Steve Bamford

Steve Bamford's Genesis Open Tips 2019

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In a delayed Monday finish, it was great to get Phil Mickelson over the line at 25/1 at Pebble Beach. Given the forecasted conditions, going for Open Championship top-6 finishers proved to be a good strategy and in Phil we have a player who I would put in the same category at Dustin Johnson, Brandt Snedeker and Jason Day as an exceptionally positive poa annua green putter. He can also take apart a soft and receptive golf course. It was the 48 year-old’s 44th PGA Tour victory and he became only the second player to surpass $90 million in PGA Tour prize money. No prizes for guessing the first.

Before we talk through my Genesis Invitational tips, the number of new visitors to Golf Betting System is increasing in the inevitable build-up to The Masters. Welcome to you all and let me point you in the direction of our weekly Golf Betting System podcast (published Tuesday) our Golf Betting Show on YouTube and our hugely popular private group on Facebook – you can Join Here.

The Genesis Open closes the 2019 West Coast swing and sees the strongest elite field of the year so far arriving in Los Angeles. Defending champion Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Tony Finau, Tommy Fleetwood, Marc Leishman, Patrick Cantlay, Jordan Spieth – the stars just keep coming. With the Genesis Open now organised by TGR Live (Tiger Woods Foundation), it’s also no surprise to see Tiger Woods in the field after a strong enough Torrey Pines outing 2 weeks ago.

Course Guide: Riviera is a stretching 7,322 yard, 35-36 Par 71 old-style golf course. Nicknamed ‘Hogan’s Alley’, it’s a classical course which features tight, tree-lined uneven fairways, plus fast green complexes that average 5,000 square feet and feature plenty of surrounding run-off areas for overly aggressive or wayward approach shots. The course itself favours longer hitters, where finding fairways is extremely difficult – although the penalty tends to be the danger of blocked approach shots rather than thick, lush rough. The course features some of the deepest bunkers on Tour and fairway positioning is key as approach shots can be blocked by trees. Every season Riviera plays as one of the hardest courses to hit greens (Toughest in 2018) and putting is difficult especially from 10 feet and in on the fast Bentgrass Poa Annua mix greens – indeed it ranked as 4th most difficult 12 months ago in that respect.

Riviera Country Club, Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, California: Designer: Neville and Thomas 1926 with Fazio re-design 2008; Course Type: Classical; Par: 71; Length: 7,322 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 0; Fairways: Kikuyugrass; Rough: Kikuyugrass 2.5″; 5,000 sq.ft average Creeping Bent with Poa Annua; Tournament Stimp: 12ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 72.22 (+1.22), Difficulty Rank 7 of 49 courses. 2013: 71.85 (+0.85), Difficulty Rank 11 of 43 courses. 2014: 71.21 (+0.21), Rank 24 of 48 courses. 2015: 72.59 (+1.59), Rank 5 of 52 courses. 2016: 71.03 (+0.03), Rank 21 of 50 courses. 2017: 71.01 (+0.01), Rank 23 of 50 courses. 2018: 71.76 (+0.76), Rank 9 of 51 courses.

Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Riviera Country Club and how they compare to recent courses on Tour:

  • Riviera: 250 yards from the tee: 34 yards wide; 275:28; 300:26; 325:27 350:30.
  • Pebble Beach: 250 yards from the tee: 41 yards wide; 275:37; 300:33; 325:34 350:30.
  • TPC Scottsdale: 250 yards from the tee: 32 yards wide; 275:28; 300:27; 325:27; 350:26.
  • Torrey Pines South: 250 yards from the tee: 27 yards wide; 275:27; 300:26; 325:25; 350:24.
  • TPC Stadium: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:28; 300:28; 325:27; 350:25.
  • Waialae: 250 yards from the tee: 35 yards wide; 275:32; 300:33; 325:37; 350:34.
  • Plantation Course: 250 yards from the tee: 53 yards wide; 275:58; 300:63; 325:58; 350:62.

