Genesis Open: Augusta form the key at Riviera

William McGirt – one of The Punter’s picks at Riviera
William McGirt – one of The Punter’s picks at Riviera
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Our man takes a detailed look at this week's PGA Tour event, where Dustin Johnson is a warm favourite to retain his title. Read our man's in-depth preview ahead of Thursday's start here...

“In-form Chez Reavie and Tommy Fleetwood, who should take to the track, were both on the radar but I felt they were both fractionally short so my four are Kevin Streelman, Charl Schwartzel, William McGirt and KJ Choi.”

Tournament History

The PGA Tour moves 300 odd miles down the Californian coast from Pebble Beach to Los Angeles for the final tournament of this year's West Coast Swing - the Genesis Open.

In existence since 1926, and originally known as the Los Angeles Open, the Genesis Open often attracts the best field on the West Coast Swing and with three of the world's top-four in attendance, along with Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, we have another strong renewal to look forward to.

Venue

Riviera Country Club, Pacific Palisades, California.

Course Details

Par 71, 7322 yards
Stroke index in 2017 - 71.01

Riviera has a number of interesting quirks. There's a bunker in the middle of the par three 6th 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 but it wasn't long before it had invaded and taken over at Riviera. The Kikuyu makes for perfect lies on the fairway, 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 minimal.

Many of the holes are doglegs and the fairways are tough to find with regularity, as are the small bentgrass greens that usually run at around 12 on the stimpmeter.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky all four days. Featured Group coverage form 14:30 on Thursday (UK time) with full coverage beginning at 19:00.

Last Five Winners

2017 - Dustin Johnson -17
2016 - Bubba Watson -15
2015 - James Hahn -6 (playoff)
2014 - Bubba Watson -15
2013 - John Merrick -11 (playoff)

What Will it Take to Win the Genesis Open?

The general perception is that length off the tee here is very beneficial and last year's winner, Dustin Johnson, did rank number one for Driving Distance but the average DD ranking of the dozen winners before him was a fairly lofty 24.75 and in each of the last six years at least one player has placed with a DD ranking of 50th or higher. Kevin Na and Wesley Bryan tied for fourth 12 months ago ranking 56th and 66th for DD and James Hahn ranked 50th when he won the event three years ago.

Rain softened the course for both the last two editions so with wet rough in play, Driving Accuracy should have been a key stat but DJ only ranked 45th for DA and in 2016, Bubba Watson only ranked 50th. Given DJ lost a playoff in 2015 having ranked just 70th for DA, we must conclude that relentlessly finding fairways isn't vital. Although it is worth highlighting that both Bubba and DJ are very long off the tee so that would have helped. .

Hitting the small greens and great scrambling when they're missed are very important. DJ ranked number one for Greens In Regulation and he ranked fifth for Scrambling and they're the stats to concentrate on given 13 of the last 18 winners ranked inside the top-ten for GIR and nine of the last 16 have ranked inside the top-ten for Scrambling.

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 55 times now and a major winner has won on 32 occasions. The US Masters winners have by far the best record though, with 11 Masters Champions winning a total of 19 renewals.

With his second victory at Riviera two years ago, Bubba became the fifth player to win multiple PGA Tour events at both Riviera & Augusta - joining Phil Mickelson, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan & Tom Watson.

Is there an Identikit Winner?

Major winners may have won on many occasions and last year's winner, DJ, was a well-fancied [9.6] second favourite (behind Jordan Spieth), but there's no getting away from the fact that outsiders can and do prosper here. Scott Brown finished joint runner-up 12 months ago, having been matched at [910.0] before the off, and three of the last seven winners have been very difficult to find before the off and it could very easily have been four from seven.

James Hahn was an unconsidered [600.0] shot three years ago. John Merrick was matched at [800.0] 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 [510.0] before the off two 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 following Ted Potter's win at Pebble at [1000.0], we might just get another implausible result.

In-Play Tactics

In last year's disjointed, weather-affected renewal, Dustin Johnson sat alongside five others in a tie for second after round one, two strokes adrift of Sam Saunders, but he led all the way after that and was five clear after three rounds. That was a margin he maintained in round four and it was a pretty dull in-play betting heat but that hasn't always been the case...

Bubba has won this twice and in two very contrasting fashions. He was never outside the front three all week two years ago when conditions were again rain-softened and he led by a stroke with a round to go but he was so far back 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 last year's runaway win was unusual, and we can expect some final round shenanigans. Even though Bubba had led going into the final round in 2016, we still saw plenty of market activity with the aforementioned Kokrak being matched at just [1.57] in-running and he's far from the first to trade at odds-on and lose.

