Genesis Invitational: Burns and Clark backed at Riviera

Golfer Jon Rahm
Jon Rahm on his way to victory in 2023

The PGA Tour moves to Los Angeles for the Genesis Invitational and Steve Rawlings is back with his comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's start...

  • Approach play and putting the key to success

  • Strong US Masters link impossible to ignore

  • Read Dave Tindall's each-way clumn here


  • Tournament History

    In existence since 1926, and originally known as the Los Angeles Open, the Genesis Invitational always attracts a fantastic field. This year's renewal is no exception but the last two tournament winners are both absent.

    The 2022 champ, Joaquin Niemann, and last year's victor, Jon Rahm, are both now plying their trade on the LIV Golf Tour.

    Venue

    Riviera Country Club, Pacific Palisades, California

    Course Details

    Par 71, 7322 yards
    Stroke index in 2023 - 71.08

    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.

    Polo was a popular sport in LA back then and kikuyu was used on the polo grounds in the area, so 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 Poa annua greens that last year ran at around 12.5 on the Stimpmeter.

    Traditionally, these are often some of the hardest greens to find on the PGA Tour all season and in 13 of the last 14 years the scoring average has been over-par.

    The 2022 scoring average of 70.46 was the lowest average since basic records began in 1984.

    RIVIERA 2023 2.jpg

    Riviera is a classic, traditional, and tough course.

    The par four 10th measures only 315 yards but there's only been 14 eagles made there over the last six years. There was just one made in 2018, '19 and '21, four in 2020, five in 2022 and just two last year.

    It averaged 3.92 12 months ago so although short, it's far from simple.

    By contrast, the par five opening hole is ridiculously straightforward. It averaged only 4.33 last year and there were 17 eagles recorded there throughout the week. In 2022, it averaged only 4.19 and there were 34 eagles.


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    TV Coverage

    Live on Sky Sports all four days, starting at 14:30 on Thursday

    Last Eight Winners with Pre-event Prices

    • 2023 - Jon Rahm -17 10.09/1
    • 2022 - Joaquin Niemann -19 65.064/1
    • 2021 - Max Homa -12 80.079/1 (playoff)
    • 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?

    Although the rough is tricky to play from, the figures suggest hitting it straight off the tee isn't absolutely imperative.

    The last two winners have ranked only 63rd and 58th for Driving Accuracy and four of the five winners before 2022 ranked no better than 27th, although the 2021 winner, Max Homa, ranked third.

    Rahm ranked as high as sixth for Driving Distance last year and Will Zalatoris, who finished fourth, and Keith Mitchell in fifth, ranked first and second for DD, but length is far from vital given the two winners before Rahm ranked 64th and 59th for DD.

    Statistically, this is a very similar test to last week's WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale and the two stats to consider are Greens In Regulation and Strokes Gained Tee to Green.

    The last seven winners have ranked 2-14-1-7-2-1-5 for GIR and 3-1-2-2-11-3-3 for SGT2G.

    And on the greens, the last six winners have ranked 7-2-16-13-6-15-1 for Putting Average and 12-26-3-21-1-27-7 for Strokes Gained Putting.

    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 60 times now and a major winner has won on 35 occasions, although the US Masters is far and away the major championship that correlates the best.

    Jon Rahm followed his win here last year with victory at Augusta less than two months later and 13 different US Masters winners have won 23 of the 60 renewals of the Genesis Invitational at Riviera.

    Rahm at Riviera.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 six years ago, Bubba Watson became the fifth player to win it at least three times, and Bubba, Ben Hogan, and Arnold Palmer, also won the US Masters more than once.

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

    Previous course form is a big plus. Niemann won on his fourth start two years ago and James Hahn won here on his third Riviera start nine years ago but they're the only winners in the last 18 years to have played here less than four times previously.

    Although Riviera and the PGA National Golf Club in Florida - home of the Honda Classic - aren't in the least bit alike, form at the two venues correlates nicely but Quail Hollow is the most interesting correlating course.

    Following wins for Homa in 2021, J.B Holmes five years ago and James Hahn in 2015, three of the last eight Genesis winners have also won the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow. And all three were matched at a triple-figure price before the off.

    Homa was matched at a high of 120.0119/1, Holmes touched 400.0399/1 and Hahn was an unconsidered 600.0599/1 chance.

    Is There an Identikit Winner?

    Major winners may have won on many occasions and Jon Rahm was a well-fancied 9/110.00 chance last year but there's no getting away from the fact that outsiders can and do prosper here regularly.

    The 2022 winner, Niemann, was well-tipped up but he was matched at 100.099/1 when the market opened. The 2021 winner, Max Homa, was generally an 80.079/1 chance before the off but he too was matched at triple-figures. 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.

    Even though he'd won two of the previous four renewals, Bubba Watson was an 80.079/1 chance six years ago.

    Homa wins at Riviera.jpg

    Scott Brown finished joint second eight years ago, having been matched at 910.0909/1 before the off, and he was matched at 1000.0999/1 when finishing second again in 2020. 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.

