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Genesis Open preview

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This week we return to Riviera Country Club for the newly-named, Genesis Open. This event has been known as the Northern Trust Open for the last nine seasons and before that, the Nissan Open from 1995-2007.

Whatever the title, this is a classy event on a wonderful course, which is why we see the top names return each year. The field is indeed stacked once again, with eight of the World’s top-10 and 16 of the top-25 teeing it up this week.

Jordan Spieth who won at Pebble Beach this past weekend is joined by; World No.1 Jason Day, Dustin Johnson (#3), Hideki Matsuyama (#5), Adam Scott (#7), Justin Thomas (#8), Sergio Garcia (#9) and Patrick Reed (#10).

Three of these players (Spieth, Matsuyama and Garcia) are coming off wins in their last starts.

Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic two weeks ago, going wire-to-wire to beat Henrik Stenson by three strokes, whilst Matsuyama overcame the challenge of Webb Simpson in a play-off, to win the Phoenix Open.

Thomas has won three times on the PGA Tour this season, winning the CIMB Classic in October, as well as doing the double in Hawaii (Tournament of Champions and Sony Open) in the first two events of 2017. It has been well documented that both times Matsuyama has finished runner-up this season, it has been to the red-hot Thomas.

With Spieth winning at Pebble Beach, the last seven winners on Tour have now all been in their 20’s. This is the longest streak since 1970, which comes as no surprise, given the talent level amongst the current crop of younger players.

Whilst it is hard to dismiss the veterans of the PGA Tour, the young stars do seem to be taking over. The average age of the World’s top-10 is currently 29.7, which includes 40-year old Henrik Stenson, 37-year old Sergio Garcia and 36-year old Adam Scott. Johnson (32) is the only other player in the top-10 in his 30’s. That means six of the World’s top-10 are in their 20’s, Day the oldest of those at 29, and Spieth and Thomas the youngest at 23.

The Course

Riviera Country Club, 7,322 yards, Par 71.

Based in Pacific Palisades, California, Riviera, this course is widely known for it’s par-3 6th which features a bunker in the middle of the green.

Riviera is a true test of a golfer’s game and has crowned some top champions.

Riviera has played host to three different major championships, the U.S Open once in 1948, the PGA Championship twice in 1983 and 1995 and then most recently in 1998 when it hosted the 1998 U.S Senior Open.

What it takes to win the Genesis Open

The saving grace for the older players on Tour is the last 10 winners of this event here have been 27 or older the year they won at Riviera. Charles Howell III (27), Aaron Baddeley (29) and Bill Haas (29) are the three players that have won here in the last decade, before their 30th Birthday.

Course knowledge is also key. In the last decade, James Hahn who won in 2015 made just two starts prior to his win. This is the least amount of previous starts accumulated by a winner here in that span.

Bubba Watson had seven starts before his first win here in 2014 and his win in 2016 was his tenth start in total. John Merrick (2013) had five starts under his belt whilst Bill Haas (2012) and Aaron Baddeley (2011) had 6+ starts each before hoisting the trophy here. Phil Mickelson (2008 & 2009) and Steve Stricker (2010) were already familiar with the course before their respective wins, with multiple starts and Charles Howell III also had also had four goes around Riviera before his win in 2007.

With the way the game is going at the moment, it would be no surprise to see a young up-and-comer winning here, but for a debutant it seems highly unlikely.

Another thing worth bearing in mind is that we are unlikely to see a runaway winner this week. Since the turn of the century the largest margin of victory here is 2 strokes. Also in that time the event has gone to a play-off on seven occasions, so we should expect a tight affair.

This course tests every facet of a players game and doesn’t particularly suit longer hitters over shorter hitters per se, although if you miss the fairway, being further down the hole would be advantageous.

Whilst the fairways will be pristine, the rough is thick Kikuya grass, which grabs the ball and will affect any control plays have coming out of the long stuff. Hitting wedges or shorter irons into the greens from the rough is going to help a lot compared to those hitting mid-to-long irons in.

Scoring well on the par-4’s is key here, with 5 of the last 6 six winners ranking inside the top-four for Par-4 scoring on the week. John Merrick was the exception in 2013 when he ranked 11th.

With this in mind par-4 scoring is a main focal point for me.

The greens are notoriously hard to hit at Riviera, so good Scrambling will be key, but really and truly this is an all-round tough test.

This means you do not want to be coming into this week without your best stuff. Even surprise winners James Hahn and John Merrick had a top-20 in one of their last four starts leading into the event, so their game had to be in good shape before pegging it up here.

With all this mind, I do not want to pick a player who will have to “find” their game this week, nor one that that doesn’t have any knowledge of the course. Add to that the stats I have highlighted and it should whittle down the list a significant amount.

Here are my picks for the 2017 Genesis Open.

Hideki Matsuyama 10/1 (General) 3pts win

It feels so ridiculous tipping Matsuyama, it feels even more ridiculous that he’s 10/1. In Matsuyama’s last 10 Worldwide starts he has five wins, eight top-5’s of which 2 were runner-up finishes.

