After the highs of the success of Tom Hoge at Pebble Beach It was a disappointing week for us in Phoenix as none of our team ever really threatened to get seriously in to the mix. In the end it was left to desert specialist Martin Laird to give us a sniff of some place returns on Sunday but ultimately he had left himself too much to do.
The event in the end was won by Scottie Scheffler who saw off Patrick Cantlay in extra holes after both had missed golden chances on the final green to post a winning number. It was a long overdue maiden tour success for Scheffler and surely the first of many.
Away from Scheffler’s win it was fantastic to see the event back to full capacity and the crowds on 16 were treated to a tremendous spectacle with two holes in one over the weekend, not to mention the antics of Harry Higgs and Joel Dahmen on Sunday.
Add this to the tremendous performance from rookie Sahith Theegala and it was a timely reminder that regardless of what happens with the ‘Saudi money grab’ the PGA Tour is in safe hands and will continue to thrive.
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.
Outside of Major Championships and WGC’s we have as strong a field as you are ever likely to see teeing it up week in week out with all of the world’s top ten on display.
The market is headed up by Jon Rahm who is then followed by Patrick Cantlay, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Collin Morikawa.
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…
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
2012 B Haas
Prior to Homa’s win last year and Scott’s the year before 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 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 last year 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.
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 Homa last year who had finished seventh at Pebble Beach in his previous start.
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 two winners out of the past ten who did not have a previous top 13 finish in the event were the two 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.
While on the theme of Californian winners let’s not also forget that last years 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.
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.
The weather as always goes a long way to dictating this. In 2017 for example the conditions were wet and as a result the course lost a lot of its sting allowing bombers to come to the fore even more.
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 and I would expect firmer conditions to be the order of the day.
Temperatures look set to sit around 70 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!
I have gone with four players this week as follows;
JON RAHM – 9/1 - 4pts win - FINISHED 21st
While backing a player win only in this quality of field is obviously a risky business, at the head of the market this week I can’t get away from Jon Rahm and having chanced him in a similar way at Torrey Pines for the US Open last summer to great success I am happy to take him this week to notch his first win since that victory.
The fact that Rahm hasn’t posted a win on either tour since that Major success is of course a slight concern, and his frustration around this has been evident over recent weeks. From my end of things though I will take that as a positive that the world number one is hungry and motivated to notch his seventh PGA Tour title and this will surely come very soon.
Apart from the slight concern about Rahm’s win ratio the only other worry with Rahm at the moment is that the putts aren’t dropping, however anyone who watched him at TPC Scottsdale last week will have seen that he burnt so many edges and on another week it could have been a very different story.
Looking at Rahm’s week in Phoenix in more detail and he finished ranked 60th on the greens with Sunday being the only day he had a positive SGP return. If we look at the rest of his game though he ranked second from tee to green for the week, a key area at Riviera, and second in approach play. Basically everything was firing bar the putter.
As noted earlier the formula for finding the winner at Riviera over the recent years has more often than not come down to good old fashioned course form meets current form and while it is something you would expect from the worlds best player the Spaniard has both in spades. Firstly of course we have his current form, which has seen him finish tenth and third in his last two starts and then we have his Riviera form, which has seen him finish fifth, ninth and 17th in his three visits.
Returning to where we started with Rahm’s most recent win in the US Open, one other link you cannot get away from here is the performance of past champions in this event historically at Torrey Pines. Riviera specialist Bubba Watson has triumphed at both venues, 2016 champion here JB Holmes lost in a playoff at Torrey while last years winner here Max Homa had posted a top ten previously in the Farmers to name but three. With the link there for all to see then the fact that Rahm loves Torrey Pines is obviously a huge pointer to him performing well here.
To sum up then in my eyes all Jon needs to do is hole a few more putts and if this does happen on a return to the poa this week, assuming the long game holds up he will be a hard man to beat.
WILL ZALATORIS – 28/1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 26th
Next up this week having seen Scottie Scheffler get off the mark last week in Phoenix I am going to chance that Will Zalatoris can do the same this week in LA.
Zalatoris started 2022 in fine fashion in the Californian desert with a sixth place at the Amex before falling just short at Torrey Pines with a runner up finish. Unfortunately then with Will due to head on to Pebble Beach he was stopped in his tracks with a positive covid test, which has seen him side lined since. The one slight risk we are taking here then is that Zalatoris was not laid too low by the virus and is now fighting fit and raring to go again.
If we assume the latter is the case then Zalatoris should be chomping at the bit to get back out there after his near miss at Torrey and you would have to think that Riviera is a perfect place for him to push on again.
