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Back to the golf and It was disappointing end to the week for us after a start, which had promised so much following Patrick Cantlay’s course record tying 62 on the opening day at Pebble Beach, ended with the American’s cold putter on Saturday and the back nine on Sunday costing him the chance of victory.
The event in the end was won by Daniel Berger who managed to put behind him a double bogey on his closing hole on Saturday to shoot a superb 65 on Sunday, a round, which included no less than three eagles.
Once again then the mantra for Pebble Beach is that past course form and experience is key there.
The week was also noteworthy for another strong performance from Jordan Spieth, who backed up last week’s top five at Phoenix with another on the Californian Coast, giving us the clearest sign yet that he is ‘on his way back’.
So, we move on and after four weeks on the West Coast the tour moves to Pacific Palisades, to the iconic Riviera Country Club for the final leg of the West Coast Swing.
The Genesis Open was first held in 1926.
Its previous names have included the Los Angeles Open, The Nissan Open and The Northern Trust Open before Genesis Motors took over as the title sponsor in 2017.
The tournament has been held at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades on a pretty much continuous basis since 1973.
2020 saw a change as with effect from last year the event was changed to hold Invitational status. As a result of this the field size was slightly reduced to 120 compared to other PGA Tour events. In addition the winner here will receive a three year tour exemption compared to the usual two.
Outside of Major Championships and WGC’s we have as strong a field as you are ever likely to see teeing it up week in week out.
The market is headed up by the current undisputed world number one Dustin Johnson. DJ is then followed by Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele. They are then followed by Bryson Dechambeau and Patrick Cantlay.
Riviera Country Club is seen as a classical test and features tight, tree lined fairways. Accuracy of the tee has historically been seen as key here although over recent years it has become more of a bombers paradise, particularly when the course has been wet.
Riviera is a par 71 playing to just over 7300 yards.
The greens are Poa Annua.
One of the key features of the course is the Kikuyugrass rough which is very rare for a US course. It is however found on South African and Australian courses and therefore both South African and Australian players do have a good record here.
For those looking to trade in running the par 5 1st hole is basically the easiest hole on the course and is a ‘must birdie’ hole. If you make Par you are certainly dropping a shot to the field.
The driveable par 4 10th to me is one of the best holes played on tour all year. At 315yds an eagle 2 is in theory achievable but if you fail to hit the right spot off the tee a bogey 5 quickly comes in to play.
So let’s take a look at the last ten winners to try and find some clues…
2020 A Scott
2019 JB Holmes
2018 B Watson
2017 D Johnson
2016 B Watson
2015 J Hahn
2014 B Watson
2013 J Merrick
2012 B Haas
2011 A Baddeley
Prior to Scott’s win last year the event had seen a victory for JB Holmes coming out on top last in 2019, three wins for Bubba in the previous five years and a win for Dustin Johnson in 2017. DJ was also 4th here in 2016 and 2nd here in both 2015 and 2014.
Add in the fact that Dechambeau, Finau, Cantlay, Pieters and Kokrak have placed here over the past four years and it becomes clear that Riviera has turned in to something of a ‘bombers paradise’ over recent times. In fact the lowest any of the last five winners have ranked in driving distance on tour at the end of the season they won the event is Adam Scott last year who ranked 19th.
Having said that we shouldn’t ignore the fact that Kevin Na [twice] Scott Brown [twice], Wes Bryan & KJ Choi have all finished in the top 5 over the past three years, so there is still opportunity for everyone, particularly in a dryer year.
Looking at these last ten winners it would appear that Riviera Country Club is a venue where the winners pretty much all have the classic combination we are looking for every week…course form meets current form.
To explain more lets firstly look at the form of each of these last ten winners coming in to the event.
Eight of these past ten winners noted above had made the cut in their previous start with the two exceptions being JB Holmes and Bubba in 2016 who had both missed the 54 hole cut at Pebble, whilst seven of them had posted a top 14 finish in at least one of their two previous starts.
It should be noted though while last years winner Adam Scott held up these statistics he somewhat bucked the trend in that he was making his first start on the PGA Tour of the year in the week that he won. He had however won the Australian PGA in his previous start just before Christmas so he clearly arrived in a confident mood.
