Genesis Invitational: Terrific Thomas ready for Riviera reward

Golfer Justin Thomas
Justin Thomas - fancied to go well again at Riviera

The PGA Tour takes in Los Angeles this week with the Genesis Invitational where a stellar line-up tees off on Thursday. Read Steve Rawlings' comprehensive preview here...

"Following Scott's win last year, and Dustin Johnson’s success at Augusta in November, 12 different US Masters winners have won 22 of the 57 renewals of the Genesis Invitational at Riviera."

Tournament history

In existence since 1926, and originally known as the Los Angeles Open, the Genesis Invitational often attracts a fantastic field and this year's renewal is another cracker with eight of the world's top-10 in attendance.

Venue

Riviera Country Club, Pacific Palisades, California

Course details

Par 71, 7322 yards
Stroke index in 2020 - 71.26

Riviera has several interesting quirks. There's a bunker in the middle of the par three sixth green, the 10th is a drivable par four, and the fairways are blanketed in kikuyu - a tough strain of grass imported from Africa over 80 years ago.

RIVIERA 2021 1.jpg

Polo was a popular sport in LA back then and kikuyu was used on the polo grounds in the area but it wasn't long before it invaded and took over Riviera. The kikuyu makes for perfect lies on the narrow fairways, perching the ball up high on its stiff leaves, but it's a different story if you find the rough. The grass grabs and buries the ball and control out of the thick stuff is often minimal.

Many of the holes are doglegs and the fairways are tough to find with regularity, as are the small bentgrass/Poa mixed greens that will run at around 12.5 on the stimpmeter.

Traditionally, these are often the hardest greens to find on the PGA Tour all season and the scoring average has been over-par in each of the last 11 years. Last year it averaged 71.26. It's a classic, traditional and tough course.

Weather Forecast

TV coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting with Featured Group coverage on Thursday at 14:45 with full coverage beginning at 19:00.

Last Five Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices

2020 - Adam Scott -11 40.039/1
2019 - J.B Holmes -14 250.0249/1
2018 - Bubba Watson -12 85.084/1
2017 - Dustin Johnson -17 9.617/2
2016 - Bubba Watson -15 29.028/1

What will it take to win the Genesis Invitational?

Although the rough is tricky to play from, which would suggest finding fairways is important, length off the tee has been more beneficial than finding the short grass recently. That could be due to three of the last five renewals having been played after a wet spell on a damp course (not the case this year), but in reality, neither Driving Distance nor Driving Accuracy are particularly vital stats.

Last year's winner, Adam Scott, ranked 15th for Driving Distance and only 63rd for Driving Average and the 2019 winner, JB Holmes, demonstrated perfectly that neither driving metric is worth bothering with as he only ranked 59th for DA and 41st for DD. And it was a similar story six years ago when James Hahn won ranking 37th for DA and 50th for DD. The kikuyu rough is awkward but it's not often grown long. It's only an inch-and-half long again this time around (as it was last year) so a missed fairway shouldn't be a disaster.

Greens in Regulation looks far and away the most vital stat given 16 of the last 20 winners have ranked inside the top-10 for finding the dance floors. Scott ranked number one for GIR 12 months ago and Holmes ranked second two years ago.

Scott only ranked third for Par 4 Scoring 12 months ago but three of the last six winners have ranked first so the PGA Tour's Par 4 Performance stats here are worth a look.

Is there an angle in?

This is a fabulous venue and a tough examination so it's no surprise to see that major winners have a fantastic record. Riviera has hosted the event 57 times now and a major winner has won on 34 occasions. The US Masters winners have by far the best record though and following Scott's win last year, and Dustin Johnson's success at Augusta in November, 12 different US Masters winners have won 22 of the 57 renewals of the Genesis Invitational at Riviera.

Dustin Johnson wins US Masters.jpg

Four-time Riviera winner, Macdonald Smith, was 44 when he played in the inaugural US Masters in 1934 (his only appearance) but he still finished seventh and, although he never won the Masters, the only other man to win this title four times, Lloyd Mangrum, had an incredibly good record at Augusta.

Mangrum finished second there on debut in 1940 and he finished inside the top-10 for 10 years in-a-row between 1947 and 1956. The fact that the tournament didn't even exist for the bulk of his career is the reason why Smith didn't win the Masters and the Second World War was a huge hinderance to Mangrum.

