Winner's Share: $1.296M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: Pacific Palisades, Calif.
Course: Riviera Country Club
2017 champion: Dustin Johnson
The strongest field to date this season will bring the West Coast Swing to a close at storied Riviera Country Club this week. Four of the top-10 and 11 of the top-20 in the world will be on hand, though the headliner is ranked No. 550. Tiger Woods makes his second start since returning to the Tour, and the first went quite well, as he notched a top-25 last month at the Farmers. But Riviera is a completely different story. While Woods is an eight-time champion at Torrey Pines, no track has given him more trouble than Riviera. He's never won there -- including when he was the best in the world -- and he hasn't even been in the event in more than a decade. But now, Woods is the tournament host, his TGR Live company manages the tournament and proceeds go to his charitable arm, the Tiger Woods Foundation. All honorable and good, but since this is a fantasy-golf article, we'll be blunt: W won't be picking Woods this week, certainly not at $8,800, the No. 10 price on the DraftKings board.
Defending champion and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson heads the top-10 contingent, along with Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy, who is returning after kicking away the 54-hole lead back in 2016. Johnson leap-frogged Jason Day for the top spot in the OWGR last year with his runaway victory. It was his sixth top-4 in LA this decade, a remarkable run that makes him the overwhelming betting choice. This week also features a big wave of European Tour golfers, what with the first WGC of the year just two weeks away, followed soon after by a second WGC and then the Masters. Besides McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood, Alex Noren, 2017 co-runner-up Thomas Pieters, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Branden Grace and Charl Schwartzel are in the loaded 144-man field. With so many big names -- and we haven't even gotten into many of the Americans -- most of them will be priced very moderately.
Riviera can be a brutally tough track -- twice in the past six years the winning score has been single digits -- but it's one of the few courses with no water. Instead, tight fairways, penal rough, some very long holes and small poa annua greens force the golfers to use all the clubs in their bag. Getting on the green in regulation is paramount, and we'll delve deeper into that in the Champion's Profile below. Every year at this time we hear about kikuyu grass, a gnarly, club-twisting beast seen at only one other U.S. course the pros play (Torrey Pines). Kikuyu is tough to navigate without familiarity, but we'll note that it's prominent in Australia and South Africa.
Riviera features six par-4s in excess of 450 yards and two of the three par-5s exceed 575. But two of the shorter holes are what Riviera is know for. There's the par-3 sixth with the bunker in the middle of the green and the risk/reward par-4, 315-yard 10th. The round comes to a close at the brutish, uphill par-4, 475-yard 18th with the pint-size green.
weather-wise, what we all think of as Southern California weather is no sure thing in February, and the tournament has been plagued by some rainy weeks through the years, including last year. No rain is forecast this week, but temperatures will be unseasonally cool while struggling to hit 70.
Key Stats to Winning at Riviera
Note - The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key stats" follow in importance.
• Driving distance/strokes gained off the tee
• Greens in regulation/strokes gained approach
• Scrambling/strokes gained around the green
• Putting inside 10 feet
2007 - 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
Riviera is not an especially long course at 71/7322, but as mentioned, there are a lot of long holes. You don't have to be big hitter to win, though it surely helps. No matter how far a golfer hits it off the tee, he better be able to scramble. Last year, Riviera was the fifth hardest on Tour for greens in regulation. That's because the greens are on the small side (though not nearly as small as we saw last week at Pebble Beach). We specify putting inside 10 feet because Riviera was the hardest course for that in 2015 and '16, and was seventh toughest last year in the extreme rainy conditions. The past 11 champions have all been at least 27 years old and had played the tournament at least twice previously, indicating the importance of course knowledge. (That streak actually appears to go back way beyond 11 years, but we got tired of checking.)
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS (Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)
Tier 1 Values
Dustin Johnson - $11,900 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 5-1)
Last year in this space we wrote: "Johnson has done everything but win this tournament." Well, now he's done that, too. Johnson cost $11,400 last year and entered with 8-1 odds. This year's price/odds changes reflect how good he's been at Riviera through the years -- six top-4 cashes the past eight years, with a win and two runners-up.
Paul Casey - $10,200 (25-1)
Casey has tied for 39th the past two years at Riviera, hardly what we're looking for from a $10,000-plus golfer. But he was runner-up the year before, with two more top-25s in occasional visits through the years. We didn't expect too much from Casey last week in his first U.S. start of the year and he tied for eighth. Live and learn.
Tommy Fleetwood - $9,500 (25-1)
Fleetwood hasn't played Riviera before -- we're gonna say that a lot as the Englishman plays on the PGA Tour more this season -- but he's one of the world's elite ball-strikers, simply too good to bypass. Fleetwood has top-6s in his past four worldwide starts, including a win in Abu Dhabi last month.