As we can see then solid form coming in is important.
With regards to previous course form again we can see looking over the past ten winners that this has given us a big clue.
Last years winner Adam Scott had finished in the top 11 here in four of his previous five visits, while 2019 Champion JB Holmes had made his previous five cuts here including finish fifth in 2016.
Then we have Bubba who was naturally a previous winner when he lifted the trophy on the last two occasions. In addition to this he had posted a 13th place finish here in 2012, 2yrs prior to his first win.
DJ meanwhile prior to winning in 2017 had posted three top 5 finishes in the three previous years.
Haas had finished 12th here the year before winning and Baddeley also had a 13th place finish here to his name 4yrs prior to his victory and had also made the cut in the subsequent three years.
In fact the only two winners out of the past ten who did not have a previous top 13 finish in the event were the two with local California connections, James Hahn and John Merrick, with Hahn having a best place finish of 29th in the event the year before and Merrick never having managed better than 54th.
It is worth noting though that Merrick was making his 6th start in the event the year he won so he did at least have plenty of course experience along with local connections.
So there we have it then, it appears this is not an event for debutants and is certainly one where course and current form coming in is key.
The winning score here has varied considerably over recent years.
Last year Scott won with an 11- under total while JB won with a total of -14 the previous year. Bubba triumphed with a -12 total in 2018 while In 2017 DJ won with a score of -17, however in 2015 James Hahn won with a score of -6.
The weather as always goes a long way to dictating this. In 2017 for example the conditions were wet and as a result the course lost a lot of its sting allowing bombers to come to the fore even more.
We look set for a dry week and with the Los Angeles area having also seen a dry start to February firmer conditions look set to be the order of the day.
Temperatures look set to sit in the mid to high 60s all week.
Wind does not look to be much of an issue for the first three days days with nothing more than 10mph in the forecast however Sunday do show the potential for gusts in excess of 20mph.
As I always say though this could all change!
Before I start the picks just a reminder to take a look at what's on offer at Sounder Golf. To obtain the discount please just click on the link below.
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
DUSTIN JOHNSON – 6-1 - 4pts win - FINISHED 8th
I am going to start this week with what will probably be the most blindingly obvious bet I’ll have all year and I make no apologies for doing so. The bet in question of course is siding with world number one Dustin Johnson.
When backing a player at 6/1 you want absolutely everything to be in your favour and from that point of view, due to my initial reluctance to get involved at these sort of odds I spent a good period of time trying to find the negatives that would talk me out of doing so. The problem was though hard as I tried I really could not find anything.
Lets look at the reasoning in more detail.
Firstly of course Johnson is in the form of his life at the moment, form which he has only really matched once before when posting three straight victories early in 2017, a run, which started in this event.
Then if we start looking at what historically has been required here to get the job done and he ticks all of the boxes as the list below shows.
Course experience - Eleven previous starts
Course Form - One win and seven further top tens including five top five’s.
Current Form – Need I say anything!
Long Off The Tee - Eighth in Driving Distance
Strong Iron Player – First this season in SGATTG and fourth in GIR.
The icing on the cake then comes for me with the fact that Dustin chose not to play at Pebble Beach last week.
To expand on this further for the last two years DJ has arrived here on the back of a fortnight, which has first seen him play in Saudi Arabia and then seen him tee it up at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in the company of his Father In Law, ‘The Great One’, a week , which must surely be draining with all that it entails.
Had Johnson then played Pebble last week my negative to hang my hat on would have been that, even without the pro-am side of the event, he would surely now have been getting fatigued on the back of the Saudi trip, something that was maybe reflected on his two sluggish opening rounds here the past two years, which came on the back of poorer efforts at Pebble.
Instead though DJ arrives here after a weeks break following his win in Saudi Arabia and should be fresh and raring to go.
All in all I find it impossible to ignore the case for Johnson this week and while of course in a field of this strength it is quite possible someone will find a way to beat him, I just can’t find it in me to leave him out.
PATRICK CANTLAY – 18-1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 15th
Next up this week I am going to give another chance to the man who gave us a great run at Pebble without quite being able to get the job done, Patrick Cantlay.