When he won here for the third time three years ago, Bubba became the fifth to win it at least three times, joining Smith and Mangrum and Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer, who both also won it thrice. Bubba, Ben and Arnie are also multiple winners of the US Masters.

Phil Mickelson, Sam Snead snf Tom Watson have also won this event and the US Masters at least twice so Augusta really is a great guide.

It's perhaps stating the obvious, given I've already mentioned so many multiple winners, but previous course form is a big plus. James Hahn won here on his third Riviera start six years ago but he's the only winner in the last 15 years to have played here less than five times previously. That's a negative for plenty of players towards the head of the market - including Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Daniel Berger, Collin Morikawa and course debutant, Viktor Hovland.

Riviera and the PGA National Golf Club in Florida - home of the Honda Classic - aren't very similar at all. Riviera is on the West Coast with Poa greens and PGA National is a Bermuda track on the East Coast but a few players that have won there recently. Rory McIlroy, Russell Henley and the winner, Scott, all contended here last year and Rory Sabbatini, as well as Scott and Ernie Els, have won at both venues. Justin Thomas, who won the Honda Classic in 2018, really should have won here in 2019. Thomas traded at 1.182/11 having led by four with a round to go.

As well as being different in appearance, layout and grass type, Riviera is rarely subjected to the types of wind that hit the PGA National either so there aren't many similarities but they're both tough tracks that produce exciting finales and the number of players that have performed admirably at both venues is noticeable. But Augusta remains the best link with Riviera.

Is there an identikit winner?

Major winners may have won on many occasions but there's no getting away from the fact that outsiders can and do prosper here.

The 2019 winner, Holmes, was generally a 250.0249/1 chance, having been matched at a high of 400.0399/1 before the off, despite having very respectable course form figures reading 51-7-6-3-12-8-MC-52-22-11-24-60.

Despite having won two of the previous four renewals, Bubba Watson was actually an 80.079/1 chance three years ago. Scott Brown finished joint second four years ago, having been matched at 910.0909/1 before the off, and he was matched at 1000.0 when finishing second again last year.

After a decent effort at Pebble last week, Brown will be disappointed not to be in the line-up. Prior to Holmes' win, three of the previous eight winners were very difficult to spot, and it could very easily have been four from eight.

James Hahn was an unconsidered 600.0599/1 shot six years ago, while John Merrick was matched at 800.0799/1 before the off when he beat 1000.0 shot, Charlie Beljan, in a playoff in 2013. Very few will have picked out triple-figure priced Aaron Baddeley in 2011 and Jason Kokrak, who was matched at 510.0509/1 before the off five years ago, led by two with four to play before losing out by a stroke to Bubba.

Given the event's recent history, I wouldn't put anyone off throwing a few pounds at a couple of outsiders and I'll be back later with three in the Find Me a 100 Winner column.

Winner's position and Exchange price pre-round four

2020 - Adam Scott tied for lead with two others 4.94/1
2019 - J.B Holmes T2nd - trailing by four 17.016/1
2018 - Bubba Watson led by a stroke 4.03/1
2017 - Dustin Johnson led by a stroke 2.265/4
2016 - Bubba Watson led by a stroke 4.1

In-play tactics

This is tricky event to assess for in-running trading. The three winners before Scott were all up with the pace throughout but DJ in 2017 is the only 36-hole leader or co-leader to win since Phil Mickelson in 2008. Scott trailed by eight in a tie for 65th after round one last year and he's far from the first to win here after a sluggish start.

Bubba Watson was so far back at halfway in 2014 (tied 40th) that he needed back-to-back rounds of 64 to win by two. He was eight back at halfway and still four behind after three rounds!

Off the pace or hard on it, it's hard to gauge and recent results suggests the course conditions have a bearing but we can usually expect some final round shenanigans...

Rory McIlroy hit odds-on in round four last year before fading to finish fifth and the 2019 runner-up, Justin Thomas, entered the final round with a four-stroke lead before he twice traded at very long odds-on.

Having been matched at a low of 1.182/11, Thomas's price drifted back out to odds-against before plummeting back down to 1.21/5 but long odds-on players were left licking their wounds when he double-bogeyed 13 and bogeyed 14 to allow Holmes to par his way in for victory. Thomas was far from the first to trade at odds-on and lose here though.

