self-imposed break from the PGA tour – allegedly to seek professional help in tackling a suspected drug problem – Johnson looks to be a little short at 12/1, but has the combination of recent form and course pedigree that makes him impossible to ignore. Having finished runner-up to Watson in 2014, Johnson has recorded three top four finishes in the past five stagings of the Northern Trust Open and also tied for fourth at Pebble Beach last week, indicating that whatever lingering rust there may have been from his sabbatical has now been brushed away.

Much like Johnson, backing Spieth would take something of a leap of faith at such short odds, but there can be no denying the 21-year-old up-and-comer has the requisite skills to flourish at “the Riv”. Indeed, Spieth’s immaculate short game could prove a crucial asset for him on this notoriously tricky circuit, but concerns over his relative inexperience could dissuade many from backing him here, despite the fact that he recorded a tied 12th place finish at last year’s Northern Trust Open.

Beyond that power three, 30/1 shout Bill Haas looks the stand-out pick at odds that seem to belie his outstanding stats going into the event. First off, Haas has a terrific record in the Northern Trust Open having won in 2012 and finished third while defending his title the following year. Second, he loves playing in California and has a set of results that backs that up with three wins, a second, a third, a fourth and three other top 10s in his last 18 appearances in the Golden State. Finally, having won last month’s Humana Challenge, he already has one title to his name this year and goes into the event in strong form.


Should you look a little further down the established pecking order, there are several players well worth considering at this year’s Northern Trust Open. At 35/1, Charl Schwartzel certainly fits that bill and has started the season strongly with a tied ninth in Abu Dhabi as well as runner-up spot in the South African Open. This will be Schwartzel’s third visit to “the Riv”, having putted brilliantly to finish 5th in 2014 and hit nearly every green in regulation to tie for third the year before. Should he manage to marry both skills this time out, he looks a very strong outsider here at substantial odds against.

Like Schwartzel, J.B. Holmes is another player who looks to have been priced at unfairly long odds of 40/1. True, the Kentuckian failed to make much of an impression in 2013 or 2014, but that was largely down to lack of form and illness respectively. Beyond those two showings, his results actually show real consistency at “the Riv”, with four top ten finishes between 2008 and 2012. Furthermore, Holmes arrives at this year’s event bang in form, having finished a play-off loser at the Farmers Insurance Open and tied 10th at Pebble Beach, meaning he’ll be one to watch in the early rounds.

Bernd Wiesberger and Sang-Moon Bae are both available at 66/1, but while the former came good for us as an each-way bet in the Dubai Desert Classic last month, course history makes the latter our preferred pick this time out. Bae tends to relish the trickier courses – where his all-round game usually helps him bridge the gap on the bigger hitters in the field – and two top 15 finishes in his two previous visits to the Riviera Country Club suggest he might be worth looking into as an each-way option.

The final player in our reckoning for this year’s Northern Trust Open also happens to come in at the longest odds of anyone in our preview as 80/1 shot, Charlie Beljan, looks to build on his outstanding third-place finish at Pebble Beach with victory at “the Riv”. Fitting the bill of an in-form fader to a tee, Beljan finished runner-up on his course debut in 2012 and tied for 12th the following year, with the stats for those two stagings showing that he hit more greens in regulation than anyone else. True, if it weren’t for his exploits at Pebble Beach you might have been able to get Beljan at three-figure odds, but with form seemingly so important in this event, his current price seems a fair trade-off here.