PGA Core Plays
The Genesis Open
By Derek Hill
The Genesis Open
The Genesis Invitational has undergone a slight change from years past. It was previously known as the Genesis Open. Starting this year, it took on an invitational format with Tiger Woods acting as host. The field is absolutely loaded and will include 120 players. This will most likely be the most challenging non-major field of the year, and likely has a more difficult field than you see at The Masters. 8 of the top 10 players in the world will be in the field this week including each one of the top 6 players. The talent doesn’t drop off much after these players. There is a long list of big names ready to challenge for the win this week.
Riviera Country Club is a fantastic course. It is a very well-rounded challenge. When looking at the 7,322 yardage for the course, you might think distance is not a factor. When you take a closer look, you’ll see that that is not the case at all. There are 2 very short par-5s as well as a very short par 4. That leaves 7 par 4s that are over 450 yards. You will see a lot of approach shots from outside 170 yards this week. Long hitters will have an advantage this week, but you may also want to consider players who are shorter hitters but have a good long iron game. Don’t dismiss the short game. SG: Around the green will be an important statistic this week as Riviera has some of the toughest greens to hit in regulation. There will be plenty of guys trying to get up and down for par. Putting will be important as well. Don’t be surprised if you see guys marking their ball and getting a read when they’re left with < 3 feet. Riviera has the most missed putts inside 3 feet on tour.
Does it seem like I’ve mentioned just about every aspect of the game as being important this week? That pretty much is the case. That’s why it is known as a well-rounded course and a true test of golf. It requires players to hit every club in their bag as well as forces them to hit every kind of shot possible.
A few hints you may want to look into yourself. Find guys that make eagles at an above average rate. #1 is a short par 5 that concedes more eagles than any other hole on tour. Also, when in doubt, go with a lefty on this course. They have more success here than just about anywhere else.
Here are the guys I like this week:
Top-End Pick: Bubba Watson
Bubba is an obvious pick this week. How can you not go with a guy who has 3 wins here since 2014. He knows the course well enough to have an advantage over most of the rest of the field. That alone will pick him up a few shots on the field. When you take a look at his game, he has a lot that works in his favor this week. He obviously has the distance off the tee, but he also is 3rd in approaches from 175-200 yards which will be a common occurrence this week. It never hurts that he is 14 in SG: putting and 5th in overall putting.
Other guys I like:
Justin Thomas: If not for a late meltdown last year, he would be the defending champion at Riviera. If you eliminate his missed cut at the Sony Open in Hawaii early last month, he has just 1 finish outside the top5 in his 6 starts so far this season. That is basically the summary of why he is 1st in the FedEx Cup rankings. If you look at his statistics, he is pretty good across the board with little weakness. Riviera is a course that takes some getting used to and those familiar with it have an advantage. He is starting to feel more comfortable, gradually improving his finishes there since 2016: 54th, 39th, 9th, 2nd.
Tony Finau: Finished 2nd in 2018 and 15th in 2019. While it is early in the season, Finau ranks highly in some relevant categories this week including 7th in SG: around the green and 7th in approaches 175-200 yards. Has finished inside the top 15 in his last 4 starts
Others to consider: Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy
Mid-Tier Pick: JB Holmes
In his last 3 events he has finished: T16, T16, T14. He has missed just 1 cut in 13 appearances at Riviera since 2006. He is very familiar with the course, playing here every year since 2008. He has 5 top-10s and is the defending champion.
Other mid-tier guys I like:
Jason Day: Most of what I said last week about Jason Day applies again this week. His stellar short game plays just about anywhere. It will be important again this week. Jason Day is 1st in SG around the green and 7th in SG: Tee to Green. The biggest disadvantage Day has is his unfamiliarity with the course when compared to other contenders. He missed his first 2 cuts at Riviera in 2010 and 2011 when it hosted the Northern Trust Open. He has made his last 2 cuts there, but last played in this event in 2017.
Jordan Spieth: 2 top-10s and 4 top 25s in 7 tries at Riviera. Coming off of a T9 finish at Pebble Beach. His short game is coming back to him. He ranks 2nd in SG: Around the green.
Others to Consider: Marc Leishman, Charles Howell III, Adam Scott
Value Play: Aaron Baddeley
I can’t remember a time that I liked Baddeley as much as I do for the event this week. He is 14 for 17 in cuts made at Riviera, including a win in 2011. It’s not surprising to see his success here as he currently ranks 3rd in SG: Around the Green. Riviera requires good touch around its small greens. He has played some solid golf over the last few weeks. Coming off a T25 finish at the AT&T Pro-Am.
Other guys I like:
Carlos Ortiz: 3 for 3 in cuts made at Riviera. Coming off of a 9th place finish last year. Solid player from tee to green including his ability to score well on long par 4s. Players will see plenty of those this week.
Jason Kokrak: Has played at Riviera 8 times and has only missed the cut once. He placed 2nd in 2016 when the Northern Trust was played at Riviera CC. Above average player off the tee and approaching the green.
Others to consider: James Hahn
Derek Hill Grew up in rural Utah. Married my his wife, Krista in 2010. Derek and Krista have 2 young daughters. Derek earned an undergrad degree from UVU, a Bachelors of Science in Nursing from Weber State University, and Masters in Nursing Anesthesia from Samford University. Derek