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David beat Goliath at Pebble Beach (as I said in my commentary last week, it can happen at Pebble Beach) with 500/1 shot Ted Potter Jnr staring down World Number 1 Dustin Johnson and breaking the hearts of thousands of win-only Johnson backers. With Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and in-form Chez Reavie in the rear view mirror, the way Potter Jnr closed out the tournament with well-executed golf was impressive, but in truth nobody got close enough to him to put him under intense pressure. Ted is now guaranteed a Masters spot as well as PGA Tour golf until the close of the 2019/20 season.
The Genesis Open closes the 2018 West Coast swing and sees a strong field arriving in Los Angeles. Defending champion Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas headline. 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 an impressive Torrey Pines outing 2 weeks ago. The field also includes a rash of European Tour players with Tommy Fleetwood, Alex Noren, Hao-tong Li and 2017 runner-up Thomas Pieters all in Los Angeles.
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 neither longer or shorter hitters, but 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 (5th toughest last term) and putting is difficult especially from 10 feet and in on the fast Bentgrass Poa Annua mix greens – indeed it ranked as most difficult on the 2015 PGA Tour and 7th last season 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.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Riviera Country Club and how they compare to recent courses on Tour:
Course Designer Links: For research purposes, other Tom Fazio designs include:
Fazio has also had re-design input into:
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 and Dustin Johnson shot -11 (-11/273 winning total), -8 (-15/269), -6 (-6/278), -9 (-15/269) and -7 (-17/267) 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. Former conditions akin to 2015 look to be replicated this week, so power ball-strikers will undoubtedly be at an advantage on a course where the Scoring Average splits were 6th toughest par-3, 2nd toughest par-4 and 34th toughest par-5 when Hahn won in lightening fast conditions in 2015. However with bad weather forecast for Friday, as ever on a classical course the contenders will be those with the patience to play sensible golf when necessary, but with the firepower to birdie the longest holes. Naturally also look for a comfortable Poa Annua putter as putting from inside 10 feet here is always the toughest on Tour.
Winners: 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 Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Chez Reavie, Brendan Steele, Kevin Streelman, Brandon Harkins, Rory McIlroy, Paul Casey and Jason Kokrak.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the OHL Classic / Nedbank Challenge and includes PGA Tour and European Tour events, plus the Hero World Challenge. 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:
Winners & Prices: 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; Average: 85/1. Past 4 Renewals Average: 67/1.
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: Weather: 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. Central California has seen little rain for months. 38mm fell in January, but the course has not received significant rain since the 9th January. If no rain is received this week, the course is likely to play much firmer than we saw in both 2016 and 2017. Breeze will be light, but changing in direction throughout the 4 days to add a level of complexity. Temperatures will top at 24 degrees Celsius with Sunday a little chillier.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 8 winners of the Genesis Open since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this classical test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
Let’s take a view from players as to how Riviera Country Club sets up and what skill sets the course favours:
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 8 Genesis Open winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
First Round Leader Analysis: First round leader(s), their wave and winning score since 2010.
For the record, here’s the breakdown of pure Poa Annua and Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
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, 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 from left to right are also key attributes for me this week.
My selections are as follows:
Phil Mickelson 1.5pts EW 28/1 with Betfred
“Riviera is a golf course that I have played very well in the past. I like it a lot. I know a lot of the nuances and if I drive it the way I’ve been driving it and strike it the way I’ve been striking it, it’s a perfect course for those that are striking it well. Right now I’m hitting it as well as I have in a long time.” The words of Phil Mickelson after he’d finished the final round at Pebble Beach where a -5/67 placed him T2. Now we know Phil talks up a good game, and statistical reality doesn’t always sit exactly with his commentary, so do the facts back-up his words heading to Los Angeles? The AT&T was Phil’s best ball-striking performance since Memphis last June. It also compares favourably to the 2016 Scottish Open / Open Championship fortnight when Lefty came so close to lifting the Claret Jug. Phil made only 5 bogeys, which was 2nd best in the field, and he also ranked 2nd in the All-Round category. That is the first time the World Number 35 has done that since Royal Troon. 5th at TPC Scottsdale – which could have easily been 3rd place due to a double bogey on the 72nd – and 2nd last week is the kind of momentum which Phil thrives on and he arrives at Riviera full of confidence with the driver and his scrambling game.