Course Designer Links: For research purposes, other Tom Fazio designs include:

  • Atunyote GC – Turning Stone Championship 2007-10
  • Eagle Point – Wells Fargo Championship 2017
  • Raptor Course Greyhawk GC – Fry’ Open 2008/09

Fazio has also had re-design input into:

  • Quail Hollow – Wells Fargo Championship to 2016 & 2017 PGA Championship.
  • Merion – 2013 U.S. Open.
  • Oakmont – 2016 U.S. Open.
  • Conway Farms GC- BMW Championship 2013, 2015 & 2017.
  • Seaside Course at Sea Island – RSM Classic.

Course Overview: Riviera CC is one of the most classical and undulating golf courses in the United States. It tests the all-round game of a player and undoubtedly takes time to master. Riviera and Torrey Pines are the only courses on Tour to feature Kikuyugrass fairways and rough. This may sound technical but be aware that West Coast specialists, plus Australians and South Africans, have a distinct advantage playing on this. Course experience is a real premium on this classical set-up which features a testing set of par-4s. It’s a course that can’t simply be overpowered, but the tournament as ever will be decided on the 12 looks at the par-5s. Most recent winners Merrick, Watson, Hahn, Watson again, Johnson and Watson again shot -11 (-11/273 winning total), -8 (-15/269), -6 (-6/278), -9 (-15/269), -7 (-17/267) and -8 (-12/272) respectively on the par-5s.

With a host of dog-legs combined with 26 yard wide fairways at the 300 yard landing points, Riviera always ranks in the top 10 hardest fairways to hit on Tour. However with relatively low rough, the penalty for missing fairways is not a key factor this week on a course where getting close to the pin is tough even for players who hit the fairway. Getting the ball close here on approach is always very difficult and 12 months ago Riviera ranked as the 4th hardest for Proximity to Hole on the Tour.

Drawing full comparisons from last year is dangerous though this week as we’re going to see different course conditions. 2015 (Hahn) and 2018 (Watson) renewals featured firm and fast playing conditions. 2019 though is likely to be the reverse, with 102mm of rain here in Pacific Palisades in February to date and rain likely across Wednesday and Thursday of tournament week. So 2016 and 2017 leaderboards are relevant.

genesis invitational tips

Winners: 2018: Bubba Watson (-12); 2017: Dustin Johnson (-17); 2016: Bubba Watson (-15); 2015: James Hahn (-6); 2014: Bubba Watson (-15); 2013: John Merrick (-11); 2012: Bill Haas (-7); 2011: Aaron Baddeley (-12); 2010: Steve Stricker (-16).

Published Predictor Model: Our published predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 10 of my published predictor are Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Adam Scott and Tony Finau.

Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the Hong Kong Open, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:

  • Driving Accuracy: 1) Chez Reavie; 2) Ryan Moore; 3) Matt Kuchar / Kevin Streelman; 5) Keegan Bradley / Adam Hadwin / Andrew Landry / Kenny Perry; 9) Scott Langley; 10) Tommy Fleetwood / Russell Henley; 12) Joel Dahmen; 13) Ryan Armour / Bryson DeChambeau; 15) Jon Rahm; 16) Rafa Cabrera-Bello / Hunter Mahan; 18) Tyler Duncan; 19) Davis Love III; 20) Bubba Watson.
  • Greens in Regulation: 1) Sergio Garcia; 2) Martin Kaymer; 3) Charles Howell III; 4) Dustin Johnson / Justin Thomas; 6) Matt Kuchar / Hideki Matsuyama / Tiger Woods; 9) Keegan Bradley; 10) Jason Kokrak; 11) Martin Laird; 12) Tommy Fleetwood; 13) Bryson DeChambeau; 14) Kenny Perry; 15) Ernie Els / Xander Schauffele / Bubba Watson; 18) Tony Finau; 19) Branden Grace / Marc Leishman / Rory McIlroy / Scott Stallings.
  • Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Bryson DeChambeau; 2) Cameron Smith; 3) Justin Thomas; 4) Jordan Spieth; 5) Kiradech Aphibarnrat / Freddie Jacobson / Rory McIlroy; 8) Phil Mickelson / Ryan Moore; 10) Dustin Johnson; 11) Brian Gay; 12) Matt Kuchar; 13) Marc Leishman; 14) Andrew Putnam / Jon Rahm; 16) Paul Casey; 17) Anirban Lahiri / C.T. Pan / Xander Schauffele; 20) J.T. Poston.