We've now witnessed three three-man playoffs in three of the last nine years at Riviera and prior to the last five results, the previous four winners had all been at least a couple of strokes back with a round to go. It's a great place to trade on a Sunday and, even though Bubba had led going into the final round in 2016, we still saw plenty of market activity with the aforementioned Kokrak matched at just 1.574/7 in-running.

In 2015, Sergio Garcia was matched at a low of 1.42/5, Dustin Johnson hit 1.384/11, and Paul Casey dipped to 1.855/6 and all three were beaten!

The quirky drivable par four 10th has been the easiest par four on the course for the last two years last year and the par five 11th and 17th holes are always amongst the three or four easiest on the course (second and third easiest last year) but the back-nine is still slightly harder than the front (around half a stroke). With four of the last nine winners coming from off the pace, keep an eye on the closers on Sunday and get them onside once they're safely in the house.

The par five 17th nearly always averages just below par (4.71 last year) but that's often the only real respite after the par five 11th. The final six holes (excluding the par five 17th) averaged 1.02 over-par last year so that's something to look out for in-running.

10th hole at Riviera.jpg

Although only 315 yards long, drivable and the easiest par four 12 months ago, the 10th (pictured above) is far from a pushover with it's tiny, awkward green and it's actually averaged over-par in four of the last nine renewals so don't assume a birdie there. The three par fives (holes one, 11 and 17) are the three easiest holes year after year but the opening hole is far and away the only really easy hole on the course. It measures only 503 yards and anyone not picking up a shot there will lose ground on the field. It averaged just 4.32 last year.

Market leaders

This a really strong field but it's still hard to argue that world number one, Dustin Johnson, is too short at 7.06/1 given his combined course and current form. He's won four of his last 13 events and his Riviera figures read an impressive 59-10-3-MC-4-MC-2-2-4-1-16-9-10.

Rory McIlroy, like most, needed a couple of spins around Riviera to get to know the place and after finishing 20th in both 2016 and 2018, he finished fourth in 2019 and fifth last year.

After finishing only third in Abu Dhabi, having traded at a low of 1.511/2 during round four, Rory has disappointed in his next two starts, finishing 17th in the Farmers Insurance Open and 13th in Phoenix two weeks ago. He looks likely to contend here given his last two efforts at the venue but he hasn't won since 2019 and his performance on pay day in Abu Dhabi wasn't a one off.

Having been tied with Scott with a round to go here last year, he traded at a low of 1.875/6 when he birdied the first to take the sole lead but he was soon out of the reckoning when he missed a three foot bogey putt at five and his often unreliable in-contention play needs to be factored in so he's a bit short for me.

World number two, Jon Rahm, hasn't been his brilliant self of late and, since finishing second at the ZOZO Championship in October, he's finished seventh three times and 13th last time out in Phoenix. With his first child on the way, the Spaniard doesn't appear to be totally focused at present and his course form is nothing to write home about. He followed up a debut ninth in 2019 with a disappointing 17th last year and others are preferred.

Justin Thomas missed the cut last year after throwing the event away in 2019 but his performance of two years ago shows that Riviera is made for him. He fell away on Sunday last time out at the Phoenix Open but his grandfather had died the day before so it's a performance that can be immediately forgiven.

Thomas hasn't won since July last year but, given his form figures since September read 3-8-12-2-4-12-3-MC-13 and given that he's usually very prolific, he's the one towards the head of the market that looks a value price.

Selections

I've had a small bet on Justin Thomas at 17.016/1 as I'm convinced he'll win here sooner rather than later. The course just fits his game so perfectly and he's prolific enough to play at that sort of price.

With course form figures reading 20-26-9-26 and current form figures reading 1-8-37-14-29-4, Carlos Ortiz comes into the reckoning anyway but dig a little deeper and he looks a great bet. His 29th in his penultimate start was at the Farmers Insurance Open, where he sat tied for the lead with a round to go, and when he finished 26th here in 2016 and ninth two years ago, he was in awful form, suggesting he really loves the course. I was more than happy to take 90.089/1 about an in-form recent PGA Tour winner that clearly likes the venue.

Selections:
Justin Thomas @ 17.016/1
Carlos Ortiz @ 90.089/1

I'll be back later today with the Find Me a 100 Winner column.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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