We've now witnessed three three-man playoffs in three of the last six years at Riviera and prior to the last two results, the previous four winners had all been at least a couple of strokes back with a round to go so it's a great place to trade on a Sunday.

In 2015, Sergio Garcia was matched at a low of [1.4], Dustin Johnson hit [1.38], and Paul Casey dipped to [1.85]. All three were beaten!

The back-nine has played quite a bit harder than the front-nine but there was a fairly significant change to the scoring last year (presumably because of the wet conditions) and there was a differential between the two nines of just 0.1 of a stroke.

That could change again in drier conditions though and if that's the case, posting a score and sitting in the clubhouse could be how the event is won again.

With four of the last six 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 but in fast, dry, testing conditions, that's often the only respite after the par five 11th. In receptive easy conditions last year, the final six holes (excluding the par five 17th) only averaged 0.28 over-par and when the course was (not as) damp in 2016 they averaged 0.83 over par but in tough conditions in 2015 they averaged fully 1.33 strokes above their par of 22 so that's something to look out for in-running should the rain stay away.

Although it's a drivable par 4, the 10th is far from a pushover and it's actually averaged over-par in three of the last six 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 although the first 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 4.27 last year and there were 35 eagles there!

Market Leaders

World number one and defending champ, Dustin Johnson, has form figures here reading a ridiculously good 59-10-3-MC-4-MC-2-2-4-1 and he's been playing well for a while now too. He should have won in China in November, he hacked up at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in January and he perhaps should have won at Pebble last week too. He's a bit shorter in price than he was 12 months ago but the field is marginally weaker and there question marks about all his market rivals.

Rory McIlroy played quite nicely at a couple of familiar venues when he finished third in Abu Dhabi and runner-up in Dubai but he arguably should have won at least one of those two events and he was awful last week after a decent start. He hasn't won in since September 2016, he missed the cut at Pebble Beach last week and on his only previous outing at Riviera he finished a disappointing 20th after he'd entered the final round just two off the lead. I'm more than happy to swerve him and the same can be said of Jordan Spieth.

Following a surprise missed cut in Phoenix, Spieth's 20th at Pebble Beach could be viewed as an improvement but he'll be disappointed with such a poor title defence and he doesn't appear to be in any sort of form.

Unusually for Jordan, his Greens In Regulation figures were poor last week but he did putt a little better than he has of late so that's a slight positive. The putter has been the big problem this year and until he that improves he's probably worth avoiding. Especially given his fairly uninspiring course form figures that read MC-12-4-MC-22.

Another with disappointing course form is Justin Thomas. In three visits, he's yet to finish inside the top-40 and he put in a very odd performance in Phoenix last time out. He was matched at just [3.75] after he'd birdied the first six holes in round three but he lost the plot after that and eventually finished tied for 17th. Not having regular caddie, Jimmy Johnson, on the bag isn't helping and he may be back from injury this week but whether he is or isn't, Thomas' poor course form is enough to put me off.

Selections

I'll be quite surprised if DJ doesn't contend so even though he looks quite skinny, I've had a saver on him and I've also played four outsiders.

In-form Chez Reavie and Tommy Fleetwood, who should take to the track, were both on the radar but I felt they were both fractionally short so my four are Kevin Streelman, Charl Schwartzel, William McGirt and KJ Choi.

Streelman currently ranks third for GIR and second for Scrambling on the PGA Tour so he emphatically ticks the correct stats boxes. McGirt is also a great statistical fit with decent recent form and very solid course form (sixth, 14th and 20th last three visits) and KJ Choi could get in the mix again at a venue he loves, given he was on the fringes of contention last week. All three have bits of form at Augusta National. And Schwartzel is a bet I'll have at this venue every year.

The South African grew up playing on kikuyu, is a Masters winner, and he's played really well here in the past. He finished third and fifth on his first two visits and arguably should have won the title already. I know he's not been at his best of late but this place really suits him and I was delighted to get a triple-figure price.

Selections:
Dustin Johnson @ [6.4] (saver)
Kevin Streelman @ [100.0]
Charl Schwartzel @ [120.0]
William McGirt @ [180.0]
K.J Choi @ [410.0]

I'll be back later with my Oman Open preview.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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