It was a ‘nearly but not quite’ week for us in Phoenix as while our team struggled as a whole one of our selections, Sungjae Im was on the fringes of contention throughout. On the final day Im started with a birdie and when he hit his approach on the par five third to 13ft for eagle it looked like he could make a serious charge. Unfortunately though that putt slipped by and in the end after failing to get any real momentum going from there on in, a bogey from the Korean at the last saw him finish in a tie for sixth giving us a share of the place money and a small loss on the week.
The event in the end was won by Scottie Scheffler who saw off Nick Taylor down the stretch in a ‘David v Goliath’ battle to retain his trophy and at the same time regain the world number spot.
Many had assumed the final round would turn in to a battle between Scheffler and the third member of the final three ball, Jon Rahm, however it was the man who finished 133rd on last years Fedex Cup rankings and who was ranked outside of the worlds top 200 coming in to the week, who provided the greatest threat to Scheffler, giving the PGA Tour a timely reminder that it is their strength in depth and the storylines that result from this that is their greatest asset, as they consider the options for the make up of fields in 2024.
So, we move on and after four weeks on the West Coast the tour moves to Pacific Palisades, to the iconic Riviera Country Club for the final leg of the West Coast Swing.
The Genesis Open was first held in 1926.
Its previous names have included the Los Angeles Open, The Nissan Open and The Northern Trust Open before Genesis Motors took over as the title sponsor in 2017.
The tournament has been held at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades on a pretty much continuous basis since 1973.
2020 saw a change as with effect from then the tournament was given Invitational status. As a result of this the field size was slightly reduced to 120 compared to other PGA Tour events. In addition the winner here will receive a three year tour exemption compared to the usual two.
The event is the third of this season’s ‘designated events’ and as a result we once more have a stellar field in attendance very similar to last weeks line up in Phoenix.
The market is headed up by Jon Rahm who is then followed by Rory McIlroy and last weeks champion Scottie Scheffler. This trio are then followed by Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele.
Riviera Country Club is seen as a classical test and features tight, tree lined fairways. Accuracy of the tee has historically been seen as key here although over recent years it has become more of a bombers paradise, particularly when the course has been wet.
Riviera is a par 71 playing to just over 7300 yards.
The greens are Poa Annua.
One of the key features of the course is the Kikuyugrass rough which is very rare for a US course. It is however found on South African and Australian courses and therefore both South African and Australian players do have a good record here.
For those looking to trade in running the par 5 1st hole is basically the easiest hole on the course and is a ‘must birdie’ hole. If you make Par you are certainly dropping a shot to the field.
The driveable par 4 10th to me is one of the best holes played on tour all year. At 315yds an eagle 2 is in theory achievable but if you fail to hit the right spot off the tee a bogey 5 quickly comes in to play.
So let’s take a look at the last ten winners to try and find some clues…
2022 J Niemann
2021 M Homa
2020 A Scott
2019 JB Holmes
2018 B Watson
2017 D Johnson
2016 B Watson
2015 J Hahn
2014 B Watson
2013 J Merrick
Prior to Niemann, Homa and Scott’s victories the event had seen a victory for JB Holmes in 2019, three wins for Bubba in the previous five years and a win for Dustin Johnson in 2017. DJ was also 4th here in 2016 and 2nd here in both 2015 and 2014.
Add in the fact that Cam Young, Dechambeau, Finau, Cantlay, Pieters, Kokrak & Burns have placed here over the past five years and it becomes clear that Riviera has turned in to something of a ‘bombers paradise’ over recent times. In fact until Homa bucked the trend in 2021 with a ranking of 58th the lowest any of the previous five winners have ranked in driving distance on tour at the end of the season they won the event is Adam Scott in 2020 who ranked 19th, while last years winner Niemann was also one of the longer hitters on the PGA Tour prior to his defection to LIV with a ranking of 38th in DD last season.
Having said that we shouldn’t ignore the fact that Matt Fitzpatrick, Kevin Na [twice] Scott Brown [twice], Wes Bryan & KJ Choi have all finished in the top 5 over the recent years, so there is still opportunity for everyone, particularly in a dryer year like we have this year.
Looking at these last ten winners it would appear that Riviera Country Club is a venue where the winners pretty much all have the classic combination we are looking for every week…course form meets current form.
To explain more lets firstly look at the form of each of these last ten winners coming in to the event.
Eight of these past ten winners noted above had made the cut in their previous start with the two exceptions being JB Holmes and Bubba in 2016 who had both missed the 54 hole cut at Pebble, whilst seven of them had posted a top 14 finish in at least one of their two previous starts. This trend was rubber stamped again by Niemann last year and Homa the year before who had finished sixth at Torrey Pines and seventh at Pebble Beach respectively in their previous starts.
