All of a sudden we are not too far away from the truncated 2016 major season. The addition of golf to the Olympics means that all of the biggest four golf tournaments are going to be done and dusted by the end of July and this week we could get some helpful insights into whether some of the best in the game are looking sharp enough for the upcoming battles. 15 of the world’s top 30 players have made the trip to Los Angeles to take on Riviera Country Club for the Northern Trust Open. The 7,322 yard track is one of the toughest tests of golf outside of the majors and last season ranked as the most difficult par 71 on the PGA Tour.
Make no mistake, whoever wins this event is going to have to bring their best stuff to LA. Riviera opens up with an easy enough hole, a par five which played well under par last season but that is soon forgotten with the 471 yard, par four second. The course is demanding from the tee but it is the greens which offer the course’s best defence. Not only are they some of the hardest putting surfaces to hit in regulation but once you are there, there is no such thing as a gimme. No course saw more putts missed from inside three feet last season than Riviera so concentration needs to be at a premium.
Rory McIlroy is almost certainly going to miss more than one short putt this week but time and time again the world number two manages to card a competitive score without bringing his best game to the course. In Abu Dhabi and Dubai he wasn’t too far away from winning and ended up inside the top six on both occasions and with an insight into what he needs to work on. His decision to make his first ever appearance at Riviera shows that he is doing all he can to take his game to its peak and with the best greens in regulation stats on the PGA Tour so far this season (albeit over just eight rounds) he looks the favourite to be on at 7/1 with BetVictor.
At a bigger price, fellow Brit Paul Casey should be added to your betting this week. Casey’s game, with its mixture of power and top quality ball striking, can be competitive at even the toughest courses in the world as he showed by making a playoff here in last year’s renewal. He’ll turn up believing he has unfinished business and looks worth a shot at odds of 55/1 with Coral.
Luke Donald continues to fight back from the doldrums and there were yet more encouraging signs last week when he finished tied for 26th at Pebble Beach. Donald is going to have to keep on getting better to have any chance of bagging a big PGA Tour win this season or a place on the Ryder Cup team but the signs are that he should not be written off just yet. A win is too big an ask this week but a top 20 finish at 7/2 with Ladbrokes is not.