This week the PGA Tour reruns to Riviera for what is now the Genesis Invitational. With Tiger Woods the host and it’s newly elected Invitational status, the field is absolutely stacked with just 120 players v the usual 156. With 9 of the top-10 players in the world in the field, we are sure to be in for a great week.
Riviera Country Club, 7,322 Yards, Par 71
A test as complete and similar to a major setup, and a course that correlates to Augusta National, Riviera is a fine examination of a players’ game. Your game cannot be half-baked throughout the week, so if you’re not in top form coming into this one, you better find it quickly in practice.
Riviera Country Club features Kikuya grass, which causes problems in the rough, but is very pleasant to play off on the fairway, so the idea here is to either be incredibly accurate off the tee, or at least long enough that you only have a short distance into the green, should you get caught in the thick rough.
The greens here generally rank among the hardest to hit on Tour each year, as they are smaller than average in size. If you’re not hitting accurate approaches, your short game must be razor-sharp here to contend, and even that might not be enough.
The field average for GIR at this event last year was just over 61%, which was better than it was in both 2017 (58%) and 2018 (53%), but still relatively low.
A key hole within this design is one of the most unique short holes on the PGA Tour, the Par-3, 6th, which features a bunker in the middle of the green. It should be a reasonably simple shot, but like the 17th at Sawgrass, or the 7th at Pebble – anything out of the ordinary captures the attention of these players.
Riviera also features arguably the best driveable Par-4 in golf, where both eagle and double bogey are possible, with the latter the more regular result.
Strokes Gained: Approach – Simply put, those that take advantage of those holes with short yardage into the greens, as well as those that can still it close even when further away, will no doubt relish this sort of test. This stat highlights those that are doing both well.
Par 4 efficiency 450-500 yards – With four holes on the scorecard of this length, how you perform on these longer than average par 4’s could make or break a round. A marginal but perhaps vital statistic to keep an eye on.
Ball Striking – Those that are hitting the ball well both off the tee and into the greens clearly have an advantage on this type of setup.
Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green – Missed greens are inevitable on this setup, as the low percentage of greens hit tell us, so being good around the greens is essential.
Justin Thomas ($11,000)
Justin Thomas is a no-brainer most weeks, and this event is no different. With all the world’s top-5 players to choose fromand 9 of the top-10 in total, people are bound to go in different directions here, but you should take the guy who has back-to-back top-10’s at this course, including last year when he should have won. The event was delayed last year due to weather, which meant playing almost two rounds on Sunday, and that ultimately got the better of Thomas, who shot a final-round 75. Thomas had a four-stroke lead heading into the final-round on Sunday afternoon, after both he and J.B. Holmes completed their 16 remaining holes of Round Three on Sunday morning, but Holmes shot a 1-under-par final-round to beat the former World No.1 by a single stroke. I cannot see Thomas letting someone in like that again, should he piece together a similar lead this time around, and he is playing well enough to do just that. Thomas has won three times, and finished inside the top-5 on a further three occasions in his last nine outings, including last time out in Phoenix, where he finished T3 behind Webb Simpson and Tony Finau.
Dustin Johnson ($10,000)
If like me, you like a lot of guys in the next two price-points, you may need to go to the lower end of the scale in this range and at just $10,000, Johnson looks like a snip this week. DJ has played here every year since 2008 and in that span has eight top-10’s, including one win, two 2nd’s and three more top-4 finishes, making him one of the most consistent player on the leaderboard here. He has missed just two cuts in his career here and I can only see another top-10 finish for him this week. Of course at $10,000 you want a player with winning upside and Johnson has that every week, but especially here, and after shaking the travel rust off at Pebble Beach last week, he should be ready to better his 2nd place finish in Saudi, where he was defending his title a fortnight ago. It’s been almost a year since Johnson won the WGC down in Mexico, two starts after his win in Saudi and it is about time he got back in the Winners’ Circle. Weekend rounds of 72-78 killed Johnson’s chances of another victory at Pebble last week, but I am happy to put this down to travel fatigue and expect him to bounce right back this week.
Bubba Watson ($9,600)
No need to get smart in this range. Watson has won on three of his last six starts in this event and finished no worse than 15th in the other two weeks he completed (he WD in 2017). He has finished 3rd and 6th in his last two starts and he can up his game again, to win for the fourth time in this event. If you’re looking for someone to fit the statistical mould here, Watson ranks; 9th in SG: Off-the-Tee, 14th in SG: Putting, 17th in SG: Tee-to-Green and 21st in SG: Approach-the-Green. All of this is good for a ranking of 9th in SG: Total, so his all round game sets up perfectly on a course he plays better than everybody else. Additionally, Watson ranks 3rd in Par-4 efficiency 450-500 yards which could be essential here, at a course where there’s four par-4’s of this length.