Winners & Prices: 2018: Watson 50/1; 2017: Johnson 9/1; 2016: Watson 25/1; 2015: Hahn 200/1; 2014: Watson 33/1; 2013: Merrick 250/1; 2012: Haas 50/1; 2011: Baddeley 100/1; 2010: Stricker 16/1. Past 5 Renewals Average: 63/1; Overall Average: 81/1.

Historical Weather:

  • 2018: Thursday: Sunny. High of 67. Wind SW 5-10 mph. Friday: Sunny. High of 70. Wind SW 10 mph. Saturday: Sunny. High of 70. Wind S 5-10 mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy. High of 62. Wind SW 10-15 mph.
  • 2017: Thursday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 64. Wind SW 7-12 mph. Friday: Due to inclement weather, round two was suspended for the day at 12:18 p.m. A total of 2.97 inches of rain fell from Friday morning to Saturday morning. Saturday: Scattered showers through early afternoon gave way to cloudy skies in the late afternoon. High of 61. Wind SSW 6-12 mph. Sunday: The third round resumed at 6:50 a.m. and was completed at 12:03 p.m. Mostly cloudy, with a high of 60. Wind SW 6-12 mph.
  • 2016: Thursday: Early showers gave way to partly cloudy conditions in the morning before sunshine and mid-60 temperatures in the afternoon. Wind WSW at 8-16 mph. Friday: Mostly sunny and reasonably cool weather with temperatures moving into the mid-60s. Wind WSW at 6-12 mph. Saturday: Mostly sunny and pleasant after a cool start with temperatures climbing to near 70 degrees in the afternoon. Wind WSW at 4-8 mph. Sunday: Mostly sunny and pleasant with temperatures reaching the high 60s. Wind WSW at 4-8 mph.
  • 2015: Thursday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 66. Wind WSW at 10 mph. Friday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 63. Wind WSW at 5-10 mph. Saturday: Mostly cloudy, with highs in the lower-60s. Wind WSW at 7-12 mph. Sunday: Cloudy, with a high of 61. Wind SW at 10-15 mph.

Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, California is here. The weather at Pebble Beach last week was a real eye-opener for the PGA Tour and we’re in for another similar week. Los Angeles has received plenty of rain since the turn of the month, and forecasts suggest that more precipitation will fall on the course across Wednesday and Thursday. So expect very soft fairway and receptive green conditions – the course will play very long. Thursday looks wet and cold, with 20-30 mph winds and the threat of thunderstorms. Looks to me as if play may well be suspended. From Friday onwards rain won’t be an issue, and conditions across the rest of the tournament improve, although an afternoon breeze looks to get up on Friday. So expect low (for Riviera) scores. Expect temperatures again on the low side from 15-17 degrees Celsius.

Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 9 winners of the Genesis Open since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this classical test:

