Northern Trust Open Picks: Jimmy Walker and Phil Mickelson

By Ian Hudson
Debby Wong-US Presswire

If Phil Mickelson is in the type of form that saw him win the Phoenix Open, he will be hard to beat this week.

But, Jimmy Walker (pictured) has an ideal profile for success in the Northern Trust Open. The tournament formerly known as the Nissan Open is being played on the iconic Riviera Country Club in California, and course form could be the key to contending in this tournament.

Riviera Country Cub has been used for this event every year since 1973 apart from 1983 and 1998. It has always been known as a fader’s paradise, with the left-to-right shot shape of Fred Couples helping him win the tournament twice in the early 1990’s. Former winner also include Nick Faldo, Ernie Els and Mickelson.

The course was redesigned in 2008, lengthening the track to combat equipment advances. The greens require plenty of getting to know, there are several dog legs, and Riviera is known for being a thinker’s course where experienced campaigners usually do well. The tenth hole is a classic risk-reward drive-able par 4, which can see scores from two to seven.

These characteristics suggest that Walker can be a leading contender this week. Mickelson is the favourite to win a tournament in which he has already finished first twice and second twice, but we don’t know for sure which Mickelson will show up in California. It could be the one who dominated the Phoenix Open, or the Mickelson that played like a duffer at Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach.

Luke Donald and Adam Scott are making their appearances of the year in a tournament that has attracted 16 of the top 25 in the world rankings. This will be their first competitive golf for some time. The in-form Walker, three times a winner on the satellite Tour but never on the main tour, looks to be a more likely winner.

Walker’s third at Pebble Beach on Sunday was his second top-four this season, and top-fours on his latest two outings at Riviera, where the greats of Hollywood have played their golf for decades, suggest he has a game well suited to the course. That means Walker’s skill profile adds to his overall credentials.

Mickelson’s course form is the best of the entire field. He was a back-to-back winner in 2008 and 2009, and lost in a play-off to Bill Haas 12 months ago. Mickelson is raving abut a new driver that was highly effective in the Phoenix Open. If he has his short game in good order, the rest of the field could be playing for second place again, but Walker should also be in contention over the weekend.

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