GENESIS OPEN: The PGA Tour’s West Coast Swing wraps up this week at a familiar venue, as a star-studded field will look to tame the venerable Riviera Country Club in the 91st edition of the
Los Angeles Open Nissan Open Northern Trust Open Genesis Open. (tradition is alive and well in pro golf– the tradition of making money)
Riviera is one of the more universally-acclaimed courses on Tour– built in 1926 by George C. Thomas and William P. Bell, it has undergone remarkably few renovations in its 90+ years of existence, as its narrow fairways, small greens, and numerous doglegs have stood the test of time. (for those interested in this sort of thing, the website Golf Course Histories has a really cool ariel shot of Riviera in 1927 overlaid with the Riviera of today- link) At over 7,300 yards and with six par-4s measuring 450+, it certainly isn’t short, but being long off the tee isn’t a prerequisite for success, as evidenced by the fact that guys like James Hahn, Bill Haas, Aaron Baddeley, and Steve Sticker have won this tournament over the past decade.
And though the fairways are tight and the greens can be difficult to find from the kikuyu rough, Riviera probably isn’t quite as penal off the tee as its reputation would suggest. Dustin Johnson sprayed it around en route to a 5-shot victory last year, ranking 45th in driving accuracy for the week, and Bubba Watson, who took home the trophy in both 2014 and 2016, has said of Riviera, “You’ve got room off the tee. And when I say room off the tee, not that the fairways are wide– the tree lines are wider. Some of the trees are missing, so I can play out of it”.
Still, most players will tell you that finding the fairways will be critical this week. Holding the small, firm greens is a challenge from the rough, and though Riviera ranks among the easiest “scrambling” courses on Tour due to the straightforward chipping areas, you’re not going to win this tournament by getting it up-and-down all day. This isn’t the U.S. Open– it’s taken 15-under or better to win this event in three of the past four years, so players will need to put themselves in position to make birdies.
One guy who’s been pretty adept at doing that at Riviera is Johnson, who has logged six top-5s in his last eight appearances here, including his runaway victory last year. It comes as no surprise, then, that he sits atop BETDAQ’s Win Market at 6.0, though a price that short is tough to swallow when you take into account the strength of the field. Other headliners include Jordan Spieth (15.5), Justin Thomas (19.0), Rory McIlroy (16.5), and Tiger Woods (66.0), who will be making his second start of the season. With names like that doing battle at a classic course, this should be a fun week.
Here are a few suggestions:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Thomas Pieters (52.0)- Pieters took some time off this winter but reemerged in the UAE last month, finishing 5th in the Abu Dhabi HSBC and 32nd in Dubai, where he played well for three rounds but was derailed by a 2nd-round 74. In total, Pieters is 29-under par over eight tournament rounds in 2018, and he took last week off, so the transatlantic travel shouldn’t be an issue. He debuted in this tournament last year and played brilliantly, finishing runner-up after a final round 63. That’s probably because he had plenty of familiarity with the course despite never playing this event before– Pieters won the 2012 NCAA Championship at Riviera, and he was quoted last year as saying, “I love Riviera. It just suits my eye”. At better than 50/1, the young Belgian is the best value on the board this week.
Kevin Chappell (62.0)- Big things were expected out of Chappell this season after he finally broke through with a win last year, and he’s delivered so far, finishing 31st or better in six of his past seven starts, a stretch that includes three top-15s and a T8 at Pebble Beach last week. He drives it straight and he’s a California native who always has success on the West Coast, so he would seem like a good fit for this tournament, but the results haven’t exactly borne that out, as he’s finished no better than 23rd in his past six appearances here and has missed the cut three times in that span. However, Chappell has spoken publicly about his love for Riviera– on his Twitter account (@kevin_chappell) a few months ago, he was asked which course on Tour best suited his game. He responded, “Tough question but I would say Riviera. Played the most rounds and the sight lines make sense to me. Results do not show it though.” So it’s clear that Chappell feels like he can succeed at Riviera, and he should be riding a wave of confidence this week after a string of good results thus far in 2018. I’m happy to get onboard at a price like 62.0.
Sang-Moon Bae (162.0)- Bae began his 2018 campaign by missing the cut in four consecutive events, but his play wasn’t quite as bad as the results indicated– the stats were okay, and he broke 70 in four of his first seven rounds. He finally put it together at Pebble Beach last week, finishing 15th, and his record in this event is extremely impressive, with two 8th-place finishes and a T12 in three career appearances. His countryman K.J. Choi also has a great record at Riviera, and when Bae was asked what he likes about the course so much, he said, “Everything. The green, green speed, the rough. I like this grass, the kikuyu. Pretty much the same as Korea or Japan”. I think that sheds a lot of light on why Bae has had so much success in this tournament– he’s used to the style of golf; it reminds him of the courses he grew up playing. He’s a deep sleeper this week (obviously), but he’s coming off a good result and he feels very comfortable at Riviera. If you’re looking for a longshot, you could do a lot worse.
TOURNAMENT MATCH BETS
Justin Thomas (1.73) vs. Phil Mickelson (1.95)
Thomas has been solid this season but he hasn’t found the top-10 since the CJ Cup back in October, and he’s never had any success at Riviera, finishing outside the top-40 in all three of his career appearances at this tournament. Mickelson, meanwhile, is a two-time champion of this event and was a fixture on the first page of the leaderboard when he used to make this tournament a yearly stop. He hasn’t played here since 2014, but he’s red-hot at the moment after a top-5 in Phoenix and his runner-up finish at the AT&T last week, so I’m riding with him here. Recommendation: Mickelson at 1.95
Jordan Spieth (1.76) vs. Rory McIlroy (1.91)
Look, I realize Rory played very well last month in the UAE, finishing 3rd in Abu Dhabi and runner-up in Dubai. It looked as if he was ready to turn the corner after a tremendously disappointing 2017 campaign. But he flopped at Pebble Beach last week, missing the cut, and at this point he’s living a little bit on reputation in the betting markets. Plus, he’s only played this event once, finishing 20th, while Spieth has an extensive history at Riviera that includes a T4 in 2015. Recommendation: Spieth at 1.76