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PGA Tour Stats Review: Entering the Northern Trust Open

Jeremy Schilling

Schilling covers golf for RotoWire, focusing on young and up-and-coming players. He was a finalist for the FSWA's Golf Writer of the Year award. He also contributes to PGA Magazine and hosts the popular podcast "Teeing It Up" on BlogTalkRadio.

Hollywood is the next stop for the PGA Tour for the Northern Trust Open at famed Riviera Country Club. John Merrick is the defending champion. This is also the third-to-last event before the next Reshuffle.

History Lesson

Merrick won this event last year in a playoff over Charlie Beljan. In 2012, Bill Haas won in a playoff over Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley. In 2011, Aaron Baddeley beat Vijay Singh by two shots. Translation: tight finishes are a trend at the Northern Trust.

Mickelson is not playing this week - but all others mentioned above are. Merrick has done nothing since his win except for a T6 at the Canadian Open last year.

Our recommendation is Haas, who has one top-10 and three top-20 finishes on the 2013-14 season thus far. He is 18th in greens in regulation and 17th in sand saves.

Who's Playing

There's an eclectic group of players in the field this week, including Fred Couples, Justin Rose, Matt Kuchar, Ernie Els and Jordan Spieth.

Besides Spieth - who looked fine after his ankle injury from a couple weeks ago - our recommendation is Kuchar. Kuchar is coming off a vacation - he hasn't played since the Sony Open - and has three top-10s in his three starts so far this season on tour. He's also third in scoring average, second in sand save percentage and first on the PGA Tour in consecutive cuts at 30.

Max Homa is my super sleeper this week. The Cal-Berkeley star is playing this week on a sponsor exemption - his plan is to play the Tour this year - and while he's missed his last two cuts at Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach, he did open his season with finishes of T9-T30 last fall. He's fourth on the non-member FedEx Cup Points list (so a big finish could do him wonders) and is also third in driving distance and second in eagles at the moment.

Avoid Rose, who is making his first start of the calendar year after a shoulder problem held him out until now. As with Spieth last week, for as talented as Rose is, you really don't know how someone is feeling until they attempt to tee it up under real-life conditions.

Sunday Surgers

Justin Spieth, +14 spots -
Normally we wouldn't include Spieth in this list, but he went from shooting a 78 on Saturday (and early Sunday morning) and looking completely out of sorts to the strong finisher we know him to be, shooting a bogey free 67 to tie for eighth. One could argue that weeks like this past one will do more to help his game than a victory - which is a scary thought when it comes to someone as talented as Spieth. After losing more than five strokes on the greens in the third round, he gained just more than 1.75 of them on Sunday.

Will MacKenzie, +18 spots -
MacKenzie is quietly putting together a solid season with two top-10s and six top-25s. A Sunday 70 moved him up 18 spots at Pebble, and he finished the week 18th in strokes gained - putting.

Victor Dubuisson, +26 spots -
Dubuisson, most known for winning the Turkish Airlines Open last November in a field that included Tiger Woods among others, made his first PGA Tour start of 2014 last week and shot a Sunday 69 that lofted him 26 spots up the final leaderboard. He might be a good pick this week as he readies for next week's World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship. He finished AT&T ninth in driving distance, T6 in greens in regulation and 11th in strokes gained-putting.

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