Genesis Open: Augusta form the secret to success at Riviera

Golfer Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson - fancied to win his third Genesis Open

The West Coast Swing signs of in Los Angeles this week with another cracking edition of the Genesis Open so read our man's comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's start here...

"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 56 times now and a major winner has won on 33 occasions. The US Masters winners have by far the best record though, with 11 Masters Champions winning a total of 20 renewals."

Tournament History

Following the completion of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am on Monday, the PGA Tour moves 300 odd miles down the Californian coast 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 a fantastic field. The world's top two on official rankings, Justin Rose and Brooks Koepka, are missing this week but the next five in the rankings are all in attendance as well as the likes of Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and course specialists, Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson, so we have another really strong renewal to look forward to.

Venue

Riviera Country Club, Pacific Palisades, California

Course Details

Par 71, 7322 yards
Stroke index in 2018 - 71.76

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/Poa mixed greens that usually run at around 12 on the stimpmeter. They were the hardest greens to find on the PGA Tour last year with an average GIR rate of only 53.5%.

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

2018 - Bubba Watson -12
2017 - Dustin Johnson -17
2016 - Bubba Watson -15
2015 - James Hahn -6 (playoff)
2014 - Bubba Watson -15

What Will it Take to Win the Genesis Open?

Although the rough is tricky to play from, which would suggest finding fairways is important, the general perception is that length off the tee here is more beneficial than finding the short grass, but in reality, neither Driving Distance or Driving Accuracy are particularly vital stats.

Last year's winner, Bubba Watson, who was claiming the title for the third time in five years, drove the ball fairly well but he only ranked 27th for DA and 21st for DD and the two players tied for second, Tony Finau and Kevin Na, demonstrated perfectly how it's possible to contend by being either long or straight. Finau ranked second for DD but only 62nd for DA and Na ranked only 56th for DD but fifth for DA.

Bubba Watson putts 640.jpg

Hitting the small greens and great scrambling when they're missed are very important. Bubba ranked seventh for Greens In Regulation but only 20th for Scrambling and that was unusually high given nine of the 16 winners before him at ranked inside the top-ten for Scrambling.

Following Bubba's third success, Greens In Regulation looks the most vital stat given 14 of the last 19 winners have now ranked inside the top-ten for GIR.

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 56 times now and a major winner has won on 33 occasions. The US Masters winners have by far the best record though, with 11 Masters Champions winning a total of 20 renewals.

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-ten for ten 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 12 months 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. All three three-time winners - Bubba, Ben and Arnie - are multiple winners of the US Masters.

Phil Mickelson, Sam Snead, & 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 four years ago but he's the only winner in the last 13 years to have played here less than five times previously. Not a great stat for world number six, Jon Rahm, who's making his debut.

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.

Despite having won two of the previous four renewals, Bubba was actually an 80.079/1 chance 12 months ago (suggesting he's more than a bit short this year). Scott Brown finished joint second two years ago, having been matched at 910.0909/1 before the off, and three of the last eight winners have been very difficult to spot. And it could very easily have been four from eight...

James Hahn was an unconsidered 600.0599/1 shot four years ago. 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 three 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.

In-Play Tactics

Bubba was tied for sixth after rounds one and two last year, two adrift after the opening round and three back at halfway, and he was leading by a stroke with a round to go before going on to win by two. He was never outside the front three all week three years ago in rain-softened conditions and he led by a stroke with a round to go then too but he 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 and that typifies this event...

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. 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 1.574/7 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 seven years at Riviera and prior to the last three 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 1.42/5, Dustin Johnson hit 1.384/11, and Paul Casey dipped to 1.855/6 and all three were beaten!

The par five 11th and 17th holes were two of the easiest three holes on the course last year but the back-nine is slightly harder than the front (around half a stroke last year) so with four of the last seven 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 below par (4.73 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 1.15 over so that's something to look out for in-running.