  • 2018, Bubba Watson (-12). 304 yards (21st), 57.1% fairways (27th), 63.9% greens in regulation (7th), 36’4″ proximity to hole (10th), 69.2 % scrambling (20th), 1.65 putts per GIR (13th).
  • 2017, Dustin Johnson (-17). 315 yards (1st), 51.8% fairways (45th), 77.8% greens in regulation (1st), 34’11” proximity to hole (10th), 81.3 % scrambling (5th), 1.70 putts per GIR (16th).
  • 2016, Bubba Watson (-15). 295 yards (17th), 50.0% fairways (50th), 70.8% greens in regulation (7th), 32’6″ proximity to hole (6th), 76.4 % scrambling (4th), 1.73 putts per GIR (21st).
  • 2015, James Hahn (-6). 287 yards (50th), 51.8% fairways (37th), 55.6% greens in regulation (28th), 36’11” proximity to hole (15th), 68.8 % scrambling (13th), 1.70 putts per GIR (14th).
  • 2014, Bubba Watson (-15). 319 yards (1st), 62.5% fairways (8th), 70.8% greens in regulation (3rd), 31’3″ proximity to hole (5th), 71.4 % scrambling (16th), 1.65 putts per GIR (7th).
  • 2013, John Merrick (-11). 299 yards (20th), 53.6% fairways (29th), 63.9% greens in regulation (24th), 33’9″ proximity to hole (11th), 65.4% scrambling (19th), 1.67 putts per GIR (8th).
  • 2012, Bill Haas (-7). 280 yards (60th), 55.4% fairways (32nd), 50.0% greens in regulation (59th), 44’3″ proximity to hole (64th), 72.2% scrambling (1st), 1.72 putts per GIR (12th).
  • 2011, Aaron Baddeley (-12). 277 yards (42nd), 50.0% fairways (57th), 72.2% greens in regulation (3rd), 35’0″ proximity to hole (21st), 80.0% scrambling (1st), 1.83 putts per GIR (54th).
  • 2010, Steve Stricker (-16). 270 yards (37th), 69.6% fairways (29th), 66.7% greens in regulation (11th), 29’2″ proximity to hole (2nd), 75.0% scrambling (8th), 1.63 putts per GIR (3rd).

Tournament Skill Average:

  • Driving Distance: 28th, Driving Accuracy: 36th, Greens in Regulation: 16th, Proximity to Hole: 16th, Scrambling: 10th, Putting Average 16th.

Strokes Gained Tournament Trends:

  • 2018, Bubba Watson (-12). SG Off the Tee: 17th, SG Approach: 11th, SG Around the Green: 6th, SG Tee to Green: 2nd, SG Putting: 21st.
  • 2017, Dustin Johnson (-17). SG Off the Tee: 1st, SG Approach: 20th, SG Around the Green: 44th, SG Tee to Green: 2nd, SG Putting: 3rd.
  • 2016, Bubba Watson (-15). SG Off the Tee: 16th, SG Approach: 3rd, SG Around the Green: 36th, SG Tee to Green: 5th, SG Putting: 11th.

Strokes Gained Tournament Skill Averages:

  • SG Off the Tee: 11th, SG Approach: 11th, SG Around the Green: 29th, SG Tee to Green: 3rd, SG Putting: 12th.

Let’s take a view from players as to how Riviera Country Club sets up and what skill sets the course favours:

Bubba Watson (2018): “You know, there was a great champion that went bogey free on the weekend one time. But no, it’s a tough one because of the greens, because of this grass. We know late in the day you’re going to get some bounces that you don’t agree with, so it’s very difficult. You’ll hit a chip shot or an iron shot that you think is great, hits a little bounce and goes opposite or whatever, or your putt does that. So it’s very difficult and you’re going to make a mistake. It might not be a mistake by you, it might be the ball bounces the other way. So you’ve got to just keep fighting and hopefully you make more birdies than bogeys. This golf course stood the test of time. Nobody’s talking about changing it unless they mention a major involved with it. They added a tee on No. 2 a long time ago, a few years ago, and we never played it because No. 2 doesn’t need it. So when you think about history and not messing with the golf course, today, this day and age you can’t build a golf course like this. It stood the test of time. It’s the only golf course that has a perfect par 3 with a bunker in the middle of it. You know, it’s just a beautiful layout and it’s fun to play. You’ve got to hit shots from every different angle, you’ve got to move it right to left and left to right, so it’s just fun. Then the greens are the equalizer so it makes me look, I putt as good as the other guys.

