Northern Trust Open preview: Who needs Tiger Woods with this lineup?
Tiger Woods? Who he? We should thank our lucky stars he’s not in this competition so’s we don’t have to talk constantly about the battle for second place. As it is we have the cream from the two big tours clashing in one of the season’s more up-market events.
What we learn from the past is that you need a whacking driver, nifty irons and the usual fiery putter. Accuracy off the tee is not vital, although the rough is no picnic. Trouble is you are spoilt for choice: there are more in-form players and/or past winners than you can shake a nine-iron at. And a blustery wind on the first two days at least could upset the applecart.
Phil Mickelson: The favourite lost this one last year with a spectacular collapse down the back nine. Sound familiar? How can we forget how he missed the cut last week after going round a par 5 in 11? He might be the punters’ favourite, but he ain’t PGA Punter’s favourite with that frustrating combination of superb and rank golf in the same round. None of his stats rank him higher than 60th in this competition. He’s got to come good some time, but who knows when?
Adam Scott: Our first chance this year on American soil to see the man Butch Harmon tells us will give Tiger a run for his money. Scott impressed with his recent win in the Middle East and was a winner here three years ago. Surprisingly he never figured last year, slinking home in 69th place.
Rory Sabbatini: Another past winner with a largely excellent track record here. In my book he should already be a winner this year, but was disappointing in his last outing - 34th at the FBR Open. His current stats say yes (ish).
Jim Furyk: The exception that proved the rule last year, although even his challenged driver kept him about a third of the way down the distance charts. He made up for that by only missing 9 fairways all week. Furyk has been ultra-subdued this season, but 14th place last week suggests he is warming to the task.
Vijay Singh: Considering how he threw it away last week, and the fact that the rest of his season has been rank, I’m not sure where the notion comes from that second place in the world rankings is a straight fight between him and Lefty. Best he’s done in his last four outings here is 18th - and that was eight years ago.
Padraig Harrington: 7th last year after leading up to the half-way stage, he had as I recall an electric opening round. He was a bit stiff last week and needs to work on his irons - they actually got worse as last week went on.
K J Choi: Fifth here five years ago, and looks to be getting his rhythm back after losing concentration following his early victory. His approach work is a big plus here, but he needs to pay attention to his putting.
Justin Rose: Why isn’t Butch Harmon putting him forward as the next great Tiger-beater? Because he’s a great golfer but not a great winner in the mould of his contemporary Scott. It’s all in the mind. Past results and his current stats suggest this will be a nice little warm-up but probably not a lot more.
Lee Westwood: Perhaps the hottest player on the European circuit, so it will be interesting to see how he performs this side of the Pond. Was 5th here two years ago.
Charles Howell III: His performances this season suggest he could still be battling to keep his title come Sunday. He’s pretty handy at finding greens and his putter is in reasonable shape.
To complicate matters, there are plenty of other interesting possibilities: Mike Weir has won here twice and made an impressive recovery from his bad start last week. Robert Allenby is another past winner (3rd last year) with more than half decent stats - needs to polish his putter though. People are put off by the recent performances here of Stuart Appleby, but he did come third four years ago and his two outings this season have both been top ten.
There’s loads more likely lads down the pack too, but two are definitely worth a mention: Dustin Johnson is posting fine figures for everything except accuracy off the tee and his 7th last week was the best of an already impressive rookie season. Finally there’s Anthony Kim, whose season has been a bit more up and down, but when he played this event for the first time last year he finished an impressive 9th. It’s been a bit of a struggle finding greens at times, but he’s top 10 for putting and distance off the tee.
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