    Hahn was an unconsidered 600.0599/1 shot nine years ago. John Merrick was matched at 800.0799/1 before the off when he beat 1000.0999/1 shot Charlie Beljan in a playoff in 2013. Very few will have picked out triple-figure priced Aaron Baddeley in 2011. Jason Kokrak, who was matched at 510.0509/1 before the off eight years ago, led by two with four to play before losing out by a stroke to Bubba.

    Despite the strength of the field, given the event's recent history, I wouldn't put anyone off throwing a few pounds at a couple of outsiders.

    Winner's Position and Price Pre-Round Four

    • 2023 - Jon Rahm - led by two strokes 1.42/5
    • 2022 - Joaquin Niemann - led by three 1.434/9
    • 2021 - Max Homa T2nd - trailing by two 9.28/1
    • 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.

    Rahm was always inside the front three and never more than a stroke off the lead last year and Niemann won wire-to-wire two years ago. The three winners before Adam Scott in 2020 were also all up with the pace throughout but prior to 2022, DJ in 2017 was the only 36-hole leader or co-leader to win since Phil Mickelson back in 2008. Scott trailed by eight in a tie for 65th after round one in 2020 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 where the winner is coming from, and recent results suggests the course conditions have a bearing, but we can usually expect some final round shenanigans.

    Rahm was three clear with a round to go 12 months ago but Homa was still matched at odds-on during round four and three players traded at odds-on before the playoff in 2021.

    Sam Burns, who had led by five at halfway, was matched at a low of 1.4840/85. Tony Finau was matched at 1.351/3 when he led by one with one to play. The eventual winner, Homa, was matched at just 1.031/33 as he stood over a three-foot birdie putt to take the title on the 72nd hole, having birdied the 17th to tie Finau. But Homa missed that putt and we were into extra time.

    After an iffy drive on the par four 10th by Homa in the playoff, Finau was matched at a low of 1.091/11 but both players made par there and Homa went on to win at the par three 14th with a par.

    Rory McIlroy hit odds-on in round four in 2020 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, his 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.

    There are always trading opportunities here and many an odds-on shot gets turned over. We've witnessed all sorts of drama and in 2015 we saw three men trade at odds-on and lose. Sergio Garcia was matched at a low of 1.42/5, Dustin Johnson hit 1.384/11, and Paul Casey hit a low of 1.855/6 but it was James Hahn who eventually won in extra-time.

    I'll be back later today or tomorrow with a look at the market leaders and a summary of any pre-event selections.

    Market Leaders

    When lining up at Scottsdale for the Phoenix Open last week, Scottie Scheffler was attempting to become the first man to win the same event three years in-a-row since Steve Stricker won the John Deere Classic in 2009, '10 and '11.

    Scheffler was the 22nd to fail to achieve the feat since Stricker but the American traded at a low of 1.454/9 before his putting let him down again.

    He missed three putts in-a-row from inside six feet after leading on Sunday and he even putted off the 18th green in round three.

    This is a venue at which everyone will miss their fair share of short putts and Scheffler will almost certainly contend given his incredible approach play. But with course form figures reading only an ordinary MC-30-20-7-12, I'm more than happy to swerve him at less than 8/19.00 in a field this deep.

    The world number two Rory McIlroy has course form figures reading 20-20-4-5-MC-10-29 and was very disappointing last time out at Pebble Beach where he finished tied for 66th but it would be no surprise to see him contend again this week.

    He looked in fine fettle when finishing second in the Dubai Invitational before cruising to victory at the Dubai Desert Classic last month and I'm happy to dismiss his poor performance at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He'd missed the cut in the event on his only previous appearance.

    Viktor Hovland, who has course form figures reading 5-4-20, needs to improve markedly on his first two starts in 2024, given he's finished 22nd at The Sentry and 58th at Pebble Beach and others are preferred.

    Selections

    I wanted to back Justin Thomas, but I can't back do it at 20/121.00 in a field this strong.

    Thomas looks like he's getting back to his best after a poor 2023 and he really should have won here five years ago when he led by four with a round to go. But a strong case can be made for the top-12 or so in the market so I'm happy to take it easy before the off.

    Sam Burns is another that will feel he should have already lifted this trophy given he was five strokes clear at halfway back in 2021 when he finished third.

    He's missed both his cuts here since and he also missed the cut on debut in 2019 (finished 23rd in 2020 on his only other start) so he doesn't have a massive bank of course form. But I'm happy to overlook that given his performance three years ago.

    That was his first big chance of victory on the PGA Tour so his 74 on Saturday was understandable and he's won five times since, including twice at the Valspar Championship - an event staged at a similarly tough venue.

    Burns has current form figures reading 6-10-3, he's been putting very nicely this year, he ranked third for Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and fifth for Greens In Regulation last week at TPC Scottsdale and I thought 30.029/1 was more than fair.

    Back Sam Burns @ 30.029/1

    Bet now

    My only other pick is the 2023 Well Fargo Championship winner and recent Pebble Beach victor Wyndham Clark who is being underestimated by the market.

    Clark won the US Open in this state just a month after winning at Quail Hollow last year, so a victory soon after his 54-hole win at Pebble is far from out of the question. Although his course form figures read only 17-8-33, he sat second at halfway on debut four years ago.

    Back Wyndham Clark @ 55.054/1

    Bet now

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


    *You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter


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