Jordan Spieth: “I mean, you can go back in your memory, and I can picture all the holes, I know where the pins are, I know where the breaks are on those greens. But you’ve still got to get on to the practice greens and then dial in the feel, dial in the speed. This poa annua putts differently than it did last week at the courses that we played there in Pebble Beach, and so you’ve got to be careful here. It can get away from you very quickly. And it’s hard to get below the hole. That’s the thing out here. So you start to go to the driving range and I’ll start to try and work on some shots where you kind of float ones in, work on a lot of shots that you can loft up in the air more than maybe you would do last week. So there’s still a lot of adjustments to be made, even if you are familiar with the place, because with the weather here compared to what it could be last week, normally it’s less wind here and it’s more positioning. You’ve got to be in the fairways, even with little rough, to be able to hold these greens. You start working on a lot of different shots.

Rory McIlroy: “It’s a great golf course. We don’t play golf courses like this very often anymore on Tour, and it’s a real treat when you come to a golf course like this where it’s not overly long, you don’t have to really bomb it off the tee, but it’s real strategic. You’ve got to place your ball on the right sides of the fairways. You have to make sure you hit it to the right side of the greens. You really can’t short-side yourself here. You can’t really get it above the pin. It’s a real thinker’s golf course and it’s a real treat to play something like this because we don’t get to play them that often anymore. Especially those, I think I saw a stat the other day, that there was more 3-footers missed here than there was anywhere else last year, I think by a long way actually. Inside sort of five or six feet is going to be really important this week, because you’re not going to hit the amount of greens that you’re used to hitting. You hit 12 greens around here, you’ve done pretty well. So there will be a lot of those holing-out-type distances for pars that will be important. I think that’s one of the big things this week for me, and I’ve been trying to work on that.

Bubba Watson: “Today obviously with the rain it was easier. The golf course is accepting shots. But this golf course, the history of this golf course, this is one of those golf courses that we talk about a lot, because of the history. There’s not much change around here. The golf course has stayed the same, same kind of grass, it’s not heavy rough. It’s basically getting the right bounce. You lands it six inches short, it stays short. You land it just on the green it could bounce over. It’s all about hitting the right trajectories, hitting the right line, and hopefully on certain pins, hitting the fairway so you can produce a little bit of spin. So your answer is: It’s just a traditional old school golf course that’s got a lot of history. I love it because of the history, and as you can see, there’s some trees down compared to where the first time I played here. I think I started playing here nine, ten years ago. And so you can spray it a little bit but still manage the golf course. But at the same time, you can hit fairways and manage the golf course. It’s one of those golf courses where it can bite you at any minute, but at the same time you can score and you can imagine a bunch of shots around the trees and around the greens.”

Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 9 Genesis Open winners:

  • 2018 – Bubba Watson: Round 1: 6th, Round 2: 6th, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2017 – Dustin Johnson: Round 1: 2nd, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2016 – Bubba Watson: Round 1: 2nd, Round 2: 3rd, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2015 – James Hahn: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 11th, Round 3: 7th.
  • 2014 – Bubba Watson: Round 1: 35th, Round 2: 40th, Round 3: 6th.
  • 2013 – John Merrick: Round 1: 7th, Round 2: 3rd, Round 3: 2nd.
  • 2012 – Bill Haas: Round 1: 36th, Round 2: 11th, Round 3: 6th.
  • 2011 – Aaron Baddeley: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 1st.
  • 2010 – Steve Stricker: Round 1: 6th, Round 2 2nd, Round 3: 1st.

Shots From the Lead: Below are the last 9 Genesis Open winners and where they were positioned in terms of shots from the lead during the tournament:

  • 2018 – Bubba Watson: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: 2 back, Round 3: 1 ahead.
  • 2017 – Dustin Johnson: Round 1: 2 back, Round 2: 1 ahead, Round 3: 5 ahead.
  • 2016 – Bubba Watson: Round 1: 3 back, Round 2: 2 back, Round 3: 1 ahead.
  • 2015 – James Hahn: Round 1: Level, Round 2: 4 back, Round 3: 4 back.
  • 2014 – Bubba Watson: Round 1: 4 back, Round 2: 8 back, Round 3: 4 back.
  • 2013 – John Merrick: Round 1: 4 back, Round 2: 1 back, Round 3: 3 back.
  • 2012 – Bill Haas: Round 1: 6 back, Round 2: 4 back, Round 3: 2 back.
  • 2011 – Aaron Baddeley: Round 1: Level, Round 2: 2 back, Round 3: 1 ahead.
  • 2010 – Steve Stricker: Round 1: 3 back, Round 2: 1 back, Round 3: 6 ahead.

