Genesis Open – Pacific Palisades, CA
Riviera Country Club (7,322 yards, par 71)
$1,296,000 and 500 FedEx Cup points to the winner
As they say, all good things must come to an end, but not before the West Coast Swing concludes at Riviera Country Club. Perennially one of the toughest courses the pros see all year, Riviera gains much respect and favor from its entrants as a timeless design. Right off the Pacific coast, the venue tends to experience some deceptive oceanside winds, plus the additional challenge of bumpy poa annua greens. The good news is, much like the last two seasons, conditions should be a soft from recent rain but otherwise sunny with low winds this week. While there are many signature holes that catch the eye, none gets more polarizing reviews than the tricky but drivable par-4 10th hole. Surrounded by bunkers with an extremely narrow sloping green, golfers must weigh their options of laying up for a precise wedge or going for it with numerous awkward lies that await errant (and even well-struck) drives. Expect the eventual winner to finish around 15-under par for the week in the last California event of the season.
Recent Past Champions
2017 – Dustin Johnson
2016 – Bubba Watson
2015 - James Hahn
2014 - Bubba Watson
2013 - John Merrick
2012 - Bill Haas
2011 - Aaron Baddeley
2010 - Steve Stricker
2009 - Phil Mickelson
2008 - Phil Mickelson
Key Stats to Winning this Week
• Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green
• Greens in Regulation
No statistic is more telling this week than Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, which ideally means long, straight driving and plenty of greens in regulation. Though length is important on this longer track, finding the fairway at Riviera is probably even more important to avoid the gnarly kikuyu grass that awaits off the fairway. Once on the green, the track features bumpy poa annua that can make putting under 10 feet a menacing chore. The combination of difficulty in hitting greens and making short putts is what makes scrambling such an important aspect at Riviera. Players who can consistently hit it in position to capitalize on the easier holes and avoid big numbers on tougher holes with good scrambling will put themselves in the hunt for victory.
FanDuel Value Picks
Dustin Johnson, $12900 – There simply isn’t a better option than DJ this week, it’s not even close. Not only is he defending champion, his impeccable record includes six top-4 finishes in 10 career starts. Now add in the fact that he’s finished second-first-second his last three PGA Tour starts, he’s a no brainer worth every penny of admission.
Jordan Spieth, $12000 – Though Spieth has been a bit off lately, his ability to hit greens and putt well make him a pick for almost every tournament. Spieth ranked second in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green last season and he’s overdue to provide a signature performance that has been missing in recent months.
Rory McIlroy, $11700 – Rory has only played once at Riviera (T20 back in 2016), but his incredibly ability to drive the ball and hit solid irons should net him plenty of birdie potential on Riviera. The only risk here is making mistakes that lead to bogeys, which can easily happen on this track.
Phil Mickelson, $11300 – Mickelson stated last week he’s hitting it better than he has in a long time, and the stats prove it. Mickelson’s driving accuracy and greens in regulation to around 60% and 70% respectively the last two weeks in back-to-back top-5 finishes, so it would be no surprise for Phil to put his fifth top-2 finish at Riviera this week.
Longer Shots Worth a Risk
Tommy Fleetwood, $10800 – A recent winner in an Abu Dhabi stacked field, the young up-and-comer will take his game to Riviera for the first time. Though the trickiness of the venue may catch him by surprise, the youthful talent can overcome it with his recent form and overall talent. Though he’s a bit of a risk, you can rest assured he’s capable of competing in strong fields with two top-5s in WGC’s last year plus a fourth at the U.S. Open.
Chez Reavie, $9900 – There may not be a hotter player on the PGA Tour than Reavie, who collected back-to-back runner-ups the past two weeks. Riviera favors ball strikers much like the Phoenix Open and the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, making Reavie a steal this week under $10,000.
Tiger Woods, $9300 – I haven’t recommended Tiger as a value since 2013, but in his first return to Riviera since 2006, Woods is a bit underrated. Though Riviera is probably the one course Tiger really hasn’t “tamed” in his career, The efforts we saw at Torrey Pines lead me to believe his ball striking will improve and has least net him a made cut with upside for more this week.
Harris English, $8200 – English missed the cut at the Phoenix Open a couple weeks ago but give the youngster some love this week as he’s made 4-of-5 career cuts at Riviera, including a top-10 in 2014. If he can somehow find more fairways than normal, there’s upside for a top-10.
Strategy Tips for this week (based on 60k standard salary cap)
It’s almost impossible to ignore DJ this week (and for good reason), but in tournament formats it might be good to fade him for the sake of differentiation and to build a deeper lineup. Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, and Phil stand out as viable options this week, but beyond this look for solid ball strikers down the salary list and hope their short games hold up for at least three rounds this week.