Three on the Tee: Northern Trust Open

February, 10, 2014
Feb 10
1:35
PM ET

Beautifully positioned in Hollywood's backyard, Riviera Country Club has been the home course for movie stars for decades. But the course isn't notable just for its member register -- it also holds a strong grip on its place in golf history.

In an eighteen-month span in 1947 and 1948, Ben Hogan won at Riviera three times -- twice at the Los Angeles Open, and then carding third- and fourth-rounds scores of 68 and 69 to defeat Jimmy Demaret by 2 shots at the 1949 U.S. Open.

Trivia question

John Merrick got his first PGA Tour win last year at the Northern Trust Open. Before him, who was the last to accomplish that? Answer below
Sixteen of the top 30 players in the Official World Golf Ranking are in the field this week at Hogan's Alley, looking to add their names to a list of champions that also includes Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson. With those historic names in mind, the "Three on the Tee" starter calls:

Jimmy Walker

From 2001 through the end of the 2013 season, the 35-year-old journeyman made 187 starts on the PGA Tour. He had no wins, and a grand total of three top-three finishes.

This season? Three wins in eight starts on the tour's new wraparound schedule. Walker has made a little more than $10.9 million in earnings in his PGA Tour career, and more than a third of that has come this season.

Back to the three wins in eight starts -- you would be correct if you thought that Walker has walked right into rarefied air with his performance this season. Since 2000, the only player to win three times in fewer than eight starts is Tiger Woods, who has done it on five different occasions. The last player besides Woods to get to three victories as quickly as Walker was Phil Mickelson in 2005 (also doing it in eight starts).

With so much of the year left to play, the possibility of Walker getting to a fourth win is a very realistic one. Should he accomplish that, he'll become just the third different player since 2006 to win four or more times in a season. The other two are Woods (five times) and Rory McIlroy in 2012.

Ranked in the top-50 on the PGA Tour in strokes gained putting each of the previous three seasons, Walker has taken a big step forward on the greens so far this year. Walker was 46th in that statistic last season and third this year.

And where Walker ranked T-75 and 50th, respectively, in putting inside 10 feet and putts between 4 and 8 feet last season, he's now 10th in each statistic in 2013-14.

Jordan Spieth

Another week, another ho-hum T-4 finish for the 20-year-old Spieth at Pebble Beach. This week, he returns to the site of his biggest collegiate achievement -- where the Texas Longhorns won the 2012 national championship at Riviera Country Club, knocking off Alabama in the final. This is Spieth's second career PGA Tour start at the Northern Trust Open -- he missed the cut in 2012 as an amateur, learning the terrain in advance of that summer's NCAA championship.

Spieth has jumped into 13th in the Official World Golf Ranking this week. After Pebble Beach last year, he was 692nd. Another good finish this week at Riviera could vault Spieth into the top-10 for the first time in his career.

Spieth will be 20 years, 6 months and 20 days old this Sunday. Should Spieth ascend into the top-10 next week, he would nearly match the pace set by another phenom, who has since gone on to win multiple major championships. Rory McIlroy first entered the top-10 following the 2009 Dubai World Championship. His age: 20 years, 6 months and 18 days.

Trivia answer

Question: John Merrick got his first career PGA Tour win last year at the Northern Trust Open. Before Merrick, who was the last player to accomplish that?

Answer: Len Mattiace, 2002.

Bill Haas

In 2013, Spieth and Brandt Snedeker were part of the three-way tie for first on tour in top-10 finishes with nine apiece. Haas was the third part of that triumvirate, picking up one of those high finishes at Riviera. Haas held a 3-shot lead entering the final round before faltering with a Sunday 73, finishing tied for third.

Haas won this event in 2012 in a playoff over major champions Mickelson and Keegan Bradley. Over the past two years, Haas is 17-under at the Northern Trust Open; second-best in that two-year span is Freddie Jacobson at 12-under-par.

There's something about the greens at Riviera that fit Haas' eye. In 2012, Haas ranked 74th on tour in strokes gained putting for the year, but was third in the field that week in the stat. Last year, he was 47th for the season, but fourth for the week at Riviera in strokes gained putting.

If we are treated to a playoff for the third consecutive year here, it will mark just the second time in tournament history that has happened. The then-named Los Angeles Open had four straight playoffs from 1969 to 1972.

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