• Betting Bunker

KJ's the smart Choice at Riviera

Josh Williams February 15, 2012
KJ Choi has a fine record at the tournament, with four top-tens © PA Photos
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Click here to bet on the Northern Trust Open at bet365

Just when Phil Mickelson was starting to look a faded force, sleepwalking through the autumn of his career, he conjured a flash of genius to win the AT&T at Pebble Beach last weekend. He began the day six shots adrift of the lead, but fired an eight-under round of 64 to storm to the title - and for that reason, he heads the betting at this week's Northern Trust Open at the Riviera Country Club.

It was the sight of a genius on the charge, and we all know he's capable of that - but it's been all too rare from Mickelson over the past few years, and it's worth noting that even after that victory, he's still only 11th in the world rankings.

Something he said in the wake of the Pebble Beach success is stopping me from tipping him from recording back-to-back triumphs: "I've been a little bit lazy mentally. So it was a real effort for me to stay focused on every single shot and to not let my mind slip or wander or be lazy."

Refreshingly honest - and credit to him for that - but I'd also say that the Riviera track is not one where you can afford to be anything but razor-sharp mentally. Only two of the last 23 champions have been first-time winners on the PGA Tour, and the greens are hard to find - so you need to know exactly where you want to put it.

Williams' wagers

  • KJ Choi E/W - 40/1 at bet365
    Dustin Johnson E/W - 22/1 at bet365

With that in mind, I'm looking for a fine iron player, a real second-shot merchant, and someone who has gone well at this tournament before. A strong temperament is also preferable, because this is a course that will show you no remorse if you find yourself toiling.

So step forward KJ Choi, who has never missed the cut at the Northern Trust and has managed four top-tens from 11 starts. Choi had a torrid time over on the European Tour's Desert Swing in recent weeks - one T48th and one missed cut - but I'm not too bothered about that, and instead will take heart from the fact he's not rusty or taking the very first steps in his season. Plus he's a resilient player, the kind of guy who won't be weighed down by a couple of dodgy weeks.

The world No. 15 is 11th overall in greens hit this season, as well as fifth in birdie average, which appeals because the Riviera is a long par-71. Anyone with the course form he's shown should not be priced as high as 40/1, so get on him each-way.

I'm also tempted by Dustin Johnson, although 22/1 is perhaps a little scrawnier than I'd hoped to see. He continued his love affair with Pebble Beach last week, finishing fifth, and more importantly looked great with the irons and putter, two areas that are usually a weakness. He was third at the tournament in 2010, and tenth the year before - works for me.

Please note that odds are correct at time of publication and are subject to change.

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Josh Williams is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk