2018 Genesis Open: Riviera Country Club (2/13/18)

By Frank Brank


The Genesis Open is back along with Tiger Woods this week where he looks to improve on his T9 at the Hero World Challenge and T23 at the Farmers Insurance Open. His results have been impressive considering his layoff and multiple back surgeries, but his game, particularly off the tee, will need to improve if he wants to win.

Riviera Country Club will feature similar challenges to as Torrey Pines from the tee box with tighter fairways and smaller greens. At par-71, there will be one less scoring hole for the players this week. The wining scores at Riviera typically fall around 15-under.

The best golfer in the world, Dustin Johnson, won here last year in the midst of his massive hot streak before getting hurt in his apartment at the Masters. He's also been a regular inside the top-5 at Riviera in the past; thus, he's the heavy five to one favorite this week.

DJ has more than twice as good odds as the next highest golfer in the field this week, but his current game may not fit Riviera in the way it has in the past. Johnson makes up the majority of his game on the field off the tee box, as one would expect. However, the top players at Riviera tend to make up strokes against the field around the greens and putting.

The reason for that is the average tour player only hits 53.1% of the fairways and 57.4% of the greens. Players will need to regularly get up and down and make some putts down the stretch to win this tournament. DJ ranks in the fifties this week in strokes gained around the green and putting.

Our model this week actually gives Jordan Spieth the best odds to win this tournament, but we're also here to tell you those odds are deceiving at the moment. Anyone who has watched Spieth play in the last few weeks has seen his inability to make short putts. The last few weeks have also featured easy putting surfaces, whereas Riviera features some of the most difficult greens to make short putts on. Typically, Spieth is great around and on the greens; however, his recent struggles may need to be more accounted.

Phil Mickelson has been climbing the leaderboard over his last few tournaments by finishing T2 and T5. His odds, though, are spot-on this week and he should struggle immensely with keeping the ball on the fairway. As a below average driver of the golf ball, Phil's impressive iron game will take a hit by frequently playing out of the rough this week.

Bubba Watson, like Mickelson, is beginning to emerge again and he has won at Riviera twice in the last four years. In the early going of the season, this is the most competitive field we've seen, and our model will need to see more frequent plus play from Watson to begin favoring him.

Instead of buying into the bombers at the top of the field like Johnson, Rory, or even Watson, we can grab our bombers that can't putt or chip later on the board at much better odds.

As usual, we'll run through the favorites (better than 50 to 1 odds) and long shots (worse than 50 to 1 odds) that our model likes the most this week.

Favorites



We've written a ton about Paul Casey over the last few months, and for good reason. Casey ranks among the top golfers on tour in every meaningful category. The difference between Casey and the top golfers on tour, he hasn't finished off a tournament on Sunday in some time despite always being in contention. Even last week was a perfect example of Casey's struggles as he contended on Sunday before making a big mistake or two and seeing his tournament hopes get washed away.

Nonetheless, Casey continues to put together shots-gained clinics seemingly every week. He's been one of the best iron player over the last few months at +0.826 strokes gained per round including the 2nd best on tour in the 2017 season and the top player in the early 2018 season. In 2017, Casey finished 7th overall in strokes-gained tee-to-green and 6th overall in total strokes gained. It's puzzling how one could play so well without winning a tournament.

Over his last 19 tournaments, Paul Casey has finished inside the top-10 ten times and hasn't finished outside the top-33 since March of last year. Eventually his plus game will pay off and he'll cash a ticket. It's difficult to pass up possibly the best iron player on tour at 26 to 1 odds.

Other Favorites with value in order of preference: Chez Reavie (+4100), Marc Leishman (+3600)

Long Shots



Matt Kuchar has been a huge dud in our model for some time. We've regularly hated Kuchar's odds coming down the stretch last year, but his game is improving in a nice way that fits Riviera. Kuchar is a plus-player in this field in every strokes-gained category and ranks inside the top-30 in driving accuracy every season, which makes up for his lack of distance off the tee.

Kuchar ranks 31st in the field in approach shots (+0326 strokes-gained), which isn't as good as we'd like, but he makes up for it in short game. As 9th-best in the field around the green and 7th-best putter, he's trending in the right direction to compete at Riviera. In fact, Kuchar's game mirrors Marc Leishman's quite nicely since the middle of last year, he just hasn't won as often.

Kuchar's odds have taken a step back from previous weeks after finishing T62 at Pebble Beach last week; however, we aren't too concerned with a gimmicky tournament like the pro-am. He did finish inside the top-10 in his previous three tournaments in the 2018 season along with the final two tournaments of 2017.

Other Long Shots with value in order of preference: Tony Finau (+6800), Adam Scott (+6800)