Best bets for The Genesis Invitational

By Wes Reynolds  (Point Spread Weekly) 

USATSI_15534453
Daniel Berger was on the wrong side of the Thursday-Friday weather draw but overcame that to win last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am by two shots at 14-1. Berger’s four eagles, two in the final round, and 88% scrambling mark for the week propelled him to victory and a career-high 13th place in the Official World Golf Ranking. He is in the field for this week’s Genesis Invitational at a price of 35-1. 
 
The Genesis field is arguably the strongest so far in 2021, with 12 of the top 15 in the OWGR in Los Angeles. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson (11-2) won at Riviera in 2017 and is a two-time runner-up to go along with nine top-10s and six top-5s over his last 12 appearances. World No. 2 Jon Rahm (12-1) had a top-10 here two years ago and comes in off a week of rest, like most of the top players. Rory McIlroy has finished in the top 5 here in back-to-back years and is priced at 14-1 along with 2019 Genesis runner-up Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele, who enters with back-to-back seconds in San Diego and Phoenix. Bryson DeChambeau (16-1) garnered a top-5 finish here last year, and Patrick Cantlay (18-1), who was fourth here in 2018, has finished third (Pebble Beach) and second (American Express) in his last two events. Brooks Koepka (25-1) won in Phoenix two weeks ago but has not factored here in two appearances. Tony Finau (28-1) was the 2018 runner-up and comes in with a form of 2-2-4 in his last three events. Adam Scott (35-1), who won here in 2005, is the defending Genesis Invitational champion.  
 
 
The Event 
  
Last year the Genesis Invitational was promoted to invitational status, same as Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Charles Schwab Challenge and the RBC Heritage. The field has been decreased to 120 players, and prize money has been increased to $9.3 million. A victory carries a three-year PGA Tour exemption versus the standard two years. This tournament, established in 1926 as the Los Angeles Open, was played at the Los Angeles Country Club and has been contested at a variety of courses in the metropolitan area. Riviera Country Club, in Pacific Palisades, has hosted the event 56 of 92 times and has been its permanent home essentially since 1984, though Valencia CC hosted in 1998. The event has been the site of several milestones. In 1938, the legendary Babe Zaharias became the first woman to play in a men’s pro golf event. In 1992, the Nissan L.A. Open was the site of Tiger Woods’ first PGA Tour event, which he played as a 16-year-old high school sophomore. Though not playing this year due to injury, Woods will attend as the tournament host because his Tiger Woods Foundation is the event organizer. This tournament has had many famous winners, including Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Hale Irwin, Byron Nelson, Ben Crenshaw, Nick Faldo, Phil Mickelson, Fred Couples and Ernie Els.
 
Here is how the Genesis Invitational’s field is composed: 
— Genesis winners from the last five years.
— Players Championship and major winners in the last five years.
— Tour Championship winners in 2017 and 2018; FedEx Cup champion from 2019.
— World Golf Championships winners in the last three years.
— Arnold Palmer Invitational and Memorial Tournament winners in the last three years.
— Tournament winners since the last Genesis.
— Previous year’s U.S. Amateur winner, who may have turned professional, pending policy board approval.
— Current PGA Tour members who played on the last U.S. Ryder Cup, European Ryder Cup, U.S. Presidents Cup or International Presidents Cup teams.
— Top 125 from the previous year’s FedEx Cup points list.
— Top 10 from the current FedEx Cup points list as of the previous Friday.
— Eight sponsor’s exemptions: two from the Web.com Tour finals, two not otherwise exempt and four unrestricted.
— Remaining positions filled from the current year’s FedEx Cup points list as of the previous Friday.
 
The Course 
 
Riviera Country Club is in Santa Monica Canyon, just below the Santa Monica Mountains and one block south of Sunset Boulevard. The course was designed by George C. Thomas and William Bell in 1926, with a Tom Fazio redesign in 2008. It is a classic parklands layout of 7,322 yards and plays as a par-71. Riviera has hosted three major championships: the 1948 U.S. Open and the ’83 and ’95 PGA Championships. It also hosted the 1998 U.S. Senior Open and the 2017 U.S. Amateur and will serve as the golf venue for the 2028 Olympics. The course has been nicknamed “Hogan’s Alley” for Ben Hogan, who won the L.A. Open in 1942, ’47 and ’48 and won the U.S. Open here. The kikuyugrass fairways — only Riviera and Torrey Pines feature both kikuyu fairways and rough — are very tight, and the players will be hitting into small, 5,000-square-foot and undulating Poa Annua greens. With numerous doglegs, some players will be hitting blind approach shots, and the course is bunkered well, so shot-shaping and creativity will be rewarded. Three-time tournament winner Bubba Watson has often said he intentionally misses certain fairways to gain better sight lines into the greens. Riviera has ranked as one of the 10 most difficult courses on the PGA Tour in four of the last six years.  
 