Incoming form of winners since 2010:

  • Bubba Watson: 35th Pebble/40th Torrey/MC PGA West/67th RSM Classic.
  • Dustin Johnson: 3rd Pebble/MC Torrey/2nd Abu/6th Kapalua.
  • Bubba Watson: MC Pebble Beach/14th TPC Scottsdale/10th Kapalua/1st World Challenge.
  • James Hahn: 29th Pebble/41st Torrey/59th TPC Scottsdale/20th PGA West.
  • Bubba Watson: 2nd TPC Scottsdale/23rd Torrey/30th Thailand/3rd World Challenge.
  • John Merrick: 16th Pebble/57th TPC Scottsdale/MC Torrey/MC PGA West.
  • Bill Haas: 19th TPC Scottsdale/4th Torrey/64th PGA West/20th Kapalua.
  • Aaron Baddeley: 6th Pebble/37th TPC Scottsdale/MC Torrey/34th Waialae.
  • Steve Stricker: 3rd Waialae/10th Kapalua/10th World Challenge/6th East Lake.

First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave and winning score since 2010.

  • 2018 – Cantlay/Finau – Both PM -5/66 – Both 55/1.
  • 2017 – Saunders – AM -7/64 – 300/1.
  • 2016 – Villegas PM -8/63.
  • 2015 – Fathauer/Goosen/Hahn/Singh/Summerhays/Watney – 5AM/1PM -5/66.
  • 2014 – D Johnson – AM -5/66.
  • 2013 – Kuchar – AM -7/64.
  • 2012 – Mickelson – PM -5/66.
  • 2011 – 9 players -4/67.
  • 2010 – D Johnson – AM -7/64.

For the record, here’s the breakdown of pure Poa Annua and Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:

  • 9 – Dustin Johnson.
  • 6 – Bubba Watson.
  • 5 – Phil Mickelson.
  • 4 – Tiger Woods.
  • 3 – Rory McIlroy, Jimmy Walker.
  • 2 – Bryson DeChambeau, Hunter Mahan, Vijay Singh, Jordan Spieth, Brendan Steele.
  • 1 – Sang-moon Bae, Jonas Blixt, Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Bill Haas, James Hahn, Matt Kuchar, Hideki Matsuyama, D.A. Points, Ted Potter Jnr, Andrew Putnam, Jon Rahm, Adam Scott, Scott Stallings, Steve Stricker, Chris Stroud, Vaughn Taylor, Justin Thomas, Kevin Tway, Nick Watney.

There’s undoubtedly a form link between Riviera and a couple of other classical golf courses. The course here features Kikuyugrass fairways and rough, a feature which is only shared with Torrey Pines, so it’s hardly a surprise to see that recent winners like Baddeley, Haas, Johnson, Merrick and Watson have all finished 11th or better (Merrick’s was at the 2008 U.S. Open) down the coast in San Diego. 2015’s shock winner James Hahn doesn’t share that distinction, but he had finished 3rd on the Poa Annua greens at Pebble Beach in his rookie season of 2013. Steve Stricker, who won here in 2010, has no Torrey Pines form of note, however he’d finished 2nd at Riviera 12 months earlier showing he could handle the Kikuyu.

So I’m looking for upwardly mobile ball-strikers this week who have a penchant for playing positively at Torrey Pines and/or Pebble Beach. A high ball flight, the ability to grind when scoring is tough, plus the ability to move the ball confidently both ways are also key attributes for me this week.

