The First Tee – Genesis Invitational

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly February 10, 2020 22:15

The First Tee – Genesis Invitational

This Week

The Genesis Open will host an incredible field this year, which means there’s a ton of value in the $8500-$10000 range this week. It’s a 120-man event, with regular cut rules (T65) after two days, which means a greater percentage of players will be making it through to the weekend and unless chalk really gets dinged up, a higher-than-average 6/6 %.

THE COURSE

Taking place in Los Angeles, the Genesis Open is hosted at Riviera Country Club, which is a long par-71 that plays officially at 7,322 yards. The winning score here usually sits in the mid-teens with the cut coming typically right around +1. This is the smallest the field has been though, so with the new cut rule in mind as well, a cut at E or better wouldn’t be a huge surprise.

Riviera has two long-ish par-5s that play a touch below par (-0.267 and -0.155 last year), but the opening hole is a very easy 503-yard par-5 that last year saw 29 eagles and came in with a scoring average of -0.801. Winners here need to make hay on the par-5s given how tough the course can be, so even though there are only three par-5s here, Par-5BoB% will be a key. There are only five par-4s (out of 11) that play below 450 yards, and with the way the fairways are setup (more on that in a second), mid-to-long iron play will be the difference-maker this week.

The fairways at Riv are very narrow – 27 yards across at the 275-yard mark, 26 at the 300-yard mark – and historically don’t get hit at all, only 55.95% last year (12th-hardest on tour); that number was actually the best it’s been in the past five years. The course is surrounded by trees and well-placed fairway bunkers, and because the course is kikuyu grass, the thin rough can still be a nightmare. I always copy-and-paste this bit from my previous articles when I talk about Riviera, so I’ll do that again: Kikuyu grass in the fairways is great because it holds the ball up very well and can give some very clean lies, but if the kikuyu is long enough it really grabs the ball and makes shots out of the rough extremely hard.

It’s also hard to hit the greens in regulation here (should be expected given the course setup), ranging between 53% in 2018 to 61.62% in 2016; that places it between the hardest on tour and the 17th-hardest on tour. A good part of that is due to the kikuyu, and the other part is that the greens themselves are quite small (~5000 sq. ft. which would be comparable to Pebble Beach). Also from last year: One of the stats I usually recommend here is proximity to the hole from the rough, as so many fairways are missed and the rough at some courses can be comparable to hitting off kikuyu; beyond that, golfers that consistently do well out of the rough show a good level of iron control, which is so important here.

 

The greens at Riviera are small (as mentioned) and are made up of poa annua, which again would be comparable to Pebble. Putting is very tough here as would be expected of a poa track, and this is often one of the hardest courses in terms of three-putting. Birdie putts are rare (28.09%, 12th-worst conversion on tour) and that’s because the average proximity here is a whopping 40’0” (overall), 32’8” from the fairway. Missed greens can mean very punitive bunkers, and although missing the green won’t  always result in a bogey – the course weirdly is always one of the easier courses to scramble at – hitting the sand usually will.

Comparable courses/events:

Club de golf Chapulpetec (WGC Mexico) – The distances (listed) for both courses are comparable, but of course Mexico features elevation which changes things; that being said, both courses are kikuyu-poa tracks, and tend to see the same winners (Mickelson, DJ) as both reward long iron play and putting.

Pebble Beach (AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am) – Riviera isn’t a coastal course the way Pebble is, so obviously the weather has much less impact at Riv, but both courses reward great putting, keeping it in the fairways, and long irons.

 

STATS

The Strokes Gained stats to focus on in order (not including Tee to Green):

  • Approach
  • Putting
  • Off the Tee
  • Around the Green

Counting stats to focus on in order:

  • Bogey Avoidance
  • Proximity to the Hole from the Rough
  • Scrambling
  • Birdie or Better %
  • Greens in Regulation
  • Par-5 Birdie or Better %

Top-Tier Golfers

Dustin Johnson ($10000)

Form: Like most people playing at Pebble this past Sunday, DJ had a pretty awful fourth round (78) to finish at T32 on the week. That was his first PGA event since he played at the Tournament of Champions, but between the two events he picked up a solo second in Saudi Arabia at the Bonesaw Invitational.

History & Comp. History: DJ has stellar course history – eight top-10s which includes a win and two runner-ups – and has only missed the cut twice here, back in 2013 and 2011; his worst finish since DJ “became DJ” (after 2013) was T16, in 2018. His history at the comp. courses is also stellar, as he’s won WGC Mexico twice in three years, and has two wins at Pebble (only one MC).

Stats (2019): You normally have to pay much more for stats like this, but given the players in the field this week, DJ’s available at a discount; last year, he ranked eighth in SG: Tee to Green, was the eighth-longest player off the tee, and in a down year put up the 17th-best BoB% (23.57%). He’s an elite par-5 scorer who putts well on poa, and won’t have his father-in-law hanging around all week.