As well as siding with Cantlay last week I also sided with him in this event last year, and while he played solidly enough on route to finishing 17th he was never quite able to get in the thick of things.
Looking at Patrick’s effort last year and while his long game was as solid as ever a poor week on the greens, which saw him rank 72nd with the putter was the main thing that held him back.
Having of course witnessed similar over the weekend at Pebble Beach it is not impossible that the same issue afflicts him this time around, however the fact remains that Cantlay currently ranks 28th in SGP this season so it is not as though he is having a bad time as whole with the putter of late. From that point of view I am confident he can iron out the issues he had at Pebble on the greens.
Instead then I would prefer to focus on Cantlay’s long game, which saw him rank first for the week from tee to green over the three measured rounds at Pebble and second in approach play.
Ally this to his fifth last year hear from tee to green and eighth in approach play and it is clear that if Patrick can bring this long game to Riveria allied to even an average putting performance then he will be a serious player this week.
Moving on and this week is all but a home game for Cantlay as he attended UCLA and after taking a share of the first round lead in 2018 when asked about the benefit of the local connection he said the following;
“I think there’s something to that, something to being used to poa annua and growing up on golf courses that are kikuyu grass because I think it might be the only one we play all year with kikuyu grass. I think it all adds up. I feel comfortable here, I like the golf course and I think that helps.”
Cantlay’s three previous starts in this event have seen him notch finishes of fourth, 15th and 17th and if we add that to the fact that he has now finished first, second and third in his last three starts in his home state and it is clear that he is incredibly comfortable in California.
All in all Cantlay ticks a lot of boxes for me this week and I am more than happy to stick with him after last weeks strong effort.
MARC LEISHMAN – 66-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 32nd
Moving further down the market and a player who we know can punch there weight in this sort of company and makes plenty of appeal each way at the odds on offer is Marc Leishman.
As has been well documented Leishman really struggled in the second half of 2020 after the return from lockdown and pretty much reached rock bottom when shooting thirty over par for four rounds at the BMW Championship in August.
Never one to normally practice much when having weeks off Leishman admitted that he was very rusty upon his return to competition last year after the break and this coupled with a struggle to get motivated with the lack of fans at events was basically the root of the malaise, which set in.
After a positive week at the Masters in November though where he finished 18th the start of 2021 has been far more promising for the Aussie as following a 24th at the curtain raiser at Kapalua he has finished fourth and 18th at the Sony and Farmers respectively.
So on to this week and with dry, firm conditions set to be the order of the day Leishman should feel right in his element this week on a course, which the Australian contingent have a great record at, with Steve Elkington bagging the PGA Championship here and Robert Allenby, Aaron Baddeley and of course Adam Scott last year all winning the Genesis.
Dissecting this further and former champion Baddeley when asked in 2017 why he was so comfortable here said the following;
“There are definitely some similarities to Australia with the big trees and greens that are similar to what I grew up on."
If we then look closer at Leishman’s record here we can see that he has been a constant visitor here over the past decade posting two top five finishes in his last five starts in the event.
Marc has posted four wins in the past four seasons on the PGA Tour and with three of them coming at Bay Hill, The BMW Championship play off event and The Farmers last year he clearly saves his best for the ‘big boy’ events, rising to the occasion in the stronger fields.
Add that to the fact that two of those wins came at this time of year, with the success at the Farmers last year certainly ticking the box for a correlating course, and he looks a great each way play to me this time out.
DOUG GHIM – 200-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next cab off the rank for me this week is Doug Ghim.
After a very rocky full debut season on the PGA Tour, which saw him finish 184th in the Fedex Cup standings Ghim has made the most of the second opportunity he automatically has due to the Covid-19 pandemic rules implemented by the tour, and is well on the way to a really strong sophomore campaign.
With six top 25 finishes and only two missed cuts in ten starts and with a fifth place finish only three weeks ago at the Amex, his best on tour to date, Doug clearly arrives at Riveria in great form and surely in a confident mood.
What makes the 24yr old of particular interest this week though is his history at Riviera, which saw him finish runner up here at the 2017 US Amateur championship to Doc Redman.