My final Genesis Invitational tips are as follows:

Rory McIlroy 2.5pts EW 16/1

In both Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson we have true Riviera specialists. Bubba has 3 wins here, with Dustin also winning here at 9/1 in 2017 (we were on board), plus an additional 5 top-4 finishes to his name. Impressive stuff. Look at their Strokes Gained numbers across 2014 to 2018 when they won, or in the case of Dustin Johnson in 2015 when he finished runner-up to James Hahn, and a pattern appears: prior to playing at Riviera, both were striking the ball off the tee beautifully, gaining strokes in bucketloads. Indeed Bubba 12 months ago, despite having immediate form of 35-(Pebble Beach)-40(Scottsdale)-MC(PGA West), was 16th and 5th for Strokes Gained Off the Tee in his last 2 starts. Riviera as we know is one of the hardest tests off the tee on the PGA Tour, so it makes sense that a long bomber who arrives confident with the driver will thrive here.

Another huge trend here is that no winner at Riviera since 2006 has won in the calendar year prior to triumphing here. So that instantly puts me off Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Matt Kuchar and Phil Mickelson, all of whom you can make a very good case for.

First up for me then is Rory McIlroy. Winless since Bay Hill last March, you get the feeling that a totally PGA Tour-focussed Rory will be looking forward to both the Genesis Open and Honda Classic over the next few weeks. McIlroy has impressed me across both Kapalua and Torrey Pines so far in 2019 on tracks he’d never played before, so 4th on Maui and 5th in California were superb results, even though there were mutterings that McIlroy is still struggling to convert 54-hole challenges into titles. For me though the wins will come and a soft, classical golf course where you need to move the ball both ways sounds like a great course fit for Rory as he strives to land his 15th PGA Tour title. 1st (Kapalua) and 3rd (Torrey Pines) for SG off the Tee, plus 6th (Kapalua) and 9th (Torrey Pines) for SG Tee to Green, highlight a player who’s ripe for a win and for once he arrives in Los Angeles truly up to speed from a PGA Tour perspective after dropping his traditional European Tour Gulf Swing schedule.

20th in both 2016 and 2018 here in his 2 appearances at Riviera, Rory shot opening rounds of 67-69-67 on debut to be in 5th spot just 2 shots back from leader Bubba Watson. He arrived in excellent form then, and I think that the Jupiter, Florida domiciled Northern Irishman has everything required to go well again this week. Indeed when asked in 2016 whether he thought Riviera suited his game, he answered, “I feel like you get on each tee box and some golf courses sort of decide the shape of the shot for you, and in some cases, this is true here, but there’s also some holes where you can stand up on a tee shot and you can see a variety of different ways to play it, so it gives you options in that way. Anyone who is, with the trees and the way the golf course is designed, I think anyone who is very visual in their pre-shot routine, it plays into their hands, and I like to see shots and I like to see Bubba shoot a good score. He’s the exact same way. RESULT: T4

Hideki Matsuyama 1.5pts EW 30/1

I went for Hideki Matsuyama at TPC Scottsdale and, let’s be frank, he never really featured in a tournament dominated throughout by Fowler, Thomas and Kuchar. But we know how this golf betting game works and undoubtedly the Japanese star is playing some incredible stuff from Tee to Green. 3rd at Torrey Pines saw him rank 6th for SG Approach and 3rd for SG Tee to Green. 15th at his last outing in Phoenix saw him rank 18th for Total Driving, 8th for Ball Striking, 2nd for Greens in Regulation and 9th for All-Round in old money. Turn that into Strokes Gained and his SG Off the Tee improved from 22nd to 18th, SG on Approach improved from 6th to 3rd and SG Tee to Green improved from 3rd to 2nd. So on a soft course where bombers thrive he is very hard not to like this week at a decent enough price.

