One of Freddie's Favorites, The ICG Fantasy 5 Previews Riviera

fcouples_swings.jpgIt's time, once again, for our weekly bout of prognostication. It's time for the ICG Fantasy Five.

This week the PGA TOUR moves on to the hallowed grounds of Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California. The stop is affectionately known as "Hogan's Alley" in reference to Ben Hogan's dominance in the history of the Los Angeles Open and the 1948 U.S. Open. TOUR favorites including Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw, Fred Couples and Phil Mickelson can also count themselves as champions at Riviera.

In this week's Fantasy Five we'll take a few moments to offer up some players that would like nothing better than to see their name listed as this year's "L.A. Open" champ.

Phil Mickelson: Any fantasy golf pundit will tell you that a player coming off an emotional win uttering quotes like, "I feel like I'm putting like I did when I was a kid with nothing to clutter up my mind" is gonna make the list of top prospects for the next event. Phil is also a past champion at the Northern Trust Open and looks comfortable in the celebrity-friendly atmosphere of Riviera. Mickelson is now ranked 7th in Strokes Gained - Putting, 14th in Birdies per Round and 18th overall in Scoring. The vibes are good in Phil's camp right now. Expect a high finish again in L.A.

Aaron Baddeley: "Baddz" is off to a good start in 2012 though (almost) no one has noticed. He hasn't missed a cut in four events this year in posting two top 30 finishes plus a fourth-place check last week at Pebble Beach. Like Mickelson, Aaron is a past champion at Riviera and, like Phil, is putting well right now. He's ranked 11th in Strokes Gained - Putting and 23rd in Birdies per Round. IF Baddeley can get the ball in the fairways this week (a big question as he's currently 143rd in Driving Accuracy) his putting stroke and familiarity with the course should help him to another top 20 finish.

Jason Day: Day kicks off his 2012 PGA TOUR campaign this week with heavy expectations in tow. In 21 events in 2011 he posted ten top 10 finishes including two runner-ups and a T3. The only thing the likable Aussie didn't do last year was win. Mark that down as priority number one this year. The TOUR's 9th-ranked player in the All-Around and Scoring Average categories in 2011, Jason has his eyes set on getting this year off to a very good start.

Charles Howell III: Howell is high on the ICG list of players to watch for this year. He's off to a decent start after a T2 in Hawaii to begin the year and three straight made cuts since then. He's currently ranked in the top 20 in Scoring Average, Strokes Gained - Putting and Greens In Regulation. He's also 28th in the All-Around ranking. Howell won at Riviera in 2007, lost in a playoff in '03 and has missed the cut only once in his last 10 tries at the event. Expect another good showing this week as the Augusta native continues his prep for a strong Masters finish in April.

Fred Couples: Aside from being a bit of an emotional pick here, Freddie's stellar record at Riviera puts him on the list. He has a slew of top 10 finishes at the Northern Trust Open as well as two victories (1990 and 1992). Couples has said that the L.A. Open is second only to The Masters on his list of favorite TOUR events. And golf experts will tell you that any time Freddie is comfortable and focused, he can still be a force to be reckoned with. Last year in L.A. he led heading to the final round only to post a 73 and finish in a tie for 7th. He's coming off a strong final round in Dubai last week. Expect a good showing for everyone's favorite this week.

Northern Trust Open coverage begins on The Golf Channel on Thursday.

By Michael Weigand, ICG


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