It should be noted though while the 2020 winner Adam Scott held up these statistics he somewhat bucked the trend in that he was making his first start on the PGA Tour of the year in the week that he won. He had however won the Australian PGA in his previous start just before Christmas so he clearly arrived in a confident mood.
As we can see then solid form coming in is important.
With regards to previous course form again we can see looking over the past ten winners that this has given us a big clue.
Homa had finished fifth here the year before winning, Scott had finished in the top 11 here in four of his previous five visits, while 2019 Champion JB Holmes had made his previous five cuts here including finish fifth in 2016.
Then we have Bubba who was naturally a previous winner when he lifted the trophy on the last two occasions. In addition to this he had posted a 13th place finish here in 2012, 2yrs prior to his first win.
DJ meanwhile prior to winning in 2017 had posted three top 5 finishes in the three previous years.
Haas had finished 12th here the year before winning and Baddeley also had a 13th place finish here to his name 4yrs prior to his victory and had also made the cut in the subsequent three years.
In fact the only three winners out of the past ten did not have a previous top 13 finish in the event with two of these being players with local California connections, James Hahn and John Merrick, with Hahn having a best place finish of 29th in the event the year before and Merrick never having managed better than 54th.
It is worth noting though that Merrick was making his 6th start in the event the year he won so he did at least have plenty of course experience along with local connections.
The third player who did not have a previous big finish here was Niemann, however the Chilean had marked our card the year before with regards to his suitability to the track by sitting in a share of second through 36 holes.
Returning to the the theme of Californian winners let’s not also forget that 2021 Champion Homa is a local boy through and through with this event basically his ‘home town fifth Major’. Add this to Hahn and Merrick’s successes here then and this does seem to be an event, which can reward the Golden State guys.
So there we have it then, it appears this is not an event for debutants and is certainly one where course and current form coming in is key.
The winning score here has varied considerably over recent years with differing softer/firmer conditions impacting this.
Homa posted -12 on his way to victory while Scott won with an 11- under total and JB won with a total of -14 the previous year. Bubba triumphed with a -12 total in 2018 while In 2017 DJ won with a score of -17, however in 2015 James Hahn won with a score of -6. Last year though Niemann who lead the field a merry dance over the four days going wire to wire posted a winning total of 19- under.
There is a possibility of a shower or two on Tuesday leading in to the event however we look set for a dry week beyond that with temperatures look set to sit around the high 60s all week.
Wind does not look to be much of an issue with nothing more than 10mph or so showing.
As I always say though this could all change!
While there is no denying that a Sunday showdown between McIlroy, Rahm, Scheffler et al makes for great viewing for your average armchair golf fan I will readily admit that picking ones way through the marquee names that headlines these fields is not much fun for a golf punter who thrives on finding the ‘value’ further down the betting. The chances are basically that two of the aforementioned three at least will be in the hunt come the back nine on Sunday along with one or two of the likes of Schauffele, Finau, Thomas, Cantlay and Morikawa and one of them will end up lifting the trophy.
The question for us then is do we look to identify, which of these big names ‘turn’ it will be this week or do we look for this weeks Nick Taylor. After all anyone who did roll the dice on the Canadian last week will have made a very nice each way return.
On that basis then and with the phrase ‘feint heart never won fair maiden’ ringing in my head I will roll the dice while counting the days to next week’s Honda Classic.
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
SAM BURNS – 28/1 – 2pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Having said all the above I will start with one fairly obvious pick from near the top of the market with that player being Sam Burns.
In a relatively short space of time Burns has turned himself in to one of the Tour’s more prolific winners notching four titles over two seasons with three coming in the most recent 21/22 campaign.
Prior to landing his first trophy at the Valspar in 2021 though [a venue he successfully defended at a year later] Sam made the headlines here at Riviera a couple of months or so earlier when he opened up with rounds of 64 and 66 to take a five shot lead at the halfway stage.
Not unsurprisingly, still a maiden on the tour at the time, Burns was unable to maintain the pace that year and after stumbling to a third round 74 he finally finished third. Not to be for Sam that week then, however what of course that performance did do was mark our card as a player whose above average length off the tee and strong approach play made him well suited to the challenges of Riviera.
Move on two years then and Sam returns to Riviera for the third time a far more accomplished player and having now bagged four PGA Tour trophies for his cabinet.
Over that period Sam has garnered a reputation as having one of the stronger iron games on tour ranking 30th in that category in 20/21 and then 18th last season, however this season he has struggled more in that area currently ranking a lowly 150th, something reflected in some mediocre results by his standards in his first three full starts of the campaign either side of Christmas.
