The First Tee – Genesis Open

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly February 13, 2018 00:27

The First Tee – Genesis Open

This week finds the tour heading to Riviera Country Club for the Genesis Open (formerly the Northern Trust). The field this week is absolutely stacked, with the typical PGA elites playing against some of the best in the world in Rory, Tommy Fleetwood, Thomas Pieters, Charl Schwartzel, etc… oh, and Tiger’s playing.

THE COURSE

Riviera Country Club was designed by George C. Thomas in 1926 and has basically remained the same ever since, which is rare in the days of Tiger-proofed courses and the constant need to tinker. It’s a long par-71 at 7,322 yards, with only the 503-yard par-5 being an easy hole. The course typically plays pretty tough, with the cut coming between +1 and +4 over the past five years.

Thanks to its narrow fairways, golfers historically only hit ~53% of fairways on average (10th hardest fairways in 2017), which makes hitting the green in regulation that much tougher (58.61% GIR last year, 5th toughest). Surrounding the narrow fairways are a number of trees, and diabolically placed fairway bunkers; the ideal tee shot is (obviously) long and straight, but failing that, tee shots that clear the bunkers will typically have a few less trees to contend with so missing the fairway long won’t be as penal. The impact of distance shouldn’t be understated – especially if weather is a concern as it was last year –with past winners like Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson.

Riviera is one of the few courses that the PGA Tour sees that has kikuyu grass on the fairways – the WGC in Mexico and Torrey Pines (North and South) being the other exceptions – and it puts a real emphasis on the approach game. Here’s a short description from Torrey Pines: the kikuyu grass found in the fairway and rough is short but much thicker than bent or Bermuda, which lessens control on iron shots. Hitting the fairways is thus key, as it’s tough enough to hit off kikuyu on the closely-mown fairways, but hitting out of the rough will be a much tougher task.”  One of the key stats I used last year was proximity to the hole from the rough, as hitting out of the rough on some (easier) courses is almost comparable to hitting off of the spongey kikuyu and demonstrates a consistent ability to hit irons well.

It’s another week of bumpy poa annua greens that play fast and firm, so they should be comparable to Pebble Beach or Torrey Pines South. The greens here are smaller than average but larger than last week, and are multi-faceted in that they often contain false fronts and/or wild undulation, and have horribly tricky bunkers for those that can’t hold their approach shots. The par-3 #6th is not only surrounded by bunkers on three sides, but also has a small bunker in the middle of the green – with all the sand around and tough greens to hold, scrambling will definitely be a factor to avoid big numbers.

NOTE: As of today it looks like there will be no rain, but on the off chance there is, approach shots should hold better and distance gets bumped up even more.

 

STATS

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

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

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 % – although there are only three par-5s, making better than par all four days and playing par golf the rest of the way could win the tournament given past scores.

The Golfers

Dustin Johnson ($11900): Since 2008, DJ has only missed two cuts in 10 attempts at Riviera, and had one T59 in his first shot back in ’08; beyond those three events, Dustin has finished in the top-10 SEVEN OUT OF TEN TIMES, and even more impressive…finished in the top-4 SIX OUT OF TEN TIMES. That course history is impossible to ignore even for people that don’t care for course history, and DJ will of course be highly owned across all contests. He’s entering the week after a tough Sunday where he got outplayed by Ted Potter Jr. of the Hooters Tour, but that was just a blip for DJ whose all-world form will be shown off again this week.

Statistical merits (2017):

  • 5th in SG: Approach
  • 1st in SG: Off the Tee, 1st in SG: Tee to Green
  • 1st in Proximity to the Hole from the Rough
  • 12th in Birdie or Better %

DJ also took down the WGC Mexico last year on the same grasses.

Alternate top-tier options:

Thomas Pieters ($7700) – He’s technically not a top-tier option when it comes to price this week, but I get to make the rules, and Pieters (aka the Belgian Bomber with all disrespect to Nic Colsaerts) is my favourite golfer – who also fits this course to a tee, as shown by last year’s T2 finish and his 2012 NCAA Div I Championship win here. Last year Pieters averaged 306 yards off the tee (EuroTour), was 2nd in the PGA for SG: Approach and 30th in SG: Tee to Green, and scored insanely well on par-5s (7th) and in general (38th BoB).

The 38th-ranked golfer in the world as mentioned finished T2 here last year, but also had a T5 in Mexico where the grass is kikuyu and poa greens, and finished T4 at Augusta which is a course that correlates fairly well with Riviera. With a rounding-into-form/recent past champion Bubba just $100 more, last week’s chalk darling RCB at the same price point, and Ollie Schniederjans just $100 less, Pieters may slip through the cracks a touch.

Also consider: Tommy Fleetwood ($9500)

Value:

Cameron Smith ($7100): This is a value that could go overlooked – he should garner less ownership than past winner Hahn (more on him below), at any rate – even though Smith has been lights out in 2018. Until Smith’s T48 at the Waste Management, he hadn’t finished worse than T20 since the PGA calendar rolled over, and what also bodes well is that he played well on kikuyu/poa courses in the past (possibly thanks to his Aussie heritage); his T20 at the Farmers, and T33 at the Farmers/T28 here last year are all good signs that he can work his way around the course. Statistically he does struggle on approach, but he’s been very strong from the rough, is an excellent scrambler, and is a stud scorer.

Other values:

James Hahn ($7100): Hahn is a past winner here – beating DJ and Paul Casey in a playoff – and in his five attempts here has only missed one cut. In the 2018 season, Hahn has gone 8/8 in made cuts while finishing 2nd at the Sony Open, and T11 at the Waste Management being the real highlights. Hahn’s got an excellent approach game which is crucial here (27th in SG:App), and has the 42nd-best Birdie or Better percentage this season.

Kyle Stanley ($7000): His approach statistics this season have been horrendous compared to the level he’s normally at: currently 178th in SG: App, compared to 13th last season. Luckily, Stanley remains a stud off the tee, and has a middling course history that can justify his cheap cost to squeeze in more top talent, with a T24, T39, and MC in his three cracks at Riv. Stanley’s only missed one cut this season, at the WMPO, and has had strong showings in the past five years at Torrey Pines. If going stars & scrubs, Stanley is a scrub to consider.

Good luck this week! You can follow me on Twitter @adalyfrey if you have any questions, and my DMs are always open.

Adam Daly
By Adam Daly February 13, 2018 00:27

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