Nick Taylor, at 125/1, was a gate-to-wire winner last weekend at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am with a four-shot victory over Kevin Streelman in which he also held off Phil Mickelson and Jason Day. Taylor earned a two-year PGA Tour exemption and entry into the Masters and the PGA Championship. This week the PGA Tour finishes in California with a trip to Los Angeles for the Genesis Invitational, which hosts the strongest field of the season thus far. Nine of the top 10 players in the OWGR visit Riviera Country Club this week. Rory McIlroy moved to world No. 1 last week and is the tournament favorite at 17/2 after tying for fourth here last year. The man from whom McIlroy took the top ranking, Brooks Koepka, has probably his largest price in the last couple of years at 28/1. This is No. 2 Koepka’s first stateside appearance, as he played two events in the Middle East after returning from a knee injury. World Nos. 3 and 4 Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas are the co-second choices at 11/1. Rahm tied for ninth here last year, while Thomas led most of the final round but ended up second to fellow Kentuckian J.B. Holmes (80/1 this week). Dustin Johnson (14/1) faded Sunday with a 6-over 78 to finish T32 at Pebble, but the world No. 5 is a former champion here and has six top-4 finishes in the last 10 years at Riviera. Then there’s Tiger Woods, tied with Sam Snead atop the all-time PGA Tour wins list with 82. He will be chasing 83 while serving as host as the Tiger Woods Foundation takes over as the tournament’s organizer. Woods (world No. 8) and world No. 6 Patrick Cantlay, a Southern California native and resident, are priced at 20/1. Xander Schauffele, another Southern Californian and current world No. 9, is slotted at 24/1. No. 10 Justin Rose rounds out the group of top-10 players in this week’s field at 45/1.
This marks the first year that the Genesis Invitational has been promoted to invitational status, same as Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Charles Schwab Challenge and the RBC Heritage. The field is decreased to 120 players, and the prize money is increased to $9.3 million. A victory carries a three-year PGA Tour exemption versus the standard two years. This tournament was established in 1926 as the Los Angeles Open and was first played at the Los Angeles Country Club. 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 for several golf milestones. In 1938, Babe Zaharias became the first woman to play in a professional men’s event. In 1992, the Nissan L.A. Open was the site of Woods’ first PGA Tour event, which he played as a 16-year-old high school sophomore. This event has had many legendary winners, including Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Hale Irwin, Byron Nelson, Ben Crenshaw, Nick Faldo, Phil Mickelson, Fred Couples, Ernie Els and numerous other major champions. What is notable about the list of winners here is that neither Nicklaus nor Woods appears on it.
Riviera Country Club is in Santa Monica Canyon, just below the Santa Monica Mountains and one block south of the famous 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: 1948 U.S. Open and the 1983 and ‘95 PGA Championships. It also hosted the 1998 U.S. Senior Open along with the 2017 U.S. Amateur and will serve as the golf venue for the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles. The course has been nicknamed “Hogan’s Alley” for the legendary Ben Hogan, who won the L.A. Open three times (1942, ’47, ‘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. Numerous doglegs mean some players will be hitting blind approach shots, and the course is well bunkered, so shot shaping and creativity are 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 three of the last five years. Finding greens in regulation is difficult, but those who do are usually rewarded. Five of the last six winners have finished seventh or better in that category. This course requires a strong tee-to-green game.
Here are the results of the last four event winners in Strokes Gained: Tee To Green:
Year Winner SG: Tee To Green Field Ranking
2019 J.B. Holmes 11th
2018 Bubba Watson 2nd
2017 Dustin Johnson 2nd
2016 Bubba Watson 5th
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
Patrick Cantlay 20/1
Cantlay has finished 15th and fourth here the last two times. He played his collegiate golf at nearby UCLA, so he is very experienced at Riviera. Cantlay ranks sixth on tour in Greens In Regulation (77.1%) and eighth in SG: Tee-To-Green (+ 1.63 strokes per round). He shot + 1 (73) in the final round last week at Pebble Beach to drop from the top 10 and give him a T11 finish.
Tony Finau 30/1
He’s had a week off after losing a two-shot lead with two holes to play at the Waste Management Phoenix Open before falling in a playoff to Webb Simpson. Finau was the runner-up here in 2018 and has three top-six finishes in his last four starts. Only tournament favorite McIlroy ranks better than Finau in SG: Tee-To-Green (second at + 2.183 strokes per round). He is better priced here than he was in a lesser field two weeks ago in Scottsdale, where he was 33/1. That could indicate a bit of a tell sign in the marketplace.
Marc Leishman 50/1
Leishman triumphed over arguably the best field of the season at Torrey Pines in San Diego three weeks ago, and due to the quality of this week’s field his price is still very generous. He likes to hit fades, and those are the ideal shots at Riviera. Leishman has two top-5s here in his last four visits.
Collin Morikawa 55/1
Morikawa is 20 events into his young PGA Tour career and has yet to miss a cut. He ranks ninth in SG: Tee-To-Green (+ 1.533 strokes per round) and fifth in SG: Approach (+ 1.074). He also sits at No. 53 in the OWGR and must move into the top 50 to play at next week’s WGC Mexico. He also has Riviera experience, having finished eighth in the stroke-play portion of the 2017 U.S. Amateur. Morikawa turned 23 last week and is already one of the better iron players on tour. A win in his native Los Angeles would be the perfect birthday present.
Joaquin Niemann 95/1
Niemann tends to like more classic, tree-lined tracks, and that’s what he will find this week. Niemann was sixth in the stroke-play portion of the 2017 U.S. Amateur, so he has Riviera experience.
Cameron Champ 125/1
He was looking at a potential top-10 finish last week at Pebble Beach before the windy conditions caught him, and he ended up shooting + 7 (79) on Sunday for a T55 finish. Even though you don’t have to be a bomber to win here, plenty have in recent years, including Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, J.B. Holmes and Phil Mickelson. Champ certainly fits that profile.