PGA Tour best bets: Genesis Invitational

February 16, 2022 09:54 AM
USATSI_17462369

In this column last week, Scottie Scheffler was dubbed the best player on the PGA Tour without a victory. Scheffler no longer has that moniker after he defeated Patrick Cantlay in a playoff to win the Phoenix Open and provided us with a back-to-back outright winner at a price of 28-1. The now No. 9-ranked player in the world drained a 26-footer on the third playoff hole to prevail. Both Scheffler (28-1) and Cantlay (12-1) will be part of this week's star-studded field at the Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles, where the entire OWGR Top 10 will be playing. 

World No. 1 Jon Rahm (9-1) has two top-10 finishes in three appearances here and finished 10th in Phoenix last week, leading the field for Strokes Gained: Off The Tee but losing 2.32 strokes putting. Justin Thomas (16-1) finished eighth last week and was second in the field for Strokes Gained: Approach, but he also had problems with the putter (-2.8 strokes). Dustin Johnson (16-1), who won this event in 2017 and has twice finished runner-up, has gone just over a calendar year now without a worldwide victory.

Los Angeles native Collin Morikawa (20-1) has only played this event one time in his young career (26th last year), but reached the Round of 16 at Riviera Country Club in the 2017 U.S. Amateur. Australian Cameron Smith (22-1), who won the Tournament of Champions to start the year, has finishes of fourth and sixth in six career appearances here. Australian players have had success winning at Riviera, including Adam Scott (2005, 2020), Aaron Baddeley (2011) and Robert Allenby (2001).  

Rory McIlroy (24-1) has two top-five finishes in this event and will be playing for the first time since giving away a victory at the Dubai Desert Classic three weeks ago to Viktor Hovland (27-1).

Hideki Matsuyama (25-1) and Xander Schauffele (25-1) were both in the mix last week in Phoenix before finishing eighth and third. Brooks Koepka (35-1) was tied for third with Schauffele, along with Sahith Theegala (130-1), who had the lead with two holes left on Sunday. Max Homa (50-1) returns to defend his Genesis title along with Tony Finau (also 50-1), the man he defeated in last year's playoff. 

The Event

In 2020, the Genesis Invitational was promoted to invitational status, same as the Memorial Tournament, Arnold Palmer Invitational, Charles Schwab Challenge and RBC Heritage. The field is decreased to 120 players and the total prize money is increased to $12 million. A victory in this event also carries with it a three-year PGA Tour exemption versus the standard two-year exemption. 

This tournament was first established in 1926 as the Los Angeles Open. It was first played at the Los Angeles Country Club and has been played at a variety of courses in the greater Los Angeles area. Riviera Country Club, located in Pacific Palisades, has hosted the event 57 of 93 times and has been its permanent home since 1984 (Valencia hosted in 1998). The event has been the site for several historical milestones. In 1938, the legendary Babe Zaharias became the first woman to play in a professional men’s golf event. In 1992, the Nissan LA Open was the site of Tiger Woods’ first PGA Tour event, which he played as a 16-year-old amateur and high school sophomore. 

While he will not be participating, Woods will be in attendance as the tournament host. The Tiger Woods Foundation is the event organizer. 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.  

The Course

Riviera Country Club is located 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 2012. It is a classical 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 1995 PGA Championship. It also hosted the 1998 U.S. Senior Open and the 2017 U.S. Amateur and will serve as the golfing venue for the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. The course has been nicknamed “Hogan’s Alley” for the legendary Ben Hogan, who won the LA Open three times (1942, 1947, 1948) and won a 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 to bigger (7,500 square feet) and undulating Poa Annua greens. The greens are the seventh-largest on tour but have the second-lowest mark on tour for Greens In Regulation. The course has numerous doglegs, where some players will be hitting blind approach shots, and is well-bunkered, so shot-shaping and creativity is rewarded. Three-time tournament winner Bubba Watson has often said he intentionally misses certain fairways in order 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. It will play firm and fast and is known as a shotmaker’s course. 