10th hole at Riviera.jpg

Although only 315 yards long and a drivable par four, 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 seven renewals (4.06 last year) 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 4.28 last year and there were 30 eagles made there!

Market Leaders

World number three, Dustin Johnson, won this two years ago but he could very easily have won the event three or four times already. He was leading at halfway back in 2010 before losing his way with a 74 in round three, he finished second to Bubba in 2014, lost in a playoff in 2015, and he trailed by just a stroke with a round to go in 2016 before eventually finishing fourth. Last year's 16th was very disappointing but he gave himself little chance with an opening 74 to sit tied for 105th.

Quite what we can expect this week after a poor effort last week at Pebble Beach, another venue he loves, is hard to gauge but I'd be inclined to forgive that performance given the he'd been away for almost a month. He arrived in Dubai early, where he finished 16th, he then took a week out to visit the Maldives before winning in Saudi Arabia the following week so a travel-weary DJ not giving his all in a pro-am in crap conditions wasn't perhaps the biggest surprise ever witnessed.

Justin Thomas will feel he could have fared better than third at the Phoenix Open last time out. He has a great strike-rate so it's probably only a matter of time before he goes in again but I suspect it won't be this week given his ordinary course form that reads 41-54-39-9, and the next two in the betting have limited and only poor course form too...

Rory McIlroy has finished 20th in each of his two visits and Bryson DeChambeau could only finish 41st last year, having withdrawn from the event on debut two years ago.

Selections

I would have loved to have backed Bubba Watson here. I was onboard from the off in 2014 and 2016 at 38.037/1 and 29.028/1 respectively, and I backed him in-play after round two last year at 17.5 so I have plenty of fond memories to persuade me to part with my dough. He played well last time out to finish fourth in the Phoenix Open too but you have to draw the line somewhere and given his overall form and aging profile (he's now 40), I just can't take a fraction over 20/1. It's just too short given the depth of the field and that he's never before defended a title. I am, however, happy to take a punt on Phil Mickelson at 30.029/1.

Lefty won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am nicely enough yesterday and he has great form here too - having won the event twice and having finished second twice. He's managed to win both a US Masters and an Open Championship the week after winning so going back-to-back isn't anything to worry about and I'm a little confused as to why he's so big.

Form is temporary and class is permanent, and it's only a matter of time before Augusta specialist, Jordan Spieth bouncing back. He has some decent form here (12-4-MC-22-9) and he's a tempting proposition given he's shown glimpses of late. I'll be keeping an eye on him tomorrow to se if he drifts any further but for now, I'm playing just three. And the other two are US Masters winners too.

Not for the first time, Sergio Garcia made a bit of a fool of himself last time out in Saudi Arabia, where he was disqualified for damaging the greens, 24 hours after he had this paddy in a bunker.

As someone that's more than capable of blowing a fuse at the slightest provocation or disappointment, I have a bit of sympathy for Sergio. Had I had enough talent to be a pro golfer, I'd be doing this sort of thing quite regularly, which is one of the reasons why I'm rubbish at golf in the first place!

Anyway, back to El Nino, and I can see him setting out to prove himself to be a better person this week and given his form figures before the DQ read 7-1-2-9-6-7-3, that he's finished inside the top-six here three times previously and that he's won the US Masters, his price of 70.069/1 looks like a huge overreaction to a healthy dose of petulance.

The 2011 US Masters winner, Charl Schwartzel, pitched up here for the first time in 2013 and finished third. He returned 12 months later to finish fifth and I thought it was only a matter of time before he won the title. The South African clearly enjoys the venue but he hasn't quite got going here since, finishing outside the top-40 in each of his four subsequent starts. He hasn't made a cut since finishing third in the South Africa Open just before Christmas but he's a positively ludicrous price at 400.0399/1 and I'm more than happy to play him at those sorts of odds.

Selections:
Phil Mickelson @ 30.029/1
Sergio Garcia @ 70.069/1
Charl Schwartzel @ 400.0399/1

I'll be back on Friday with the In-Play Blog.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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