This article is part of our DraftKings PGA series.
THE GENESIS INVITATIONAL
Winner's Share: $1.674M
FedEx Cup Points: 500 to the Winner
Location: Pacific Palisades, Calif.
Course: Riviera Country Club
2019 champion: J.B. Holmes
No matter the name of the Los Angeles Tour stop – and it's had quite a few over the years – there's always been one word to instantly identify it: Riviera. Nobody needs to say the name of the tournament; "Riviera" is all that's needed. This is one of the signature weeks on the PGA Tour calendar, and certainly the marquee event in the players' minds on a West Coast Swing filled with marquee destinations. It's hard to imagine how they could have made the tournament even better, but they did. By granting it invitational status – it no longer is the Genesis Open, it's the Genesis Invitational, the purse has ballooned, the field has been trimmed to a tidy 120 and thus all the biggest names in golf are on hand this week. Riviera is now on par with the Memorial and Bay Hill, and these three annually are the "regular" tournaments with the best strength-of-field rating. They come with three-year exemptions instead of the standard two.
Nine of the top-10 OWGR are entered, including new No. 1 Rory McIlroy, former No. 1 Brooks Koepka and tournament host Tiger Woods. It's no coincidence that when Woods and his charitable foundation shifted affiliation to this tournament a couple of years ago, it fueled this upsell. The only one missing from the top-10 is Webb Simpson, who, despite riding a terrific surge the past few years, does not move the needle enough to make us regret writing just one paragraph ago that "all the biggest names in golf are on hand this week." There are also top-5s in Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson, plus Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth and even Woods' longtime adversary/foil/punching bag, Sergio Garcia. Yes, another perk for tournament organizers is that Riviera comes one week before the WGC-Mexico, meaning many of the top internationals are here a week early. In fact, 19 of the top-25 in the world are entered. That doesn't even include Bubba Watson, who's won this tournament three of the past six years.
Los Angeles has been associated with the PGA Tour since 1926, and this will be the 94th edition of the "L.A. Open," having been played every year except 1943. Close to 60 of them of them have taken place at Riviera, which became the permanent site in 1984. (No. 2 on the list with 17 is venerable Rancho Park, the popular muni that's plopped right in the middle of the Westside of LA).
Riviera can be a brutally tough track – it's not uncommon to see the winner in single digits, though last year out-of-nowhere J.B. Holmes won it at 14-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 annually is among the toughest fairways to hit, not far from 50 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, while two of the three par-5s exceed 575 and there's a par-3 exceeding 230. Six of the seven hardest holes on the course last year were those 450-plus par-4s. In fact, the 479-yard 12th was the third hardest hole on the entire Tour last season. 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.
The names who have won this tournament read like a wing in the Golf Hall of Fame: Hogan, Snead, Nelson, Palmer, Casper, Miller, Watson, Couples, Faldo, Els, Mickelson. Interestingly, two names aren't there: Nicklaus and Woods. This will be Woods' 11th go-round at Riviera as a professional, more than at any other track he hasn't won at. Woods tied for 15th last year and has contended in the past. He even had a runner-up, though we're talking pre-2000. Spoiler alert: We're not picking Tiger this week.
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. On the other hand, more than half the field will make the cut, and that invariably means some lesser golfers will be around for the weekend, which argues for a star-and-scrubs approach. There's a lot of incentive for the golfers this week. The top 50 in the OWGR and the top 10 in both the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai standings get into the WGC-Mexico next week.
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. But not this time. It's been a dry winter in SoCal and, while there was rain this past weekend, it will be clear skies the rest of the week. Temperatures will top out in the low to mid-60s, meaning there will be some chilly mornings. The wind should not be a factor.
