This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
Winner's Share: $1.332M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: Pacific Palisades, Calif.
Course: Riviera Country Club
2018 champion: Bubba Watson
When the condensed and rejiggered PGA Tour schedule for 2018-19 was released, there was some concern it would affect one of the signature tournaments on the golf calendar. The Los Angeles Tour stop began in 1926, and this will be its 93rd edition, as it has been played every year besides 1943. It annually attracts one of the best fields in a "regular" event. But what would happen with fewer tournaments being played, and with the must-play WGC-Mexico coming the following week? As it turns out, something fantastic.
With a field that's loaded even by the Genesis Open's lofty standards, six of the top 10 golfers in the world, 14 of the top 20 and 21 of the top 30 have made their way to storied Riviera Country Club this week. Where to begin? With Tiger Woods, naturally. When Woods arrived last year for the first time as tournament host – his TGR Live company manages the event and proceeds go to his charitable arm, the Tiger Woods Foundation – he was ranked 550th in the world. His comeback to end all comebacks was in its infancy. He's now ranked No. 13. There's just one problem: Woods seemingly can't win here. This will be his 10th go-round at Riviera as a professional, more than at any other track he hasn't won at. He missed the cut last year. In fairness, Woods did contend here in the past, and even had a runner-up, though we're talking pre-2000. Spoiler alert: We're not picking Tiger this week.
In the non-Tiger Division, there's No. 3-ranked, 2017 champ and perennial contender Dustin Johnson, plus two-time winner Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy, who kicked away the 2016 tournament with a seven-bogey Sunday. Oh, and Bubba Watson, who has won at Riviera three of the past five years, is back to defend his title. The 144-man field is so stacked that the No. 42 golfer in the world, Matthew Fitzpatrick, had to go to Monday qualifying to try to get into the main draw, and could not do so. We should also point out that this will be Sergio Garcia's first tournament since whatever-the-heck-that-was in Saudi Arabia two weeks ago, when he was disqualified for damaging greens and beating up a defenseless sand trap. You can be sure that if Garcia were playing at Bethpage Black this week as opposed to genteel Pacific Palisades, he would've considered a later and different re-entry point to public life.
Okay, some real fantasy information now: With so many big names, a lot of them of them will have very attractive prices, some dipping down into the high-$7,000s. That's a strong argument for a balanced six-man lineup, as opposed to a stars-and-scrubs approach. There's a lot of incentive for the golfers this week, as such names as Si Woo Kim and Adam Hadwin are not yet in next week's WGC field. The top 50 in the OWGR and the top 10 in both the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai standings get in.
Riviera can be a brutally tough track – twice in the past seven years the winning score was in single digits, and last year was pretty close with Watson's 12-under. It's one of the few courses with no water. Instead, tight fairways, penal rough, some very long holes and small poa annua greens force the golfers to use all the clubs in their bag. Getting on the green in regulation is paramount. But of course that's no easy task. Riviera had the third toughest fairways to hit last year, at just over 52 percent. Every year at this time we hear about kikuyu grass, a gnarly, club-twisting beast that's a rarity on Tour. Kikuyu is tough to navigate without familiarity, and as you'll see in the Champion's Profile below, familiarity is imperative to win at Riviera. (Fun kikuyu factoid: It's prominent in Australia and South Africa – hint, hint.)
Riviera, one of two tracks nicknamed "Hogan's Alley" for Ben Hogan, Colonial being the other – features six par-4s in excess of 450 yards, and two of the three par-5s exceed 575. Five of the seven hardest holes on the course last year were those 450-plus par-4s. But a pair of shorter holes are what Riviera is known for. There's the par-3 sixth with the bunker in the middle of the green and the risk/reward 315-yard 10th, a hole that some call the best drivable par-4 in golf. The round comes to a close at the brutish, uphill par-4, 475-yard 18th with the pint-size green.
Weather-wise, we all have a picture of glorious Southern California weather in our heads, but it's no sure thing in February, and the tournament has been plagued by some rainy weeks over the years. This time will be no different, as it's been a rainy winter in the Los Angeles, with more rain forecast for Wednesday and Thursday before it dries out – so tee times might be a determining factor in lineup consideration. Temperatures will be chilly, fighting to break 60 all week.