I rate Lefty highly this week on the basis that I think there are question marks against those at the top of the market. Defending champion and World Number 1 Dustin Johnson struggled from tee to green last week and at 5/1 there’s no wriggle room. Rory McIlroy looks short given his current frailties, as do Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. So Lefty looks an excellent angle this week. Whether he’s been inspired by the return of Tiger Woods is hard to tell, but ending his winless drought at a tournament which TW puts on would almost be poetic justice. With fast conditions looking likely, Riviera should be a true technical test this week and Phil’s short-game could prove vital on and around these tricky Bentgrass/Poa Annua greens. A fast start here is also more than useful, so the fact that Lefty has been First Round Leader here twice and made the frame an additional 2 times in 8 appearances here is another positive this week. RESULT: T6
Tommy Fleetwood 1.5pts EW 30/1 with Betfair
At a course where surgical ball-striking is critical, Tommy Fleetwood makes lots of sense especially at this price. Now a full member of the PGA Tour, Tommy will play Riviera, PGA National and the WGC at Club de Golf Chapultepec over the course of the next 3 weeks and he’ll be hoping to keep the momentum going on his first visit to the Genesis Open. Amazingly in the top 10 for Ball Striking across 8 of his last 9 appearances, after capturing his first Race to Dubai title at the Earth Course in late November, Fleetwood has shown no signs of slowing down whatsoever. 6th at the Hong Kong Open, 3rd at the Hero World Challenge, a superb victory at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship and a best ever 6th finish at the Dubai Desert Classic show a level of consistency few in the world can match currently. So a debut appearance at Riviera should hold no fears on a course where the ability to move the ball both ways allied to heavy scoring on the par-5s is critical. -26 on the par-5s over his last 8 rounds of golf in Abu Dhabi and Dubai is class-leading and Tommy was solid as a rock on the par-4s across the whole of 2017.
It’s also worth remembering that the World Number 13 is no stranger to the PGA Tour anymore after his amazing 2017. It started with a trip to Mexico which saw Fleetwood play some fantastic golf on the Kikuyugrass and Poa Annua greens at Club de Golf Chapultepec where he finished only a shot back of eventual winner Dustin Johnson. That leaderboard is worth looking at as West Coast positive players in the form of Jon Rahm, JB Holmes, Justin Thomas and Brandt Snedeker as well as Riviera winners Johnson and Mickelson all featured in the higher echelons of the leaderboard. From there 10th at the classical Bay Hill featured an opening 78 and then a tournament best -12/204 across the rest of the week. 4th at the Erin Hills hosted U.S. Open then unveiled Tommy to the masses and highlighted a player confident enough in his own abilities to contend in Majors. So Tommy is a must for me this week. RESULT: T37
Alex Noren 1pt EW 50/1 with Coral
Sweden’s Alex Noren fits the bill well this week at Riviera Country Club. Now focussing on the PGA Tour, Noren shocked the United States golf media and the watching public by almost winning the Farmers Insurance Open 3 weeks ago. On his debut at the classical Torrey Pines, he topped Greens in Regulation, was 2nd in Strokes Gained Approach, 4th in Strokes Gained Tee to Green and 4th in Ball Striking as he took Torrey course expert Jason Day all the way to a Playoff, which then went into Monday, as the pair couldn’t be split across the opening 5 holes of sudden death. Day eventually triumphed but Noren’s performance was the latest in a long line of results which have shown that the 35 year-old World Number 16 is a true force at the highest level. Comfortable on Bentgrass and Bent/Poa Annua putting surfaces, Noren has captured European Tour titles across the likes of Crans-sur-Sierre (x2), Celtic