2nd (2017), 3rd (2015) and 4th (2018) at Kapalua, Hideki has plenty of correlating course form which relates to Bubba, Dustin or Phil – they have 6 Riviera wins between them. 3rd at Torrey Pines (this year), 5th (2015) and 7th (2016) at Augusta National, 5th at Quail Hollow (2017 PGA Championship), 1st (2017) at Firestone, 7th (2015) at Conway Farms and 1st (2016) at Sheshan International relate tidily. Indeed HSBC Champions winners tend to go rather well here at Riviera, with Dustin (2013), Bubba (2014), Hideki, Justin (2017) and Xander (2018) amassing 4 Wins, 7 top-5s and 2 further top 10s between them. Naturally 2018 HSBC runner-up Tony Finau also finished 2nd here 12 months ago. Hideki himself finished 4th here in 2015 and 11th in 2016 when he was only 3 back before the course firmed significantly on the Sunday. RESULT: T9

Adam Scott 1.5pts EW 40/1

Adam Scott is next for me and in an age when Matt Kuchar, Charles Howell III and Rickie Fowler have broken long winless streaks, Scott fits the bill perfectly at Riviera this week. Adam’s last win was almost 3 years ago at the 2016 WGC-Cadillac Championship played at Doral, but Scott is undoubtedly on the upward trend. 3rd at Bellerive-hosted PGA Championship, 5th at The Northern Trust and 10th at the CJ Cup in late 2018, podcast colleague Paul Williams landed an each-way payout on the 38 year-old at Torrey Pines 3 weeks ago when he finished runner-up at 100/1 and although we can’t get close to that price in Los Angeles, I still think 40/1 is more than worth pursuing.

1st for SG Approach and 4th for SG Tee to Green at Torrey Pines, which like Riviera features Kikuyugrass fairways and rough plus greens which feature Poa Annua, Scott won here way back in 2005. He was also 2nd when defending his title in 2006, 10th in 2013 and 2nd to Bubba Watson in 2016 when the course was soft for the opening 54 holes, so Adam is undoubtedly a known quantity here in Pacific Palisades. The ex-World Number 1 also shares plenty of correlating course form links to the likes of Mickelson (twice winner here), Watson (3 times winner) and Dustin Johnson, with the likes of Kapalua, Doral, Augusta National, Whistling Straits, Bethpage Black, Crooked Stick and Cog Hill linking very strongly – in the main, tough, technical, classical tracks where the elite players come to the fore. So after a low-key MDF at Pebble Beach last week on a course which puts far too much emphasis on putting for Adam’s liking, I can see him returning to the upper echelons of the leaderboard this week. Indeed Scott was an eye-catching 8th for SG Off the Tee on his 18 holes around Pebble last week and that could well be the final piece of the jigsaw as he aims to land his overdue 14th PGA Tour title this week. RESULT: T7

Keegan Bradley 1pt EW 100/1

On a soft golf course, Keegan Bradley often comes to the party and he has a lot about him I like. 2nd here in 2012 and 4th in 2015, Keegan also has another couple of top 20 finishes here at Riviera. He’s also finished 4th (2017) and 5th (2018) at Torrey Pines in the past 3 seasons – naturally Torrey is a track which shares the Kikuyugrass and Poa Annua elements we see this week. The 2011 PGA Championship winner and ex World Number 10 also has an exceptional record at Firestone South where he’s won (2012), finished 2nd (2013) and 4th (2014). Firestone of course features Bentgrass Poa Annua mix green complexes. But it’s also worth remembering that in recent tournaments which featured soft, receptive conditions, he finished 4th at Glen Abbey on Bentgrass Poa Annua mix greens and won the BMW Championship in September hosted at a very damp Aronimink. Now back in the OWGR top 50, Keegan’s 2019 form 67(Scottsdale)-35(Torrey)-29(Waialae)-27(Kapalua) is understated but he sits 34th in Total Driving, 38th in Ball Striking 33rd for SG Tee to Green and 18th for Proximity to Hole. This is never a true putting contest and Bradley’s love of receptive conditions may see him flourish again. RESULT: T51

Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel

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