Recent History and Winners 
 
2020: Adam Scott (-11/273); 33-1 
2019: J.B. Holmes (-14/270); 150-1 
2018: Bubba Watson (-12/272); 50-1 
2017: Dustin Johnson (-17/267); 9-1 
2016: Bubba Watson (-15/269); 25-1 
2015: James Hahn (-6/278); 200-1* 
2014: Bubba Watson (-15/269); 33-1 
2013: John Merrick (-11/273); 250-1** 
2012: Bill Haas (-7/277); 50-1*** 
2011: Aaron Baddeley (-12/272); 100-1 
2010: Steve Stricker (-16/268); 16-1 
* - playoff win over Paul Casey and Dustin Johnson
** - playoff win over Charlie Beljan
*** - playoff win over Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson
 
Trends and Angles 
 
Finding greens in regulation is difficult here — 56% on average as compared with a 66% tour mark — but those who do are usually rewarded. The last five winners have finished seventh or better in that category here.  
 
Year Winner GIR Ranking 
2020 Adam Scott First (72.2%) 
2019 J.B. Holmes Second (72.2%) 
2018 Bubba Watson Seventh (63.9%) 
2017 Dustin Johnson First (77.8%) 
2016 Bubba Watson Seventh (70.8%) 
 
Here are the greens-in-regulation season leaders in this week’s field: 
1. Jim Furyk (1) 77.78% 
2. Matthew NeSmith (2) 77.16% 
3. Russell Knox (3) 76.17% 
4. Dustin Johnson (4) 76.04% 
5. Emiliano Grillo (5) 74.75% 
6. Stewart Cink (6) 74.67% 
7. Russell Henley (7) 74.65% 
8. Viktor Hovland (8) 74.60% 
9. Martin Laird (9) 74.44% 
10. Collin Morikawa (10) 74.31%
 
 
This course requires a strong tee-to-green game. Here are the results for the last five Riviera winners in strokes gained tee to green.
  
Year Winner SG: Tee-To-Green Field Ranking 
2020 Adam Scott Third 
2019 J.B. Holmes Eleventh 
2018 Bubba Watson Second  
2017 Dustin Johnson Second  
2016 Bubba Watson Fifth 
  
The leaders in strokes gained tee to green in this week’s field: 
1. Bryson DeChambeau (1) 2.680 
2. Dustin Johnson (2) 2.222 
3. Bubba Watson (3) 1.991 
4. Jon Rahm (4) 1.673 
5. Xander Schauffele (5) 1.487 
6. Will Zalatoris (6) 1.474 
7. Keegan Bradley (7) 1.464 
8. Patrick Cantlay (8) 1.429 
9. Joaquin Niemann (9) 1.417 
10. Tony Finau (10) 1.415 
 
Selections 
Jon Rahm 12-1 
 
The world No. 2 has done nothing wrong lately except not get into the winner's circle. His T-13 in Phoenix broke a four-event streak of finishing seventh or better. Perhaps he has needed a few events to get used to his offseason equipment changes after signing a major endorsement deal with Callaway over the winter. 
 
Over the last 50 rounds, no one has been better than Rahm in terms of strokes gained tee to green. He also ranks second in this field for strokes gained: ball striking (off the tee +  approach). The fairways are difficult to hit here, with a driving accuracy average of 53% at Riviera vs. 61% as the tour average, so power can prove an advantage.  
 
Rahm finished T-7 three weeks ago at Torrey Pines on Poa Annua greens. Riviera is arguably the toughest course on tour to make putts under 5 feet, and Rahm is the second best on tour from that distance.  
 
Patrick Cantlay 18-1 
 
Cantlay was a bit slow to get going last summer but gradually improved toward the end of 2020, including a victory in the Zozo Championship at Sherwood, where he held off Thomas and Rahm. He has also finished second (American Express) and T-3 (Pebble Beach) in his last two events. 
 
He has logged a lot of rounds at Riviera dating to his amateur and collegiate career at  UCLA.  
 
Since Riviera is arguably the most difficult course to hit fairways and greens, the short game has to be on point. Cantlay’s has been just that lately, as he is tops in this week’s field for strokes gained around the green. Despite finishing T-3 at Pebble, Cantlay led last week’s field in strokes gained tee to green and was second and third for strokes gained: approach and strokes gained off the tee, respectively.
 
Tony Finau 28-1 
 
Finau comes in with recent form of 2-2-4. He continues his streak without a win, but he has played well here, with a runner-up in 2018.  
 
He ranks 10th in strokes gained tee to green and seventh in total strokes gained.  
 
Marc Leishman 75-1 
 
Leishman has finished top-5 in two of his last five visits to Riviera.  
 
He was fourth at the Sony and 18th two weeks ago defending his title at Torrey Pines, which has been an indicator of success at Riviera over the years. 
 
Aussies are used to playing on courses with kikuyugrass, and they have had success here in recent years with Scott and Baddeley earning titles at Riviera.  
 
Cameron Smith 100-1 
 
Riviera has had plenty of correlations with Augusta National in terms of winners — Scott, Watson, Johnson, Mickelson and Mike Weir. While not a winner, Smith did tie for second last fall at the Masters. He also was sixth here in 2018.  
 
Smith is another Aussie who does not come in with great recent form, but this should be a good course for him.  
 
Jason Kokrak 110-1 
 
Kokrak was the runner-up here in 2016 and has added two top-25s at Riviera.  
 
Always good at gaining strokes off the tee, Kokrak is T-16 for strokes gained putting and is sixth in the category over the last 50 tour rounds.  
 
J.T. Poston 150-1 
 
Poston enters after solid finishes of T-18 at Torrey Pines and T-11 at Phoenix.  
 
He ranks ninth in strokes gained putting and led the field three weeks ago for the category in San Diego.
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