At the Amex a couple of weeks ago though the 26yr old showed some signs of life with an 11th place finish and he then built on that last week at TPC Scottsdale with a seasons best sixth.
Furthermore what was particulary encouraging was the improvement in his tee to green game, which saw him rank 12th in this department for the week and 30th in approach play, with Saturdays 64 the highlight.
As well as his strong performance here two years ago Sam is also a two time winner at the Copperhead Course so we know he can thrive on a tree line par 71. Add in the fact that he also has a top ten to his name at Silverado the home of the Fortinet, a venue, which we have seen clearly over the years links well here and we have every reason to think Sam can go well here again despite having missed the cut here last year.
On that latter point it is worth noting that Sam had missed two straight cuts prior to his poor week here last year so he was clearly struggling at the time. This year though we have a different story in that he arrives here starting to gain momentum without having really fired on all cylinders yet, not too dissimilar a story to the build up to his two calendar wins in 2022, and I can see Sam building on last week’s effort in Phoenix and putting in a big performance this week.
SAHITH THEEGALA – 66/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED 6th
Next up this week I will return to Sahith Theegala.
As noted earlier course form/history here has been a key over the years to finding the winner, with a previous big finish or two here requisite. There have been two players though who have bucked that trend, John Merrick and James Hahn, however both of these two winners boasted strong Californian connections and it is just possible that Theegala could be the next player to follow this path.
Theegala who hails from California and who attended college at Pepperdine University in the LA area has been a revelation on the PGA Tour since he joined the ranks last season and he has knocked on the door of victory a few times now, most noticeably at Phoenix last year and then when we were on board at the Travelers where an ugly double bogey on 18 cost him the trophy. Clearly though it is only a matter of time until the hugely talented Theegala gets the job done.
Now in his sophomore season rather than rest on the laurels of a debut season, which saw Sahith make it all the way to the Tour Championship he has come out guns blazing posting four top six finishes already and making nine out of ten cuts.
This week then Theegala returns to the course that he made his PGA Tour debut on way back in 2017 as an amateur posting a hugely creditable 49th, a finish he bettered by one spot when 48th here last year. In addition we shouldn’t forget Theegala earned his spot in the field here in 2017 by winning the collegiate showcase on the course a week earlier.
Not too much in the way of course form then in the big league however we know Sahith has seen plenty of Riviera over the years and we can take confidence from the fact that he cites it as one of his two or three favourite tracks.
Returning to Theegala’s near miss at TPC River Highlands last year and one of the reasons I chanced him that week is that it has become apparent the 25yr old is very much a ‘feel player’ in the mould of Bubba Watson and the Connecticut venue is one Bubba of course has had plenty of success on, with Riviera being another of the two time Master’s champions favourite hunting grounds. Add that to the fact that Sahith seems very much at his best on classical tree lined courses such as Copperhead the home of the Valspar where he also thrived last year and there is every reason to think he can back up his words about Riviera.
In addition he has two top 15 finishes to his name including a sixth last fall, at the correlating Fortinet event.
I had Sahith very much on my radar for this last year as we headed in to the West Coast swing, however after his agonizing near miss at TPC Scottsdale the week before I just felt he would be suffering a hangover, which would prevent him from getting right in to the hunt, and this appeared to be very much the case. This year however I expect no such issues and buoyed by his noisy local support I expect him to rise to the occasion and produce a really big week.
WYNDHAM CLARK – 80/1 – 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 33rd
Next up in a week where I highlighted earlier that the age old course form/meets current form mantra often prevails I cant ignore the credentials of Wyndham Clark.
One of the biggest hitters on tour Clark has shown on his two full visits to Riviera to date, with finishes of 17th and eighth, that the course is right up his alley and having figured prominently last week in Phoenix he leaps off the page.
Now in his fifth full season on tour Clark is yet to taste victory on the PGA Tour with his closest brush with a trophy coming in Bermuda when he lost out to Brian Gay in a playoff. Across those years Clark has never been seriously in danger of losing his card and could be relied on to pop up with a big finish every now and then.
Since last summer though Wyndham has also added far more consistency to his game with only two missed cuts in 17 starts since the 2022 US Open.
As well as being known as one of the biggest hitters on tour Wyndham has become renowned when on song for his touch on the greens, however it has been his approach play that has consistently let him down over the recent years having never ranked inside the top 130 on tour for a season in this department. This season however things have certainly improved for Wyndham in that area as he currently ranks 88th and last week was hugely encouraging with the irons as he ranked ninth.