Correlated courses to Riviera include Augusta National, Torrey Pines South, PGA National, Quail Hollow, TPC Harding Park and the Copperhead course at Innisbrook. 

Recent History/Winners

— 2021: Max Homa (-12/272); 60-1*

— 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 Tony Finau*

Playoff win over Paul Casey and Dustin Johnson**

Playoff win over Charlie Beljan***

Playoff win over Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson****

​Trends

Here are some Genesis Invitational trends courtesy of @PGASplits101: 

— 13 of the 14 winners had at least three previous career wins

— 15 of the last 16 winners had played in at least four previous Genesis Invitationals

— 13 of the last 16 winners had finished 12th or better in a previous Genesis Invitational

— 16 of the last 20 winners finished 35th or better in the start before the Genesis Invitational

— 13 of the last 15 winners played at Pebble Beach or TPC Scottsdale in their previous start

— 14 of the last 14 winners were 29 or older

The players that fit all six of the above trends include: Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Cantlay, Bubba Watson, Max Homa, Keegan Bradley, Martin Laird and Scott Stallings.

The players that fit five of the six above trends include: Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele, Paul Casey, Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Kevin Na, Marc Leishman, Carlos Ortiz, Si Woo Kim, Adam Hadwin and Brendan Steele.

​Statistical Analysis

Strokes Gained: Off The Tee (Last 24 Rounds)

You do not have to be a bomber off the tee to win at Riviera, but driving the ball well is paramount. Dustin Johnson led the field for Strokes Gained: Off The Tee during his 2016 victory and Max Homa was second in the category during his win last year. Distance does matter, but this is not a bomb-and-gouge type of course, so we can look at a mixture of Strokes Gained: Off The Tee and Good Drives Gained. Good Drives are defined as drives where the player either hits the fairway off the tee or misses the fairway but still hits the green or fringe in regulation.

— Jon Rahm, 23.3

— Rory McIlroy, 20.4

— Sungjae Im, 19

— Cameron Young, 18.2

— Luke List, 16.8

— Sergio Garcia, 16.6

— Corey Conners, 15.8

— Patrick Cantlay, 15.7

— Jhonattan Vegas, 15.5

— Troy Merritt, 12.6

— Emiliano Grillo, 12.4

— Si Woo Kim, 12.3

— Hayden Buckley, 12.2

— Matt Fitzpatrick, 12

— Maverick McNealy, 11.5

Good Drives Gained (Last 24 Rounds)

— Russell Knox, 32.8

— Martin Laird, 30.3

— Chez Reavie, 29.4

— Joel Dahmen, 28.6

— Adam Hadwin, 26.9

— Sungjae Im, 21.4

— Luke List, 21.4

— Corey Conners, 21.3

— Aaron Rai, 21.1

— Kyle Stanley, 19.9

— Bubba Watson, 19

— Will Zalatoris, 18.5

— Viktor Hovland, 18.3

— Matthew NeSmith, 18.3

— James Hahn, 17.3

Strokes Gained: Ball Striking (Last 24 Rounds)

Gaining strokes on approach is always important, but it is probably best evaluated this week as part of Strokes Gained: Ball Striking, which combines Strokes Gained: Off The Tee and Strokes Gained: Approach.

— Jon Rahm, 37.6

— Luke List, 36.1

— Will Zalatoris, 30.9

— Viktor Hovland, 27.8

— Sungjae Im, 27.2

— Justin Thomas, 27

— Tom Hoge, 26.2

— Russell Henley, 25.5

— Hideki Matsuyama, 25.2

— Sam Burns, 24.7

— Paul Casey, 23.4

— Rory McIlroy, 23.1

— Sergio Garcia, 22.4

— Corey Conners, 21.8

— Patrick Cantlay, 21.5

GIR Gained (Last 24 Rounds)

Riviera has one of the lowest Greens In Regulation rates on tour, with a field average around 58%. Players will miss greens here and will have to rely on their short games around the greens before putting on fast (12.5 stimpmeter) and bumpy Poa surfaces. GIR Gained and Strokes Gained: Around The Green should be important this week.