Tier 2 Values
Branden Grace - $9,000 (40-1)
Grace tied for 22nd last year in his first visit to Riviera. Maybe we can chalk it up to his familiarity with kikuyu. The South African won a tournament in his homeland late last year and then was runner-up in another early in 2018. Neither was a world-class field. Grace tied for 20th last week in his 2018 stateside debut at Pebble.
Alex Noren - $8,700 (40-1)
This will be Noren's third PGA Tour event already this season as he becomes more prominent stateside. The 16th-ranked Swede lost in a playoff to Jason Day at Torrey Pines and then tied for 21st at Phoenix. The knock on Noren was that he was great in Europe but cowered elsewhere. Whether that was true before, it doesn't appear to be true now.
Chez Reavie - $8,000 (30-1)
When a 36-year-old golfer has strung together two of the four best events in his professional career the past two weeks, it's hard to look away, even with a largely horrible Riviera track record. Reavie was runner-up at Pebble last week and before that at Phoenix. He's missed the cut most of the time he's played this tournament, but his one bright spot was an encouraging T7 two years ago.
Tier 3 Values
Bubba Watson - $7,800 (50-1)
Yes, Watson has tumbled out of the top-100 in the world, and his best finish so far in 2017-18 has been a T35 -- at least that was last week at Pebble. But at an affordable sub-$8,000 price tag, the two-time Riviera winner is worth taking a flyer on. For all his troubles, Watson is 30th in strokes gained: off the tee, a decent 55th in GIR and 64th in strokes gained: putting.
Thomas Pieters - $7,700 (40-1)
We pegged the Belgian last year when he was $6,700. Finishing second to Johnson moved Pieters up a grand, but he's still at a favorable price. Pieters has fallen from a world ranking in the low-20s last summer to 38th today, but he did tie for fifth a few weeks back at the tournament Fleetwood won in Abu Dhabi. And in what is probably common knowledge by now, Pieters (University of Illinois) won the 2012 NCAA individual championship at Riviera. Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Patrick Cantlay were in that field.
Kevin Chappell - $7,700 (40-1)
Beginning in 2012, Chappell has gone T24-MC-T23-MC-T26-MC at Riviera. If you're into that sort of thing, that would lend itself to another mid-20s finish this time around. Except that Chappell is really on his game coming in, with top-10s in two of his past three starts, including T8 a week ago at Pebble. Chappell is ranked fourth in strokes gained: off the tee, eighth in SG tee to green, 17th in SG approach and 26th in scrambling. Putting, you ask? Don't ask.
Keegan Bradley - $7,600 (60-1)
Bradley finished solo fifth last month at Torrey Pines, a track that correlates favorably to Riviera. He's notched a couple of top-5s at Riviera, plus two more top-20s. He was T34 last year. The short game is still Bradley's kryptonite, but he's ranked 14th on Tour in strokes gained: tee to green and 16th in GIR.
Ollie Schniederjans - $7,600 (40-1)
Schniederjans has top-25s in five of his seven starts in 2017-18, including T3 two weeks ago at Phoenix. He tied for eighth last year having never played Riviera before. Schniederjans is ranked 15th in both strokes gained: tee to green and SG approach, and he's 39th in SG around the green.
Adam Scott - $7,400 (60-1)
The argument for Scott is similar to the one for Watson. Scott tumbled out of the top-50 in the OWGR this week for the first time since 2009. He hasn't had a worldwide top-10 since last summer in Memphis. But he was T11 here last year and runner-up twice with other top-20s through the years. Scott missed the cut last week at Pebble, but it was his first tournament in some 2 1/2 months. At $7,400, he's worth a nibble.
Haotong Li - $7,200 (80-1)
Li is only 22 and the first Chinese man to crack the top-50 in the world. He's currently 33rd after staring down Rory McIlroy to win in Dubai last month. Li hasn't played many PGA Tour events outside of the majors and co-sponsored European Tour events. One of those was a solo third in last year's Open Championship.
James Hahn - $7,100 (80-1)
Hahn was the surprise 2015 winner, but he also has two other top-30s, including last year. Equally important, he's off to a hot start in 2017-18, making all eight cuts with a pair of top-25s. He just missed a third with last week's T26 at Pebble. Han is ranked 27th on Tour in strokes gained: approach.
Brandon Harkins - $6,800 (100-1)
Why turn away from Harkins? He's top-25 almost every week -- 7-of-10 this season, including T15 last week at Pebble -- yet his price doesn't go up. None of his stats really stand out, except maybe 37th in strokes gained: putting. It's hard to argue against repeated high finishes.
Bud Cauley - $6,700 (100-1)
Cauley has been far from great so far in 2017-18, but this sub-$7000 price tag struck us as low. He's made 6-of-7 cuts so far, with three top-25s. Cauley's last two outings have been poor, with a missed cut at Phoenix and a T58 at Torrey Pines. But at Torrey, he tumbled with a final-round 77. Cauley ranks 25th on Tour in strokes gained: tee to green and is 23rd in SG around.