Rory McIlroy makes his debut at Riviera GC along America’s West Coast where he gets the chance to go toe-to-toe with world No.1 Jordan Spieth.
The Hollywood starlet has his sights firmly set on getting his shoulders into the Green Jacket at Augusta in six weeks time and needs to show more Merciless McIlroy than Rusty Rory in the weeks leading up to the first Major of the season.
A light schedule last season saw McIlroy rally from off the pace to finish fourth behind Spieth in the only Major he has yet to win.
Spieth meanwhile has finished 12th and fourth on his last two appearances in this weekend’s Northern Trust Open and just shades favouritism over McIlroy where these are seven of the best-backed players at noon on Wednesday in a tournament where Paddy is paying the first seven home.
1. Dustin Johnson
A horse for a course but we also said that about DJ last week at Pebble Beach where he blew cold to finish T41. Has five top 10 finishes in this tournament since 2009 that included a runner-up berth to Bubba Watson in 2014.
Lost out in a three-way play-off here last year with Paul Casey and reigning champ James Hahn and tees off with Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott (remember him) over the first couple days.
2. Justin Rose
The pundits set the bar pretty low for Rose’s debut at Pebble Beach but the former US Open champion bounced back from a missed cut at the Farmers Insurance Open to finish T6 behind Vaughan Taylor in California.
Puts Riviera GC back on his schedule after swerving it last year and 2013, but a ninth-place berth to Aaron Baddeley in 2011 showed signs of promise if he really, really, wants it.
3. Andy Sullivan
Loving Rivera what place and what a course can't wait for Thursday pic.twitter.com/JkmE5ojlPh
— Andy Sullivan (@andysulligolf) February 16, 2016
The European go-getter gets his freak on Stateside as one of the emerging stars of the European Tour looking for a Ryder Cup spot.
Bolted from the blocks this time last year when winning twice in South Africa as part of a three-tournament romp that included the Portugal Masters later in the Autumn.
Lost out by a shot when T2 to compatriot Danny Willett in Dubai earlier this month and makes the first of what he hopes can be more frequent trips to the US this year particularly with a September date at Hazeltine National Golf Course as part of Darren Clarke’s Ryder Cup team.
4. Charl Schwartzel
Now that is what I've been looking for in my putter for a long time. Winning never gets old! Very satisfying. Thanks for all the support
— Charl Schwartzel (@CA_Schwartzel) February 14, 2016
The South African bagged his second European Tour in this wraparound season when hitting the turbo boost at the weekend in the Tshwane Open to become the first multiple winner of the 2016 season after his Alfred Dunhill win in November.
His -16 score was the lowest on the European Tour this year for the rejuvenated 2011 US Masters winner who has solid track form here having finished top 5 in both 2013 & 2014 before sliding down to 41st last season.
Obviously in top form at the moment but the fear remains he’s a homer with seven of his last eight European Tour wins coming in South Africa – but knows how to close it out on the final day.
5. Sergio Garcia
— Sergio Garcia (@TheSergioGarcia) February 17, 2016
Looked home ‘n’ hosed with two holes to play here last year but two bogeys saw him miss out on a three-hole play-off with Dustin Johnson, Paul Casey and eventual maiden winner James Hahn, to tie for fourth.
El Nino tees it up for his first tournament of the season Stateside since a T7 eye-in at the Qatar Masters at the end of January but has some pretty smart course form to call on.
Tiger Woods’ least favourite guy has three top six finishes here in his last five starts going back to 2007 even if he hasn’t gotten his head in front on that side of the Atlantic since the Wyndham Championship in 2012.
Could be the each-way lock in a tournament where Paddy’s paying seven places.
6. Keegan Bradley
When he’s not having an on-course flare up with the coolest man in golf Miguel Angel Jimenz, he spends more times over shots than a stag night at Vodka Rev.
Missed two cuts earlier this term before posting a T24 at the Waste Management Open in Phoenix and despite not hitting the winner’s enclosure since the WGC-Bridgstone Invitational in 2012, has hit the top 20 four times in the last four years including 2nd place (2012) and fourth last year.
7. Bill Haas
Two Top 10s in his last three starts sees the 2012 winner here just about shade Jimmy Walker for the seventh place pick.
Has won at least once on Tour every year (bar 2014) and three rounds in the 60s at Pebble Beach last week proves he has the game as well as the bottle to get competitive in the final tournament of the California swing.