— Russell Knox, 43.4

— Will Zalatoris, 39.5

— Luke List, 31.5

— Sungjae Im, 28.3

— Scottie Scheffler, 28.2

— Ryan Palmer, 25.2

— Jon Rahm, 24.4

— Hideki Matsuyama, 22.9

— Martin Laird, 22.8

— Adam Hadwin, 22.2

— Patrick Rodgers, 22

— Sam Burns, 21.2

— Jhonattan Vegas, 20.8

— Bubba Watson, 18.8

— Jason Kokrak, 18.6

Strokes Gained: Around The Green (Last 24 Rounds)

— Sungjae Im, 16.5

— Robert MacIntyre, 11.6

— Matt Kuchar, 11

— Harold Varner III, 10.9

— Luke List, 10.6

— Lee Hodges, 9.7

— Matt Jones, 9.5

— Tom Hoge, 9.1

— Russell Henley, 9.1

— Patrick Rodgers, 8.8

— Kevin Na, 8.7

— Scott Piercy, 8.4

— Talor Gooch, 8.3

— Beau Hossler, 8

— Cameron Tringale, 7.6

— Adam Hadwin, 7.6

— Mackenzie Hughes, 7.6

Scrambling Gained (Last 24 Rounds)

Scrambling Gained provides a good deal of overlap with many of the names mentioned above for Strokes Gained: Around The Green.

— Kevin Na, 12.6

— Matt Kuchar, 12.3

— Mackenzie Hughes, 9.9

— Robert Streb, 9.6 

— Kevin Tway, 8.9

— Robert MacIntyre, 8.9

— Cameron Tringale, 7.5

— Talor Gooch, 7.5

— Tom Hoge, 6.9

— Sungjae Im, 6.7

— J.T. Poston, 6.5

— Rory McIlroy, 6.4

— Seamus Power, 6.4

— Kramer Hickok, 6

— Will Zalatoris, 5.9 

Strokes Gained: Par-4s 450-500 Yards (Last 24 Rounds)

Six of the 11 par-4s at Riviera measure between 450-500 yards.

— Rory McIlroy, 15.9

— Maverick McNealy, 15.7

— Andrew Putnam, 13.5

— Cameron Young, 13.5

— Carlos Ortiz, 12

— Luke List, 11.9

— Adam Schenk, 11.6

— Patrick Cantlay, 11.1

— Viktor Hovland, 11.1

— Si Woo Kim, 10.5

— Alex Noren, 10.4

— Dustin Johnson, 10

— Robert MacIntyre, 9.9

— Sebastian Munoz, 9.9

— Will Zalatoris, 9.5

Strokes Gained Par-5s 550-600 Yards (Last 24 Rounds)

The two par-5s on the back nine at Riviera measure 583 yards (11th) and 590 yards (17th).

— Matt Fitzpatrick, 14.7

— Patrick Cantlay, 14

— Max Homa, 13.8

— Scottie Scheffler, 11.9

— Harold Varner III, 11.4

— Martin Laird, 10.8

— Sam Ryder, 10.7

— Aaron Rai, 10.3

— Taylor Moore, 10

— Jason Kokrak, 8.6

— Cameron Smith, 8.2

— Joaquin Niemann, 8

— Beau Hossler, 7.5

— Rory McIlroy, 7.4

— Sungjae Im, 6.7

Strokes Gained: Putting Poa Annua (Last 24 Rounds)

The field at Riviera will be putting on pure Poa Annua greens this week.

