So there I am, cruising along the winding, beautiful Pacific Coast Highway, sun setting on my right over the dirty window sill of my tiny hybrid, when it hits me. No, Californians don't all drive hybrids like some cliche, vegan stereotype - I'm just cheap. Sue me. Actually, please don't, again, the cheap thing. Anyway, have you ever been in a position to get everything you want in life? Every last little thing, almost like you've won the lottery? Me either, but as I was driving down that stretch of highway, I had a epiphany. I have no idea where I'm going.
By now, I'm sure you agree, since this article is mulling aimlessly about, but I swear it has to do with fantasy golf, so bear with me a moment. It was at that point I figured I'd pull over, throw on Google Maps, and check final scores before I hit the road again. If you read Risk and Reward last week, you might have some concept of where I'm heading with this, but if not, let me fill you in. You see, I had placed Nick Watney, Chesson Hadley, and Alex Prugh in the Hazards. As in, don't start them. As in, you're better off selling your left kidney to a back-alley mobster. All three of them placed in the Top 10. Clearly, I had no idea where I was going.
Fortunately, the Northern Trust Open offers 7,349 yards of highly talented players with which I can pretend to know what I'm talking about. As the run-up to The Masters begins, the Top 50 in the World Golf Rankings are coming out of the woodwork and onto the PGA Tour to get the ball rolling. Yes, pun intended. Expect weather to be much like Pebble Beach last week, with little wind, temperatures in the low to mid seventies, and some fog in the morning.
For those of you not familiar with my Power Rankings, I'll be listing the Top-15 with their Total Aggregate (TA), a number that combines recent performance with course history and some select other metrics, and the change (CHG) from the last tournament they participated in. Total Aggregate is out of 100, with a lower number indicating a better ranking.
- Bernd Wiesberger - TA: 8.4, CHG: (+9.6) - You might know him from his collapse on Sunday at the 2014 PGA Championship. As Rory, Rickie, and Phil battled it out for top honors, Wiesberger punted away his chances with a 3-over 74. Since then, he's missed just two cuts and placed outside of the Top 16 once in his last 14 starts. No, you don't recognize his name, and he doesn't even show up in the PGA Tour fantasy league (hopefully they add him) as a result, but that stretch includes three Top 5s and two more Top 10s. His last three starts include two of those Top 5s and a Top 10. Sure, he's never played the Northern Trust Open before, but don't let that deter you. Like Hansel, he's so hot right now.
- Jim Furyk - TA: 10.33, CHG: (-0.4) - So many near misses that he could be charged with attempted murder. Seriously, the mental speed bumps in his head about winning must be the size of the Himalayas. His propensity for Top 10s and low scores make him a fantasy safety valve, as his T7 at Pebble Beach showed. He might not win ever again, but with a T23 and T13 in his last two starts here, he can't miss either.
- Jimmy Walker - TA: 10.67, CHG: (+2.8) - For most players, a Top 25 is a solid finish. When you're Jimmy Walker on the West Coast Swing, it may as well be a missed cut. For as well as he normally putts, Walker was ice cold on the greens in sunny Monterey. Everything I've said the last two times about him still stands, as his T21 is his worst finish in four starts. His last missed cut here? 2005, when it was still the Nissan Open. Since then. he's 7-for-7 with two Top 5s and two Top 20s.
- Shawn Stefani - TA: 15.6, CHG: (+2.2) - I've been riding his success for the better part of the last year and he's not showing any signs of slowing down. Stefani hasn't been out of the Top 30 in his last five starts, including a solo Second, a Top 10, a Top 15, and a Top 25. He's in the Top 50 in length off the tee, and accurate enough at 97th, that he's able to find himself at 10th in Greens in Regulation. No experience here as a pro, but his game should set up well enough.
- Francesco Molinari - TA: 18.2, CHG: (+0.6) - Quietly having a terrific start to his maiden PGA Tour voyage as a fully-exempt member. Most European Tour stars don't port their game over too well in the states, but it seems more and more than they're finding success. He hasn't missed a cut in the states dating back to 2013 at the U.S. Open. Not surprising, since he currently sits 2nd in fairway accuracy. Hard to bogey from the middle of the short grass.
