With the multi-course events now behind us, we can breathe a sigh of relief and really start to focus on one course each week.
This week the course is Riviera Country Club for the Genesis Open (previously Northern Trust Open). The layout is a par 71 that plays to roughly 7,300 yards. The fairways and rough are kikuyu grass which always gets a lot of airtime by the TV announcers. They love to talk about the spongy grass that is commonly found in South Africa. When golfers reach the greens, they will take on tricky poa annua greens.
A few things stand out in my eyes. First, is the difficulty to hit fairways. Most of the field will average around 54% (very tough-to-hit) but what the golfers cite as more important is the ability to set up the second shot. It’s one of those classical position-based golf courses. The rough is not penal so you can spray it, as long as you spray it on the correct side of the fairway. If you are fighting a two-way miss around here, you’re still going to have a bad time.
The reason it’s important to set up the second shot is because the greens are very tough to hit. They are small and they are protected by runoffs and sticky rough. If you actually do pelt the green, they are usually firm which means it is really hard to keep the ball on the green if you’re coming in with a long iron or from the wrong approach angle. That means we want elite approach play or elite scrambling this week. Distance is a big advantage since the bombers will be coming in with less club, they can fling up their approach shots to a greater apex height, which fights through some of the difficulty to stick the greens.
Lastly, we should notice the length of some of these par 4s. There are six of them over 450 yards, which is my baseline for long par 4s. With a third of the holes being long par 4s this week, that is another reason to target distance over accuracy.
Check out the Fantasy Golfanac for more about the course setup and golfer quotes.
For correlated events/courses I am looking at Firestone CC, The Open Championship, Torrey Pines, Doral, Augusta National, and Muirfield Village (Memorial).
Players to Watch
Dustin Johnson… One of the rare events in which DJ excels but hasn’t hoisted the trophy….yet. He’s 7-for-9 here with five of his finishes going for T4 or better. He’s fresh off a third-place finish at Pebble Beach… fire him up.
Phil Mickelson… Lefty is doing what Tiger failed at… playing a lot of early-season golf ahead of the Masters. Mickelson is a two-time winner here, so we have another week of Phil exposure. The fact that he’s playing his fifth week in a row tells us he’s feeling good and really doesn’t want to miss out on a track he enjoys.
Jason Day… I promise I don’t hate Day but he slides down my rankings again to #7 this week. He’s making his first appearance here since 2012 and his track record includes two missed cuts and a T62. Obviously he wasn’t World No 1 when he recorded those finishes, but he was posting top 10s in 31% of his tournament during those three seasons he performed poorly at Riviera (right in line with his career rate). I can’t put his expectations over some of the guys with plenty of good course results and solid form to boot.
J.B. Holmes… Fits the mold of a golfer that can take advantage of the lack of rough here at Riviera CC. So, it’s no surprise to see he’s 9-for-10 here with seven top 25s. Six of those have doubles as top 12s. With a field as stacked as this one, it would be easy to overlook J.B. but we shouldn’t make that mistake.
Ollie Schneiderjans… He doesn’t have the course knowledge I’d like to see, but his ability to handle the long par 4s could be key this week. Since 2015, he actually leads the field in terms of DraftKings scoring on par 4s over 450 yards. He arrives in decent form so I’m willing to give him a shot in GPP lineups.
Keegan Bradley… Should be flying high still, making his first start his Pats won the Super Bowl. His combination of distance AND accuracy makes him a great play at Riviera. His course resume include four top 20s in six tries.
Branden Grace… Making his tournament debut but if you want to target the Kikuyu narrative then Grace is your guy since he’s played more than his fair share of rounds back in his home country of South Africa where Kikuyu is the norm.
Thomas Pieters… Sticking with the Euro Tour, Pieters should be a good fit for Riviera CC. He’s a bomber and can rack up birdies with the best of them when he’s on his game. However, his ‘bad’ is pretty putrid still. That makes him a high-risk, high-reward option for GPPs.
Steve Stricker… On paper he doesn’t fit the type of golfer I’m trying to target but he does fall into the elite-short game category which is another route to success here at Riviera. In fact, Stricker is 7-for-9 here including a runner-up in 2009 and a win in 2010. I really hate relying on short game, personally, so he won’t make as many lineups as his raw course history might dictate (unless his salary is too good to be true when salaries come out). UPDATE: Irrelevant since he’s backed out of the event.
Patrick Rodgers… I already talked about Ollie up above and Rodgers is a golfer I closely link to Ollie. Basically, anytime Ollie is a good course fit, then so is Rodgers, and vise-versa. Rodgers debuted here last year with a 6-over 77 before bouncing back in R2 with a 2-under 69… but it was too little, too late. Another strong GPP play, though.
Andrew Loupe… His form is way off the tracks but two of his six career first-round leads have come in California. In his 2016 Riviera debut he was T39 after R1. I’m not suggesting big exposure since he’s still fighting his way back from injury, but this looks like a decent track to possibly get off to one of his torrid starts.
Bubba Watson & K.J. Choi… I’m grouping these two together since they both have course history on their side (Bubba with the upside history while Choi has been steady with 16-of-16 cuts made). However, they both look lost at the moment. For Bubba, it could be the change in ball or it could be a small mini-slump. Whatever it is, I want to see some good results before I re-invest. FWIW, I also faded Bubba here last year and we saw how that turned out. SPOILER: He won.
Brendan Steele… The Cali native is 7-for-7 to open the new season with a win and four other top 20s. He’s playing great golf and doesn’t mind a little poa in his life.
My Top 25 for the 2017 Genesis Open
1. Dustin Johnson
2. Jordan Spieth
3. Hideki Matsuyama
4. Sergio Garcia
5. J.B. Holmes
6. Phil Mickelson
7. Jason Day
8. Paul Casey
9. Justin Rose
10. Adam Scott
11. Brooks Koepka
12. Jimmy Walker
13. Matt Kuchar
14. Keegan Bradley
15. Charl Schwartzel
16. Brendan Steele
17. Adam Hadwin
18. Harris English
19. Luke List
20. Justin Thomas
21. Shane Lowry
22. Jason Kokrak
23. Patrick Reed
24. Ollie Schniederjans
25. Thomas Pieters