He has elevated his game to a completely different level and until he shows signs of slowing up, it is hard to bet against him, no matter where the venue.

The venue isn’t a problem this week though. In three starts at Riviera his form reads 23-4-11, so it is hard to not see him better each of those results this week and win again.

Simply put, 10/1 is too big and if Spieth hadn’t of won last week, Matsuyama would have been favourite. When finishing 11th last year he had flu early on in the week, failing to practice at all on the Tuesday and was also limited to 9 holes on the Wednesday. This time around, he looks to be fully fit and comes into the week off the back of his latest win.

Don’t overthink it, just back him knowing he’s good value until he eventually has a bad week.

Brian Harman 150/1 (General) 0.5pt e/w:

Brian Harman is enjoying a good season so far on the PGA Tour and thru nine events has only missed two cuts. One of those missed cuts came in the season-opener, the Safeway Open in October and the other at the RSM Classic in November.

It is really since the turn of the new year that Harman has looked in great shape. In 2017, Harman has two top-24 finishes, taking his top-25 tally to three for the season (finished T15 at the Shriners in Vegas). He also has a pair of top-10’s (T3 at the CareerBuilder and T9 at the Farmers Insurance Open) so he looks set to contend for his second PGA Tour win.

Harman finished T24 last time out at the Phoenix Open and as such, should come into this week full of confidence. He ranks T50 in Par-4 Scoring and T45 in Par-4 performance, averaging under par (3.96) on the Par 4’s.

Whilst he doesn’t stand out off the tee, his short game looks in fine shape. He ranks 6th in Strokes Gained – Putting and 7th in Total Putting and has also made 100% of his putts (133 attempts) inside three feet. Add to this that he ranks 40th in Scrambling, and it looks as though faith can be placed in Harman should he missed the green. Short putts do get missed here, so it is worth bearing in mind that inside three feet statistic. He also ranks 36th for putts inside 10′, making 204 of 227 putts from that range.

We know his current form is good, but he also has previous success at the course. In four starts here, he has missed the cut just once. His best performance here by far was his T3 finish in 2014 and whilst he hasn’t followed that up since (MC-72), it is still promising. He only finished behind winner, Bubba Watson and runner-up Dustin Johnson so he was bettered by two of the very best on the PGA Tour.

In the four events leading into this event in 2014, Harman had missed his last two cuts and finished 82nd and 32nd on the two starts before that. Given the form he is in now, there is absolutely no reason why Harman can’t get his 2nd PGA Tour victory.

Harman would join Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson and Mike Weir as left-handed players to have won here since the turn of the century. Weir went back-to-back here in 2003 and 2004, as did Mickelson in 2008 and 2009 and Watson has won two of the last three renewals. It is clearly a course that is kind to the left-handed player and that again can only be seen as a positive.

Given his current form and his good showing here in 2014, I thought he was overpriced at 150/1.

Anirban Lahiri 150/1 (BetVictor & Boylesports) 0.5pt e/w:

Anirban Lahiri is an exceptional talent and he looks ready to make the next step in his career.

Whilst Lahiri has seven professional wins, they have either come on the Asia Tour or events co-sanctioned by both the European and Asian Tour. Winning on the PGA Tour is a much bigger feat, especially in a field of this strength.

With that said, I still like his chances a lot this week at Riviera. He has everything I wanted in a pick this week and looks good value at 150/1.

Firstly, he has played here before. He made his debut at Riviera last year, finishing a respectable T39 so that is one positive. The next positive is his Par-4 scoring and performance. Lahiri currently ranks T6 for Par-4 scoring, averaging a score of 3.88 during his 18 rounds this season and also sits T16 in Par-4 performance.

Another thing going for Lahiri is his current form. In five events on the PGA Tour this season, he has missed just one cut (Sony Open) and has otherwise finished no worse than T28. His best finish came at the CIMB Classic where he finished T3. With a top-10 and two further top-25’s to his name I am confident he is in good enough form to contend here.

Add to his PGA Tour form, the form he has been showing on the European Tour since the turn of the year and it is clear his game is in good shape. In the two European Tour events he has played in 2017 (both in February) he has finished T19 at the Dubai Desert Classic and T7 last week in the Maybank Malaysian Open.

Lahiri ranks above average in Driving Accuracy (T68) and whilst he is not the longest is also no slouch off the tee.

As suggested, it would be a huge step up for Lahiri should he win this week but I think he is ready. He already has a top-5 to his name in a major (2015 PGA Championship) so I don’t see why he can’t mix it with the best in a similar field.

Honourable mention

JB Holmes gets an honourable mention this week. When I started this preview he was 60/1 and by the end of it he was 50/1, otherwise he would be in the staking plan.

Holmes has been in steady form (33-24-23) in his last three events and tees it up at a venue he has six top-12’s (including four top-10’s) at.

His best finish came in 2010 when finishing 3rd.

Total points staked this week: 4

Profit/Loss for 2017: -5