Manor, Bro Hoff Slot (x2) The Grove and Wentworth with winning totals including -9/275, -11/277 and -12/276 highlighting a player that can grind. The in-form ball-striker can scramble well as 17th (2005), 4th (2016) and 6th (2017) on the European Tour highlights very well. His win at the Gary Player Country Club at the high-profile Nedbank Golf Challenge is also worthy of note as he won on the stretching track which features Kikuyugrass rough. So Poa Annua and Kikuyugrass are no problems for Noren whose stock left-to-right fade will also work nicely at Riviera. His first visit to TPC Scottsdale went well enough with a 3rd Round -6/65 being the highlight of his 21st finish which featured 11th for Greens in Regulation and 10th in Ball-Striking. The desert though has never been Alex’s favourite hunting ground, but the classical Riviera should be right up his street this week in my opinion. RESULT: T16
Thomas Pieters 1pt EW 50/1 with Coral
I will also side with Thomas Pieters who has shown an amazing ability to play some of his very best golf on a number of the United States’ best golf courses. The 2009 NCAA winner here when he was at the University of Illinois, Pieters won a number of high profile amateur titles in the United States. 2011 saw him win the Jack Nicklaus Invitational on the Bentgrass/Poa Annua greens at classical Muirfield Village. He also won the Monroe Invitational at Monroe Golf Club, in Rochester, New York in 2012 – a course which features Poa Annua greens and a champions’ list which includes none other than Dustin Johnson (2007). As a professional Pieters jumped to everyone’s attention at the 2014 Open de Espana played at PGA Catalunya, where on a tough course he shot a tournament best -4/284 to feature in a playoff with eventual winner Miguel Angel Jimenez. A star was born and since then the 26 year-old Belgian has won 3 European titles, qualified for the 2016 Ryder Cup and finished 4th at The Olympics. Winless though since August 2016, Thomas must be looking forward to a first ever PGA Tour campaign. Remember this is a player who won 4 out of 5 matches at the Hazeltine National Golf Club hosted Ryder Cup, top scoring into the bargain. He also finished 2nd here to Dustin Johnson, 4th on course debut at Augusta and 4th on course debut at Firestone South in the WGC Bridgestone Invitational. Outstanding stuff! Throw in 5th at the aforementioned WGC-Mexico Championship and you can see that Pieters has no fear of mixing it at the very top echelons of the game. 2 starts in the Gulf in January saw Pieters contend at another track he loves – Abu Dhabi (5th) and a trip to Dubai to a course where he struggles saw bookend -7/65 and -5/67 scores. Another fast start this week on a course he thrives on would be an ideal platform for a contending week. RESULT: T68
Jimmy Walker 0.5pt EW 100/1 with Betfred
I’ll close with West Coast expert Jimmy Walker who played some nice stuff at Pebble Beach last week when finishing 8th. That was his best finish on the PGA Tour since Kapalua last January and naturally we know both he and his wife have struggled with Lyme disease across 2017. However Walker at Waialae mentioned that he’s feeling much stronger these days and is back practicing to a professional level. Greens in Regulation numbers of 72.2% (Spyglass Hill), 77.8% (Monterey) and 83.3% (4th Round Pebble Beach) really grabbed my attention last week at Pebble Beach where a Sunday -5/67 was tied 4th best in the field. A West Coast specialist who’s won at CordeValle (2013), Waialae (2014 & 2015) plus Pebble Beach (2014), we know that Walker loves Poa Annua-based greens and his 2016 PGA Championship win at Baltusrol also came on Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix greens. 4th here in both 2011 and 2012, Jimmy was 11th here last term coming off a much poorer week at Pebble Beach. Gained 3.27 Strokes Tee to Green in Round 4 last week and is as short as 66/1 elsewhere. RESULT: T49
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