The reason I say this is that Riviera is a venue, which clearly rewards good ball striking and they don’t come much better in that department than the 25yr old.
One look at Will’s long game stats tells us all we need to know as he is currently ranked first in strokes-gained-tee-to-green on tour this season as well as first off the tee and first in approach. In addition Will is also ranked 19th in Driving Distance so we know he has the length to compete here.
The one area as we know that Will falls down in is with the putter however we have seen here over the years that while of course you need to hole your share success on the greens is not a key driver, something that is rubber stamped by victories for the likes of Scott and Holmes.
Returning to the classic course form/current form cocktail and away from Zalatoris’ recent top ten finishes we see that he finished 15th here last year. Furthermore as a native of California Will’s record in his home state has been hugely impressive over the past 18 months or so, in fact if we look at it closely we will see that he has posted five top fifteen finishes including three top tens in six starts in the Golden State since the beginning of the 2020 season. Clearly then Will loves teeing it up in the state of his birth. Finally it is also worth noting that one of those starts was an 11th place finish at the Fortinet last Fall, an event, which clearly ties in well here.
All in all Zalatoris’ game seems a perfect fit for the test ahead this week and I think he has a great chance to be the next young star to land his first tour win.
MATT FITZPATRICK – 33/1 – 1.5pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - WD BEFORE START
Next up this week and while Matt Fitzpatrick isn’t a player I am normally drawn to in this type of company at these sort of odds in a week when I am looking to keep things pretty straightforward I can’t resist his credentials.
Firstly looking at Matt’s form and having finished last year in fine style with a win and a runner up finish in his last four starts on the European Tour, he has come out on the PGA Tour all guns blazing posting a sixth place finish at Pebble Beach and then a tenth place finish last week in Phoenix.
Looking at Matt’s stats last week at TPC Scottsdale and he finished the week 11th from tee to green and eighth in approach play so the long game was clearly working well. This is also rubber stamped that he currently ranks sixth from tee to green on the PGA Tour this season. Furthermore he also ranks third this season on the PGA Tour in approach play.
The one down side to the Yorkshireman here, on a track, which has favoured bigger hitters over the recent years, is his length off the tee, however we saw last year in a dryer year that he can compete here when he finished fifth and with similar firmer conditions anticipated again this week it may just be that the bigger hitters don’t get it all there own way again. After all last years winner in dryer conditions, Max Homa, is no more than average in distance off the tee. Therefore while length will always be an advantage the hope is that Matt can overcome that hurdle as he did last year.
It is surely only a matter of time until Fitzpatrick breaks through stateside and arriving this week in fine fettle on a course, which based on his two appearances to date obviously fits his eye I am keen to have him on side.
BEAU HOSSLER – 250/1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 48th
For my final pick this week I am going to go out on a limb and take a chance on Beau Hossler.
As mentioned earlier the two biggest shock winners we have seen over the past ten years here James Hahn and John Merrick have both had strong Californian ties, as did last years winner of course, local man Max Homa, so there is certainly precedent for Cali guys to spring a surprise here and Hossler who also was born and bred in the Golden State is certainly a player with the pedigree to do similar.
Hossler came out on tour with a big reputation however after so nearly bagging his maiden tour title at Houston in 2018 he has somewhat lost his way over the recent years and has found himself returning to the Korn Ferry finals over the past couple of seasons.
This season though ranked in the 125-150 category Beau started strongly in his home state with a 16th place at the correlating Fortinet before three more missed cuts followed either side of the Christmas break.
At Pebble Beach however Beau found his form and having held a share of the lead going in to the final day he eventually posted a third place finish, a result, which was his best on tour since his runner up finish at The Travelers way back in 2018.
While the result at Pebble wasn’t the win Beau would have hoped for heading in to Sunday, he impressed many with the way he bounced back from a bad start to that round to still be in the hunt heading down 18 and it was a reminder of the talent he undoubtedly possesses.
Granted Beau missed the cut in Phoenix last week however now that he will have recharged the batteries after a weekend off he returns to California this week and to a venue he produced his season’s best finish at in 18/19 when he was 15th on his last visit here.
Add that performance to a ninth place finish at Torrey Pines in 2020 and we then have the mix we are looking for of some correlating course form, some form here at Riviera and some strong recent form.
Hossler is undoubtedly not the most consistent of players however he has the length off the tee that is an advantage here and that extra touch of class that means when the mood takes him and it all clicks he can compete in big company. Throw in the California connection and the more obvious pointers noted above and I am happy to wrap things up this week by taking a flyer on Beau.