Key Stats to Winning at Riviera
Note - The most important indicators every week are current form and course history. "Key stats" follow in importance.
• Driving distance/strokes gained: off the tee
• Greens in regulation/strokes gained: approach
• Scrambling/strokes gained: around the green
• Putting inside 10 feet/strokes gained: putting
• Par-4 efficiency 450-500 yards
2018 - Bubba Watson
2017 - Dustin Johnson
2016 - Bubba Watson
2015 - James Hahn
2014 - Bubba Watson
2013 - John Merrick
2012 - Bill Haas
2011 - Aaron Baddeley
2010 - Steve Stricker
2009 - Phil Mickelson
You don't have look any further back than five years to see how it helps to be long here. Three Watsons and one Johnson paint a pretty definitive picture. Riviera is not an especially long course, but as mentioned above, there are a lot of long holes. You don't have to be a long hitter to win – take a bow, James Hahn – but with all the rain the course has gotten and will continue to get, it will be a huge advantage. Riviera's fairways are hard to hit, but if you miss, being 20-30 yards closer to the green surely will help. And with small greens here, greens in regulation are no bargain. That brings scrambling into play. Last year, Watson took a little bit off the gas pedal. He ranked 21st in driving distance, but by hitting more than 57 percent of his fairways, he was able to be seventh in the field in greens in regulation and ninth in proximity to the hole. For Watson, taking his foot off the gas equated to an average 304 off the tee. Every champion the past two decades has played the tournament at least twice previously, indicating the importance of course knowledge, and all but two of the past 35 winners have been at least 29 years old. Ernie Els had played Riviera only once before winning in 1999. Charles Howell III was 27 when he won in 2007 and Adam Scott was 24 in 2005, a victory awarded after 36 holes when the rain simply wouldn't stop.
DRAFTKINGS VALUE PICKS (Based on Standard $50K Salary Cap)
Tier 1 Values
Dustin Johnson - $11,400 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 8-1)
Johnson finished 16th here last year – and it was an off year. The previous four years he went 1-4-2-2. Johnson's schedule was thrown out of whack a bit by making two stops in the Middle East last month, and that may have contributed to his lackluster effort last week at Pebble Beach. Presumably, he's over any jet lag.
Justin Thomas - $11,000 (12-1)
Thomas finally got the hang of Riviera in his fourth visit a year ago, as he tied for ninth. It's been an uncharacteristically quiet start to the season for Thomas, who the past three years had wins by now. But he came close last time out, finishing solo third at Phoenix. Thomas is leading the Tour in strokes gained: approach and tee to green, while ranking eighth in par-4 450-500. His putting will need to improve to contend this week.
Bryson DeChambeau - $10,200 (16-1)
DeChambeau won four over his past 10 starts worldwide and he finished top-20 in all the events he did not win. Last month, he claimed victory in Dubai, then tied for sixth in Saudi Arabia. DeChambeau tied for 41st here last year. In limited PGA Tour play, he is ranked fifth in strokes gained: off the tee and seventh in both greens in regulation and par-4 450-500.
Bubba Watson - $9,700 (20-1)
Last year at this time, Watson was in disarray, priced almost $2,000 cheaper. Then he went out and won this event for the third time in five years, and added two more wins. This is an odd-numbered year, and Watson's wins have all come in even years, but three wins on one track is three wins. Watson is ranked second on Tour in strokes gained: off the tee and ninth in par-4 450-500.
Tier 2 Values
Xander Schauffele - $9,400 (20-1)
Schauffele seems to play his best in top fields – he won the WGC-HSBC and Tournament of Champions in the past few months. He even followed up the second win with a T25 at Torrey Pines, where he had never made the cut before, then another top-10 at Phoenix. The SoCal native proved a quick learner last year by tying for ninth in his Riviera debut. He's not especially long or accurate off the tee, but he makes up for it with an elite short game. Schauffele is ranked 12th on Tour in strokes gained: around the green and fourth in putting.
Hideki Matsuyama - $9,300 (25-1)
Matsuyama appears to be regaining the form that catapulted him into a top-5 spot in the OWGR. Now ranked 28th, Matsuyama is coming off a pair of quality outings, tying for third at Torrey Pines and for 15th at Phoenix. Matsuyama is ranked seventh in driving distance, third in strokes gained: approach and second tee to green. From 2014-16, he finished T23-T4-T11 at Riviera.