— Matt Kuchar, 30

— Jon Rahm, 23.2

— Maverick McNealy, 21.5

— Wyndham Clark, 19.4

— Troy Merritt, 16.8

— Andrew Putnam, 16.8

— Matt Wallace, 15.3

— Kevin Na, 15

— Brian Stuard, 14.7

— Patrick Reed, 14.3

— Sam Burns, 14

— Pat Perez, 13.9

— Max Homa, 13.9

— Abraham Ancer, 13.6

— Peter Malnati, 13.4

— Adam Scott, 13.4

Selections

Justin Thomas (16-1)

Thomas has missed the cut the last two years at Riviera but was runner-up in 2019 to J.B. Holmes. Thomas is still trying to piece his game together, but his bread and butter appeared to be back in Phoenix (second in the field for both Strokes Gained: Approach and Strokes Gained: Tee To Green). Losing 2.8 strokes on the greens caused him to finish eighth. 

Rory McIlroy (24-1)

Three weeks ago at the Dubai Desert Classic, McIlroy gave away a victory when he elected to hit 3-wood from 267 yards out with mud on the ball, failing to carry the water on 18 when a birdie on the par-5 would have given him the win. One would suspect he’s been stewing over this for the last three weeks and should go well here considering he has two top-five finishes at Riviera (2019, 2020) plus three wins at the Wells Fargo Championship held at Quail Hollow (2010, 2015, 2021). Quail Hollow has an obvious correlation to Riviera, with both having Tom Fazio redesigns. That correlation has been strengthened over the last decade with James Hahn, J.B. Holmes and Max Homa winning both at Quail Hollow and Riviera. 

Hideki Matsuyama (25-1)

Matsuyama also finished eighth last week in Phoenix and ranked fifth in the field for Strokes Gained: Approach (he’s fourth in approach over the last 24 rounds). He already has two victories this season (Zozo Championship and Sony Open) and has good form here with a fourth (2015), fifth (2020), ninth (2019) and 11th (2016) in his last six visits to Riviera.

Sungjae Im (43-1)

Im started to gain form toward the latter part of 2021 with a victory at the Shriners. Then he finished ninth in the CJ Cup and 19th in Houston before opening 2022 with three finishes of 11th or better, including a sixth-place finish at Torrey Pines three weeks ago. He ranks first in this week's field for Strokes Gained: Around the Green over the last 24 rounds and 10th for Scrambling Gained. Furthermore, he is second in the field for Strokes Gained: Tee-To-Green, third for Strokes Gained: Off The Tee, fifth for Strokes Gained: Ball Striking and fifth for Strokes Gained: Short Game over the last 24 rounds. 

Bubba Watson (49-1)

Although he has missed the cut in his last two appearances here, Watson has three victories at Riviera to go along with two green jackets, adding to the Augusta National- Riviera correlation. He is also playing his best golf in a while with a runner-up in Saudi Arabia and a 14th in Phoenix, where he led the field for Strokes Gained: Approach. Aside from his great history here, Bubba might have a little extra motivation this week after former caddie Ted Scott won with Scottie Scheffler last week in Phoenix. Last fall, Watson and Scott amicably split (at least publicly) after 15 years together. Watson hasn’t won since the 2018 Travelers.

Joaquin Niemann (60-1)

Niemann began 2022 with finishes of sixth at Torrey Pines and eighth in Saudi Arabia. Niemann has made two of three cuts at Riviera and was second entering the weekend last year before shooting a Saturday 78 in tough scoring conditions (only three of 67 players broke 70). His Torrey Pines finish three weeks ago is encouraging on Kikuyu grass and Poa greens. 

Thomas Pieters (71-1)

Pieters only has two starts at Riviera but one of them was a runner-up to Dustin Johnson. He does have a victory on this course, having won the 2012 NCAA Division I Championship as an individual during his days as a University of Illinois standout. The Belgian also has two victories in his last five worldwide starts, including a win at Abu Dhabi last month. Pieters was fourth at the Masters in 2017 and sixth at the PGA at Bellerive, both correlated courses.

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