FGI Rolling Stats (L16): His last 16 rounds look like a struggle, as DJ hasn’t been pouring in the birdies – he’s 97th in the field with 3.438 – but DJ’s last 16 measured rounds go all the way back to last year’s playoffs where the courses are much tougher, so keep that in mind. Especially keep that in mind when looking at his Strokes Gained data (it is BAD!), because he’s 100th or worse in every category except SG: Off the Tee.

 

Jason Day ($8800)

Form: The two events Day’s played in 2020 have been phenomenal, picking up a solo fourth at Pebble Beach last week even though he collapsed in the fourth round (a 75, yeesh). He also finished T16 at the Farmer’s Insurance Open, which was his first event played since back in November when he missed the cut at the Mayakoba.

History & Comp. History: Spent some time last week talking about Day’s excellent history at Pebble (seven top-10s in 11 tries, including last week), so no need to delve too much further into it (it’s great!), but it should be noted that Day’s never played the better comp. course (Club de Golf Chapultepec). He’s also not found much success at Riviera, missing the cut the first two years he tried (2010 and 2011), and finishing T62 and T64 in his next two tries (2012 and 2017 respectively).

Stats (2019): 2019 was not a great year for Day on paper, losing 0.83 strokes/round on approach, but hitting the 16th-most greens in regulation. Day has been improving with his club speed and length off the tee over his career and ended up gaining the 13th-most strokes OTT last year. He’s an elite putter, and has had found a ton of success on poa throughout his career.

FGI Rolling Stats (L16): Even including the four rounds at Pebble, Day’s last 16 rounds aren’t amazing when looking at ShotLink data: 87th in the field from tee to green and 115th(!) on approach, but on the plus side he’s remained solid around the greens (13th) and on them (52nd). Day continues to hit it long (20th in this field which is great considering the names in the field), and sits 30th in birdies/round (4.125).

Honourable mention: Bubba Watson ($9600)

 

Value Golfer (below $8000)

J.B. Holmes ($7700)

Form: In any other field, Holmes wouldn’t qualify as a value pick given his course history (see next) and very strong recent form: he’s finished T14, T16 and T16 in his last three (regular) events, at Pebble, WMPO and Farmers respectively. His other 2020 event was a 30th at the Tournament of Champions which is nothing to be happy about (small field, no-cut), but that was over a month ago.

History & Comp. History: Holmes is a past winner here, taking the event down last year, but he also has five top-10 finishes in 13 events and has only missed the cut once (2013). He’s had a mixed bag at Pebble with two top-10s (including a T2 in 2010) and fresh off a T14 last week, but also three missed cuts (14 events played) and four finishes of T50 or worse. In the WGC Mexico’s first year, Holmes finished T12 but hasn’t been back since.

Stats (2019): 2019 wasn’t too kind to Holmes, who ranked 71st in SG: Tee to Green and a brutal 65.57% in GIR% (131st). To make matters worse, Holmes also lost .752 strokes/rd with his putter. Holmes is a long hitter which tends to work well at Riviera, and he’s got tremendous proximity from the rough which is a good asset for kikuyu courses. His birdie numbers looked very bad last year, but have improved in the small sample of 2020 – which’ll show up in this next paragraph.

FGI Rolling Stats (L16): Holmes’ last 16 rounds obviously look pretty strong given where he’s finished recently, as he ranks 24th in distance and 54th in accuracy (36th off the tee), but his approach play has been a nightmare. That’s unlike Holmes, and on the bright side his more recent rounds (4-8) are much improved with his irons. He’s been scoring at elite rates (second in eagles, 35th in birdies) mostly thanks to his length off the tee, but he’ll definitely make his share of bogeys (116th).

 

Adam Hadwin ($7200)

Form: Hadwin usually plays the Farmers to pick up his early good finish, but because he and his wife just had a kid, Hadwin skipped that event and just came back at the Farmers where he finished T40. Hadwin was a chalk play that missed the cut last week at Pebble Beach, so it’s tough to gauge where his game is these days.

History & Comp. History: Decent enough history at Pebble, with one MC (last week) to go with a T18 and T39. Finished T9 in his only year in Mexico (2018). Has never missed the cut here and before last year, his worst finish was T34; his best is a T6 (2018) but last year he was a disappointment at 75th with weekend rounds of 77-77.

Stats (2019): Hadwin was his usual self last year, hitting fairways (67%) but not bombing it, and putting the lights out. He’s got good proximity from the fairway (which is good given how well he hits fairways) and when he’s got long approaches he has great numbers relative to par (-.225 outside 200 yards). He’s got great BoB% numbers for a shorter hitter – 31st on par-5s and 39th overall, and has great proximity from the sand.

FGI Rolling Stats (L16): Hadwin looks like a mega-stud over his last 16 rounds in this field, sitting 12th from tee to green (34th off the tee/18th on approach) and 18th in SG: Putting. That unfortunately hasn’t led to a ton of birdies (3.563, 82nd), but he’s hitting it remarkably long these days (relatively speaking, 40th) and continues to be supremely accurate off the tee.

 

Honourable mention: Emiliano Grillo ($6900)

You can follow me on Twitter @adalyfrey and good luck this week!

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly February 10, 2020 22:15

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