Patrick Cantlay - $9,000 (30-1)
Cantlay withdrew from last week's event presumably because of the weather; there's been no word of an injury. He tied for fourth a year ago in his first visit to Riviera in years, pretty much a home game for the UCLA alum and Long Beach native. Cantlay is ranked 27th in strokes gained: off the tee, 28th in approach, seventh in tee to green, 18th in around the green and T21 in par-4 450-500.
Cameron Smith - $8,400 (35-1)
The 25-year-old Aussie (Australia ... kikuyu) is playing perhaps the best golf of his career, and he's up to a personal best of 27th in the OWGR. That's because he's finished top-25 in 10-of-12 worldwide starts going back to the start of the FedEx playoffs. That includes a win over Marc Leishman at the Australian PGA Tour and top-15s at Torrey Pines and Phoenix. Smith has bulked up and is ranked 37th in driving distance. More impressively, he's fifth in strokes gained: approach and 16th in putting.
Tier 3 Values
Rafa Cabrera Bello - $7,800 (60-1)
The Spaniard impressively tied for 26th in his maiden visit to Riviera a year ago. He arrives with top-25s in six of his past seven worldwide starts, including a T22 last week at Pebble Beach. He has only two measured rounds – the two at Pebble last week – so his PGA Tour stats rankings are all but meaningless.
Adam Hadwin - $7,800 (50-1)
Hadwin's game has kind of flip-flopped so far this season. Normally an excellent putter who struggled with the driver, the Canadian is ranked 12th in strokes gained: off tee, while 88th in putting. He's played Riviera the past four years, three of them top-25s, including last year's tie for sixth. Hadwin tied for 18th last week at Pebble Beach.
Jason Kokrak - $7,600 (60-1)
Kokrak has a nice combination going, finishing top-25 in his past three starts this season and also in his past three at Riviera, which included a runner-up in 2016. Always strong from tee to green, Kokrak is ranked 24th in driving distance, 35th in strokes gained: off the tee and 26th in greens in regulation. A big difference this year has been his putting. After four straight years outside the top-100 in strokes gained: putting, Kokrak this season is ranked 58th.
Si Woo Kim - $7,400 (80-1)
Picking Kim is always a risk, as you never know what you're gonna get from the South Korean. But that's somewhat expected from someone still only 23 – it's hard to believe this is Kim's fourth season on Tour. He tied for fourth last week, and what stood out was that he led the field in putting. Kim is ranked 22nd on the season in strokes gained: putting – after being outside the top-150 the past two seasons – and 21st in strokes gained: around the green. Kim is also tied for 26th in par-4 450-500.
Kevin Tway - $7,100 (125-1)
Tway won the season-opening Safeway Open but hasn't notched a top-10 since. In fact, he has missed two of his past three cuts, but the one cash was at Torrey Pines, which has some similarities to Riviera. Tway hits it far, ranked 11th in driving distance, and is 41st in strokes gained: off the tee. He's also 27th in greens in regulation and an impressive 13th in strokes gained: around the green.
Harold Varner III - $7,000 (125-1)
Varner has made the cut in three of his four visits, with a best of T26 three years ago. He arrives in far better form than he's ever displayed before, already with six top-25s on the season, including a tie for 10th two weeks ago at Phoenix. Varner is ranked 38th in strokes gained: off the tee, 46th in tee to green and a terrific 35th in strokes gained: total.
Jhonnatan Vegas - $6,500 (150-1)
A good ball striker, Vegas should do well here. He did two years ago, tying for 15th (he MCed last year). He's coming off his best showing of the season, a tie for 10th at Phoenix. Vegas is ranked 20th on Tour in strokes gained: off the tee and 24th tee to green.
Adam Schenk - $6,400 (Field, 12-1)
Schenk is 4-for-4 in cuts in 2019, albeit with nothing better than last week's T45 at Pebble. And he's 8-of-10 on the season. Schenk is ranked above average in a number of strokes-gained categories: off the tee (76th), approach (61st), putting (43rd) and total (a very impressive 58th). Schenk made the cut in his Riviera debut a year ago, tying for 53rd.