Top Five Players To Watch At The 2014 Northern Trust Open

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2014 Northern Trust Open Power Rankings

Northern Trust Open
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Golf fans, what a year it’s been so far. If you thought the action has been good in recent weeks on the PGA Tour, this week’s Northern Trust Open should be right up your alley. “Hogan’s Alley”, that is.

Even though Colonial was Ben Hogan’s true home course, Riviera Country Club has also earned the nickname due to his three wins in this tournament in 1942, 1947, and 1948. Actually, Hogan’s U.S. Open win in 1948 was also held at Riviera, making it an especially unique accomplishment.

Located just a block south of Sunset Boulevard, Riviera has played host to several of Hollywood’s elite through the years, boasting Humphrey Bogart, Dean Martin, and even Walt Disney among its members. Today, if you can find a way in, you might rub elbows with Adam Sandler, Larry David, or even Tom Brady.

Behind the glitz and glamour of Tinseltown, Riviera is still a challenge. According to the Tour's official stats, it’s one of the hardest par-71's on the schedule, with tiny greens and difficult tee shots. The three par-5 holes have traditionally been the best opportunity players have to make some scoring moves.

Phil Mickelson won in both 2008 and 2009, but he’ll be taking the week off in preparation for the Accenture Match Play. Another player who has won at Riviera multiple times, Fred Couples, will be playing the tournament for the 32nd time in his career. That alone is 12 years more than Jordan Spieth, one of his captain’s picks for the President’s Cup, has been alive.

The Northern Trust marks the end of the Tour’s “west coast swing”, but the sun should be shining brightly as usual in southern California this weekend. Low winds at least mean that the course’s usual challenges shouldn’t be amplified by Mother Nature.

In recent years, big-name players have generally done well here, but if there’s anything we’ve learned so far this season, it’s that on any given week, somebody can get hot and go from unknown to champion. Which trend will win out this week? Read on to see who you can expect at the top of the leaderboard.

Brandon Raper is a golf writer for "Like" him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter @Brandon__Raper, and join him on Google+.

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5. Hunter Mahan

Hunter Mahan PGA Tour
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Hunter Mahan played his college golf at Oklahoma State and now lives in Texas, but he was born and raised just down the road in Orange County. He tied for eighth here last year, and is on a good run recently, with top tens in his last two starts on Tour. He's one of the best ball-strikers in golf, and that should allow him to shine this week.

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4. Dustin Johnson

Dustin Johnson Northern Trust Open
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Momentum is a big deal in golf, and Dustin Johnson is off to a phenomenal start this season. In three official events, he’s already got a win and two other top-ten finishes, and he came within a shot of forcing a playoff with Jimmy Walker last week at Pebble Beach. Johnson could finish the job this time out.

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3. Graham DeLaet

Graham DeLaet PGA Tour
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Four straight top tens, and back-to-back runner-up finishes. How much more can Graham DeLaet do before he finally wins his first tournament? DeLaet currently ranks sixth in greens in regulation, second in scoring average and 11th in total putting. Perhaps this will be his breakthrough week.

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2. Jordan Spieth

Jordan Spieth
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A missed cut at last month’s Sony Open was a reminder that Spieth is, indeed, human. Despite a Saturday blowup at Pebble Beach last week, the second-year still finished in fourth place. Riviera is going to be a test for Spieth, but if he can attack the par-5’s and limit the big numbers, he’ll be a contender.

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1. Jimmy Walker

Jimmy Walker
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It should be no surprise that we're riding the hottest player in golf. You know it’s a scary proposition when Walker, who has won a ridiculous three times already this season, says that Riviera is his favorite course. He finished 16th here last year after back-to-back fourth place runs, so it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see a fourth win for the surging Walker.