Weekly Preview - Northern Trust OpenGreg Vara RotoWire.com Golf Writer
The word "choke" is thrown around all too often in the world of sports these days. I, for one, use caution when throwing it out there, as even though it's usually the easiest way to describe why a player or team failed to earn a victory, it's also the laziest way to describe what actually happened, not to mention it's often not the reason why said player or team ended up on the losing end. To "choke" in sporting terms is best described as a person or team that fails to perform at their usual level because of pressure. When it comes to golf, choking is often most apparent on the greens. A golfer who is choking under pressure will exhibit strange behavior while standing over a three-foot putt, much like you or I during a given round. Think about this though - can you "choke" and still win? By all appearances, that's exactly what Ben Crane did last weekend. If you look at the definition I laid out, how can you describe his performance any other way? Crane missed several short putts down the stretch on Sunday, putts that he normally makes. The fact that the pack chasing him also fell apart means nothing. Ben Crane choked coming down the stretch last weekend, but apparently, that's not the correct terminology when you win.
What the Farmers Insurance Open means:
Ben Crane: As poorly as Crane played down the stretch last week, he deserves credit for building a lead that allowed him to stumble into the clubhouse with a victory. Crane has been streaky over his career, so you might want to keep an eye on him over the next few weeks.
Phil Mickelson: The Summer of Phil got off to a rocky start last week as not only did he fail to seriously contend, he was called out by Scott McCarron as a cheater for using some old square-groove wedges. Didn't seem to help his game much, though. I expect Phil to ditch the wedges and get back to doing what he does best, winning golf tournaments.
Brandt Snedeker: Snedeker is off to a strong start this season, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. Snedeker's game has fallen off since his rookie season, but he looks primed to make a run at the next level this season.
This week: Northern Trust Open (formerly the Nissan Open)
Last Year: Phil Mickelson shot a final-round 72 on his way to a one-stroke victory over Steve Stricker.
Players to Consider:
Sure, Mickelson did not appear to have his "A" game last week, but that shouldn't matter this week, as he absolutely owns this event. He's the two-time defending champ this week, and the last time he failed to win here, he finished runner-up.
This should be a good barometer to see where Scott's game is right now. He looks to be improved from a horrible year in 2009, but the proof is in the pudding. Scott won here in 2005 and finished runner-up in 2006.
Couples may be ready to move onto greener pastures, but he's not completely giving up the ghost just yet. Couples is known for playing well in certain spots, and Riviera is one of them. Couples tied for third last year at this event.
I mention it every year during this preview, and I'll do it again this year. Allenby's approach shot into the 18th green during a six-way playoff in 2001 ranks among the best shots I've ever seen. What does that have to do with this year? Nothing, he's No. 4 this week because he continues to play well here each year.
Choi appears to have shaken off his poor 2009 season already as evidence by his top-15 finish last week, and he's played well at this event over the past two seasons, so another top-10 could be in cards.
Players to Avoid:
Why does Bubba anger me so? Perhaps it's the untapped potential. Perhaps it's the hype that follows a decent showing. Whatever the reason, my optimism on Watson is quickly turning to pessimism.
Matteson might be getting his old form back, but even during his best days, he never played well here. Three entries, three missed cuts.
I realize Snedeker is on a roll, but I can't get past his track record here. Two entries, two missed cuts. He might be playing well enough to end that streak, but I doubt he can contend this week.
Moore is primed to take his game to the next level this season, but it will have to start after this week. Moore has teed it up here three times with little success. He might improve on his previous best of T-62, but not by much.
Imada has had little success here in five tries, only one finish inside the top-50 and the way he closed out the Farmers last week doesn't exactly inspire confidence.