Tony Finau ($9,100)
Anyone that watches golf knows Finau is well overdue a second victory and it appeared he was going to break his baron run with a win in Phoenix two weeks ago. It wasn’t to be however, as he was cruelly denied by buddy, Webb Simpson who birdied the 18th in regulation and then again on the first play-off hole to snatch the trophy from Finau’s grasp. Still a 2nd place finish in Phoenix adds to four other top-10’s he’s already posted on the season, and he’ll look to add another on a course he’s clearly got to grips with. After starting his career here with course form of 53-MC-MC, Finau has since finished 2nd and 15th. He finished just two shots adrift of course specialist, Bubba Watson in 2018 and weekend rounds of 72-72 slowed him down last year, after opening 66-68. Statistically Finau makes perfect sense here, as he ranks; 2nd in SG: Tee-to-Green and 10th in SG: Approach, whilst he also ranks 7th in SG: Around-the-Green, all of which add up to a great all-round game. Spearheading your lineups with Finau and Watson would not damage your chances, especially as it leaves you with a little over $7,800 on average for your remaining four spots. With plenty of options in both the 7-8k and sub-7k range, I think it is certainly worth considering these two in the same line-up.
Honourable mentions: Collin Morikawa ($8,100)
Kevin Na ($7,600)
Beyond Bubba, Na may well be my favourite outright selection of the week and if you’re a betting person odds of 80/1 (+80000) or better should definitely be taken. Over the past three years Na has finished inside the top-4 twice, including a 2nd in 2018 alongside Finau. Top-10 finishes in 2010 (T10) and 2011 (3rd) are further evidence of his ability to play this golf course well, but it’s actually what he has done across the Tour over the past two seasons that really give reason for optimism. After winning his first PGA Tour event in 2011, Na went an incredible seven years without victory, but he has now won three times since July 2018, suggesting he now knows how to get over the line consistently. It appears he is more mentally resilient, which is not uncommon when a player turns 35 and above, and the next decade could be his best on Tour. He is already a winner this season, claiming his second Shriners Open title and in two of his last three starts he has finished inside the top-17, just two strokes off a top-10 in both. His T14 at Pebble last week is particularly impressive when you factor in his horror back-9 on Thursday, which saw him go from three-under-par at the turn, to three-over-par by the end of the day, despite a birdie on 10. He chalked up three bogeys and two doubles from holes 2-7 and many expected a withdrawal. Instead, Na bounced back with rounds of 67-68-71 to steadily climb the leaderboard – another sign of his new mental toughness. Na’s often renowned for his excellent play around the greens, and that is proven as he sits 10th on Tour in Scrambling and he is also converting on the greens at a high rate, ranking 4th in SG: Putting. Although his iron play hasn’t been the best across the season, he ranked 6th in SG: Approach-the-Green at Pebble and was typically solid on the greens (3rd in SG: Putting), so he should be able to carry both over to a course he loves this week. As he is neither accurate nor long off the tee, his short game is where he may have to make up strokes on the field.
Alex Noren ($7,300)
I picked Alex Noren last week for Pebble Beach and for 36 holes it appeared it may pay off. A poor weekend saw him slip into a tie for 32nd, but I am happy to chance he performs better this week. I think a bit of course inexperience caught him out at Pebble over the weekend, but this week he returns to a golf course he finished T16 on two years ago. That week he shot four rounds of par or better, and should his putter get hot this week, his long game is in great shape to fire one of those low rounds required to contend here. Noren ranks 3rd in Scrambling, and inside the top-24 in; SG: Around-the-Green (8th), SG: Tee-to-Green (12th) and SG: Approach-the-Green (24th). With no missed cuts this season, and a clearly excellent game tee-to-green, I think it is worth backing Noren to have a good week on the Poa greens.
Honourable mentions: Brendan Todd ($7,400), Matthew Wolff ($7,100)
Carlos Ortiz ($6,800)
Last year Ortiz finished T9, just a shot outside the top-7 and he has made notable strides since that effort last year. Since his top-10 here last year, Ortiz has five top-12 finishes, four of which have come this season alone. So far this season he has three top-4 finishes, including his best career finish at this level, a T2 in his home event, the Mayakoba Classic. Ortiz was just one shot shy of Brendan Todd in Mexico, two shots behind Sebastian Munoz at the Sandersons and only three shots shy of Lanto Griffin in Houston, so he’s had some close shaves. Statistically Ortiz looks a solid option this week, ranking 21st in SG: Around-the-Green, 26th Tee-to-Green, 25th in Bogey Avoidance and 34th in Par 4 efficiency 450-500 yards. His start to the calendar year has been somewhat disappointing, considering his strong end to 2019, but he finished just two shots outside the top-10 in Phoenix on his last start and is now returning to a golf course he clearly relishes. Based on previous course form, he will no doubt be a popular pick, but one you should make with some confidence.
Luke List ($6,600)
One player who was one of the last to be scratched off my outright shortlist was bomber, Luke List. The big-hitter (3rd in Driving Distance last year) is still looking for his first PGA Tour victory, and whilst he still might not get it this week, I think he can post another top-10 finish – adding to a string of many in his career. Given his length off the tee, it makes sense that he plays this course well, making three cuts in four appearances here, and finishing inside the top-26 on all three of those occasions. After a slow start to the season, where he has missed five of his nine cuts, List looks to have steadied the ship in his past couple of starts and on his last start in Phoenix he finished just two strokes outside the top-10. He was on course to finish up the leaderboard but a final-round 72 (his worst round of the week) cost him his first top-10 of the season, so he’ll instead try and claim it here. Given his previous course form and general suitability to this test, I think he is a good low-cost option here at Riviera.
Honourable mentions: JT Poston ($6,900), Lanto Griffin ($6,800), Martin Laird ($6,500)