- Bubba Watson - TA: 20.42, CHG: (-0.2) - Riviera forces a player to use every club in his bag, and there's no one more creative with his sticks than Mr. Watson. He won here last year as a prelude to his second Masters jacket and has since won this year at the WGC-HSBC Champions. His worst finish this season? T11 at the Hero World Challenge. I can't place him without a Bubba disclaimer, though, so start him knowing that only Bubba knows how Bubba will play this week.
- Jordan Spieth - TA: 21.33, CHG: (-0.8) - This kid bounces back like a Super Ball off a baseball bat. Sandwiched a missed cut at the Farmers Insurance Open with a T7 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and a T7 at Pebble Beach. Spieth hasn't missed two cuts in three starts since he did it in 2013 at the Zurich Classic and Valero Open with a T9 at the RBC Heritage in between. T12 here last year.
- Harris English - TA: 23.75, CHG: (+19.6) - After struggling to find traction at the end of last year, English kicked his longtime swing coach to the curb and sought new help. The benefits of that move have been significant, with a T3 at the Sony Open and a playoff loss at the Farmers Insurance Open. They aren't wins, but he's not far off. Add in a T10 here last year, and we've got a potent combination of form and history mixed with a two-time winner.
- Charl Schwartzel - TA: 25.83, CHG: (-10.6) - If the past is to be believed, then he's a must start, with 3rd and 5th place finishes in his only two starts at this tournament. Of course, if you've used Schwartzel regularly for your fantasy team, you know how much of an enigma he can be when picking him. Just when you think you've got him locked for a Top 10, he pulls a Houdini and misses the cut.
- Webb Simpson - TA: 26.33, CHG: (+3.2) - I wish he'd have ditched the broomstick putter months ago because he's got a T13 and T7 since doing so at the Sony Open. As frustrating as it was to get some consistency out of him last year, it is looking good that he may be finding some level ground. Simpson finished 70th here last year during a rocky season, but finished T6 and T15 in two starts prior.
- Justin Thomas - TA: 28, CHG: (-5.8) - Still with me? If so, you're something of an aberration for most media consumers these days, since your attention span is longer than the half-life of hydrogen-7. Good on you. In the realm of short attention spans, most opponent have likely forgotten Justin Thomas. He missed the cut in his last start, so he's probably off most radars, but don't count him out just yet, since the rookie still has three Top 10s in his last six starts.
- John Peterson - TA: 28.6, CHG: (-1) - I made my smart comment about him last time he showed up in the rankings. Peterson still hasn't missed a cut this year (though he MDF'd at The Shriners in October), but he's still searching for a Top 10. He's hitting far more greens and fairways this year as compared to last, including some extra length off the tee. Watch out for his putter, he's not been especially good with it this year or last, but if he can turn it on, he'll sneak up on everyone. Expect crazy value in DFS.
- Hunter Mahan - TA: 29.33, CHG: (-10.2) - His T54 last week was his first finish outside the Top 30 this season. It was also my first time starting him at all this year. My most insincere apologies if my curse ruined your week. Like last week, Mahan has a decent track record at Riviera, with a T8 in 2013 and a T24 in 2012. He ranks 27th in fairways hit, 18th in GIR, and 40th in strokes-gained putting - not a bad combination.
- Bill Haas - TA: 29.83, CHG: (-0.6) - How's this for consistency? Bill Haas hasn't missed a cut since September 2013. I've met mountains less steady than that. His finishes aren't always strong, as evidenced by his victory-hangover induced 76th at the Waste Management Open, but for the most part, you can start him and expect at least a Top 25. He has 17 of those in 27 finished tournaments last year.
- Robert Streb - TA: 30, CHG: (-1.8) - Like Justin Thomas, your opponents may have forgotten him, though it is less likely. He's currently second in the FedEx Cup standings and he's 8-for-8, with a win and four other Top 10s this season. He's a solid value in DFS, and I would ignore his missed cut here back in 2013. He's simply not the same player he was then. Statistically, this guy is off the charts, with only Jason Day beating him for the All-Around ranking. I'd list his strongest stat rankings here, but I'd double the length of the article.