That week Ghim really should have won the title as he stood on the 17th tee two up with two to play, however Redman went, eagle, birdie over the closing two holes before taking the title in the play off, clearly though he still played plenty of great stuff throughout the week, and having earned himself starts at the US Open and the Masters as a result of his efforts at Riviera he will surely have fond memories of the course.
Furthermore it cant do Ghim any harm this week that not long after his efforts in the US Amateur he went 4-0 for the USA in the Walker Cup held down the road from here at Los Angeles CC. Clearly then he should have great vibes returning to the area.
Ghim it should be said is not the longest off the tee, which is a slight concern for this week, however with dry, firm conditions forecast it could well be that there is room for the shorter more accurate players to compete this week and as noted earlier several have popped up on leaderboards here over the years.
If this does transpire to be the case Ghim should be in his element as what he lacks in distance he makes up for in a solid iron game, currently ranking 31st for the season in strokes-gained-approach-to-the-green.
All in all Ghim is improving all the time and in great form and with ten each way places on offer I am happy to chance him at a venue that he should feel comfortable returning to.
CHARL SCHWARTZEL – 250-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 62nd
For my final selection this week I am going to roll the dice with Charl Schwartzel.
The former Masters Champion has had a pretty lean time of things of late and the 2019/20 campaign saw him fail to make the Fedex Cup Play Off’s as he finished 128th in the standings. Despite this though Charl did post two top five finishes on tour in 2020 so he showed he can certainly still compete on his day.
The root of Schwartzel’s problems last season stemmed from a wrist injury, which saw him miss the bulk of the previous campaign and be out of action for almost eighth months on the PGA Tour so it wasn’t surprising he lacked any real consistency in 19/20.
Whilst he is yet to trouble the frame this season the South African has though started to quietly find a greater level of consistency this time around and so far he has made five of eight cuts posting three top 25 finishes and a seasons best of 18th at the Farmers recently.
At Torrey Pines, a venue, which certainly links well here, all parts of Charl’s game were in strong working order and his Thursday and Sunday efforts on the South Course, which saw him gain over five shots on the field from tee to green were particularly impressive.
Moving on to this week and Schwartzel returns to a venue, which although he hasn’t produced his best stuff at over recent years he had great success at in his first two visits finishing third and fifth back in 2013 and 2014 so we know it suits his game.
The fact that Charl has played well here before shouldn’t be a surprise because the Kikuyu grass found here is very similar to that, which he is used to back home in South Africa. If we then add the fact that firmer, faster conditions are expected this week and I expect Charl to be right in his element this time around at Riviera.
Schwartzel landed the Valspar Championship in 2016 to his Masters win on US Soil and at still only 36yrs old I believe he is more than capable of winning out here again and with two top fives last year we know he can produce the goods when the mood takes him.
Add that to his eye catching recent effort at Torrey Pines and his past form here and he looks a really live outsider to me this week at huge each way odds.
UPDATED 16th FEBRUARY
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - DOC REDMAN - DK VALUE $6600 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS TOTAL 24
First up this week in this section is Doc Redman.
The siimple logic with Redman this week is that a return to the venue which saw him land the US Amateur title in 2017 will bring the best out of the 23yr old.
That week Redman went eagle, birdie over the last two holes to peg back one of our main team picks this week, Doug Ghim, from two down with two to play, before triumphing in extra time.
Redman one of the most accurate iron players on tour should certainly be suited to the challenges of Riviera and although he has missed his last two cuts a second round 68 at Phoenix last time out shows he is not to far away.
Back at the scene of his greatest success to date then Redman can hopefully thrive this week.
PICK 2 - JB HOLMES - DK VALUE $6500 - FINISHED 57th - DK POINTS TOTAL 55.5
For my second selection this week I will chance a course form selection over a current form one and play JB Holmes.
JB was absent from the tour due to injury from last July until the start of the new campaign in September and since his return he has undoubtedly struggled missing his last four cuts.
There is no doubt though that Riviera is a course that historically he has thrived on making ten of his last 11 cuts here, a run which of course included a victory a couple of years ago alongside another four top twelve finishes.
At $6500 then lets chance that JB can speak back to life this week and at least stick around for all four days.