I referenced earlier Clark’s two full visits here and it should be noted that in addition to those two really strong efforts he was DQ’d here last year after he signed an incorrect score card following a day one 77. At that time though he was bang in the middle of a run of three MC and nothing better than a 56th alongside the DQ here, so he was clearly struggling for form. This year though Wyndham is now in a very different place as an established consistent performer on the tour and with his obvious credentials this week he is a must for me.
PATRICK RODGERS – 150/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next cab off the rank is one of the old faces of these columns Patrick Rodgers.
Regular readers will be no doubt be bored by now of me trotting out the repeated lines of regarding a ‘player of Rodgers’ talent is sure to come good soon’ so I will stay away from that here and simply focus on why I feel Patrick is a good fit for Riviera this week.
Firstly on that front we have Rodgers’ record here, which has seen him post five top thirty finishes here in his past six visits, with only last years MC when he was struggling for form blotting the copybook. Furthermore a look at the 2019 leaderboard here shows us that Patrick was right in the mix through 36 holes after opening with rounds of 66 and 67 before fading over the weekend.
If we then look at Patrick’s stats we’ll see that in keeping with the majority of our team this week he has the requisite distance off the tee, which has become so important here over the years.
Coming up to date and the Stanford Grad started 22/23 really strongly with seven cuts made in eight starts and he finished the year off with a really strong showing at the RSM where he was in poll position to finally bag his first tour title heading in to the final day before struggling on Sunday. During this run Patrick talked a lot about how he was working really closely with his coach on making the incremental improvements needed to move up to the elite level on tour and the work certainly appeared to be paying dividends in that period before the Christmas break.
Perhaps with a slight hangover from that near miss at Sea Island though Rodgers started 2023 slowly with two missed cuts, however he played solidly for three days at Phoenix last week before catching fire on Sunday with a closing 64 to vault up the field. In addition what was most encouraging about that final round effort was rather than it being a hot day with the putter Patrick lead the field from tee to green and in Approach Play.
The hope is then that this week on a course we know he enjoys Rodgers will build on the momentum from TPC Scottsdale and produce a really strong effort this week at juicy each way odds.
KEVIN TWAY – 300/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 10 - FINISHED 40th
Finally this week I am going to take a flyer at huge each way odds on Kevin Tway.
Its over five years now since Tway’s finest moment on tour when he lifted his lone PGA trophy and with that win coming in the Fortinet Championship at Silverado we immediately have a strong link to this week.
Since then it has undoubtedly been a struggle on tour for Kevin with only an out of the blue second place in Houston in 2021 giving him any cause for encouragement in among a lean few years. Of late however Tway has managed something that he failed to do all through last year, which is to make four cuts in five starts with only a MC at the weather effected Pebble Beach Pro-Am blotting the copybook.
Last week in Phoenix Tway backed up his 18th place at the Farmers from a fortnight previous with a 32nd place and interestingly he ranked first for the week on the greens and first in approach play on Friday so things certainly seem to be starting to click with his game at the moment.
Another stat Kevin lead last week in Phoenix was distance off the tee and this fits with him being regularly in the top 25 on tour in Driving Distance over recent years.
Tway’s record in this event, in keeping with most of his form on tour, was grim to say the least with four missed cuts in four prior to last year, however he made his first cut here opening with rounds of 68 and 69 before fading over the weekend to finish 48th.
All pretty tenuous I know as befits a play of his odds but I’ll roll the dice on Kevin to build on his recent eye catching upturn and harness this with his beneficial length here and become another in the long line of players who has produced big results both at Silverado and Riviera.
UPDATED 14th FEBRUARY
SUB $7K FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - JAMES HAHN - DK VALUE $6700 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS 20
James Hahn has been far more in the news of late for his of course comments in relation to the restructuring of prize money on the PGA Tour than he has for his on course performances however if there is one event that he could 'let his clubs do the talking' it is here at Riviera.
A former champion in the event Hahn has only missed the cut once in the event in his nine visits, the year he was defending the trophy, and he has three top 15 finishes the last four times he has tee'd it up here.
Clearly then Californian Hahn loves Riviera and having played nicely in Phoenix last week to finish 32nd I expect him to deliver another solid week here again.
PICK 2 - SAM RYDER - DK VALUE $6700 - FINISHED 20th - DK POINTS 67
For my second pick this week I'll roll with the man who so nearly broke through at Torrey Pines a few weeks back Sam Ryder.
Ryder has gradualy cemented himself on the PGA Tour over the years and he very much looked like a player ready to win for the first time in San Diego until the ocassion finally got to him down the stretch.
Last week though Ryder looked like he had taken the positives from that week as he produced another strong showing to finish 20th in Phoenix and having produced his best performance at Riviera to date last year when 26th there is every reason to think he can produce another strong four day effort this week.