The West Coast Swing concludes this week in beautiful Pacific Palisades, Calif., at historic Riviera Country Club. In three out of the last four weeks, we've seen the Tour stop at some of the most revered West Coast courses, all major championship venues: Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach and now Riviera. What for years was known as the L.A. Open is now called the Genesis Open, and it assembles the best field we've seen in golf in 2019. The course is one of the finest played on Tour all season and is a favorite of many of the participants. Twenty-four of the top 33 players in the world are in this week's field.
Bubba Watson is your defending champion, and he's now won here at Riviera three times in the last five renewals. The way Bubba likes to spin the ball and work his shots in all directions speaks to what is required for success at the Genesis.
It is a ball strikers course, meaning crisp, full swing shots both off of the tee and into the greens, done so with accuracy, creativity, and direction control, is needed in all spots around this layout. It is a Par 71 measuring over 7300-yards but of course, a solid short game is required as well. One will hear all week long of the Kikuyu Grass that dominates the mix of turf species at Riviera. It is a South African grass that allows a ball to sit up very cleanly on a closely mown fairway but becomes a very sticky, gnarly grass at length, which will be found in the rough and around the greens.
The most telling stats among the winners at the Genesis are Greens in Regulation and Scrambling and this goes hand in hand with our notion of Ball Striking being important along with negotiating the Kikuyu around the greens.
Finally, another top indicator of success at Riviera has been putting inside of 10 feet. The greens are a mix of Poa Annua and Bent Grass. They are fast but with the often wet conditions and the influence of Poa Annua, they can have their fare share of bumps and a spongy feel. Holing a high percentage of putts inside of 10 feet will gain a lot of strokes on the field.
One additional note to consider in one's handicap is the correlation of successes in Los Angeles and that at the Masters. We have seen many players win both events multiple times and many have top-notch finishes at both venues. Another part of this is that first-timers don’t often perform well in either event. It takes experience and multiple rounds played to win at Riviera and at Augusta National. So adding a player that has experience and good course form at the Masters can tie into a player with the same resume at the Genesis Open.
Full Tournament Head-to-Head Matchup
Jason Kokrak ( 100) over Tyrrell Hatton: Kokrak withdrew prior to last week's Pebble Beach Pro-Am for undisclosed reasons, but our guess is that it was for scheduling reasons, having played three straight weeks and knowing he was going to tee it up at the Genesis. He finished top 20 in all three of those events prior to Pebble and has gone 20-22-2 here at Riviera in his last three visits. He ranks 8th on Tour in Ball Striking, and this is Hatton's first time ever playing the event. We'll gladly take a shot with the experienced underdog in this match up.
A Favorite, Contender and a Long Shot to Win the Genesis Open
Jordan Spieth (25-1): Spieth is a Masters specialist, having never finished worse than 11th in five tries. He has played the Genesis six times and has finished top 10 twice, including 9th last year. His stats don't measure up currently, but it feels like he is close to getting back to the form we are most familiar with as he began at both Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach with hot starts, and was in contention last week at Pebble before a poor final 20 holes killed his chances. Spieth, in any tournament at 25-1, is a good price.
Charles Howell III (50-1): Chucky Three Sticks is off to a great start this season with a win already under his belt. He is well rested, having not played in two weeks, and he won this event back in 2007. He finished 37th here last year and 15th in 2017. He ranks 2nd on Tour in Ball Striking and in Greens in Regulation and has racked up five top-30 finishes at the Masters.
Ernie Els (250-1): It has been a long time since we've seen this name on any list to possibly win a golf tournament, but "The Big Easy" has quietly been playing excellent golf early this season. He has contended at Augusta many times and took 22nd just four years ago. He was 26th here in L.A. three years ago and has three top-10 finishes including a win here in 1999. He hasn't missed a cut this season and took 28th last week at Pebble Beach. He ranks 13th on Tour in Greens in Regulation and 3rd in Putting Inside of 10 feet.