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
You don't have look any further back than six years to see how it helps to be long here. Three Watsons, a Johnson and a Holmes paint a pretty definitive picture. Holmes was not super long off the tee last year, choosing to improve accuracy, but he was long enough to rank second in the field in greens in regulation. He also was first in strokes gained: putting, and that combination will will tournaments many weeks. 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 – and with no rain this week, that opens the door for more short hitters. 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, getting on the green in regulation is no bargain. That brings scrambling into play. Much like Holmes did, Watson took a little bit off the gas pedal in 2018. 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
Rory McIlroy - $11,600 (Winning odds at golfodds.com: 6-1)
McIlroy arrives with the pressure of having to defend his newly regained and also precarious No. 1 ranking. Either Brooks Koepka or Jon Rahm could wrest the top spot without even winning. McIlroy has been on quite a roll beginning with his win at the Tour Championship to close last season. In his last nine worldwise starts, he has two wins, a second, two T3s, a solo fourth and a T9. He's played Riviera three times the past four years, with a pair of T20s and a tie for fourth last year.
Justin Thomas - $11,000 (10-1)
Thomas had the tournament in his grasp last year until collapsing with a final-round 75 to lose to J.B. Holmes by a single stroke. He's Exhibit A that it takes time to learn the nuances of Riviera. After playing three times without cracking the top-35, Thomas tied for ninth two years ago before last year's runner-up. He is tied for third on Tour in par-4 450-500, actually playing those holes under par.
Patrick Cantlay - $9,800 (20-1)
The UCLA product has played Riviera many times, including four times in this tournament. Cantlay was 15th last year and fourth the year before. He has laser-like precision, ranking 13th in accuracy off the tee and 16th in greens in regulation. He's also ranked T22 in par-4 450-500. Cantlay is coming off a tie for 11th last week at Pebble Beach.
Bubba Watson - $9,600 (20-1)
Watson has won this tournament three times in the past six years, even when he was far off his A-game. This time, Watson arrives in great form, having tied for sixth at Torrey Pines and for third at Phoenix. He is also tied with Thomas for third on Tour par-4 450-500. For what it's worth, all three of Watson's Riviera wins have come in even-numbered years. Welcome to the 2020 Genesis Invitational, Bubba!
Tier 2 Values
Hideki Matsuyama - $9,300 (30-1)
Matsuyama will be making his sixth visit to Riviera, where he tied for ninth a year ago and a tie for fourth in 2015. Last year, he climbed 27 spots up the leaderboard with a closing 67. In his past 10 worldwide starts, Matsuyama has three podium finishes, another top-10 and five more top-20s. He ranks 10th on Tour in both greens in regulation and strokes gained: tee to green.
Xander Schauffele - $9,200 (20-1)
Despite similarities to Torrey Pines, where Schauffele misses the cut on almost an annual basis, Riviera has proved gettable for him. He's played it twice, tying for ninth two years ago and for 15th last year. This season, Schauffele has been outstanding with his driver, ranking second on Tour in strokes gained: off the tee. That's helped him ranked 10th in greens in regulation and third in strokes gained: tee to green, numbers good enough to offset his terrible putting.
Tony Finau - $9,100 (25-1)
When we last saw Finau, he was losing in excruciating fashion to Webb Simpson in a Phoenix playoff, resulting in his seventh career runner-up. One of them came at Riviera two years ago. It's one thing to not win – and Finau is still stuck on a single win at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open – it's quite another to come so close so many times and not close the deal. Finau has finished top-6 in all three of his 2020 worldwide starts. His putting his far better this year, ranking him 57th. That elusive win is coming, and soon.
Marc Leishman - $8,700 (40-1)
Being an Aussie, Leishman knows his kikuyu. He tied for fourth at Riviera last year and for fifth in 2016. Curiously, he's also missed the cut three times in the past five years. Leishman is coming off a huge win last time out at Torrey Pines, a track with similarities to Riviera. He is ranked 14th in strokes gained: tee to green and 23rd in par-4 450-500.
Tier 3 Values
Collin Morikawa - $8,100 (50-1)
Morikawa has been climbing the world rankings and is up to 53rd with one more chance to crack the top-50 and qualify for next week's WGC-Mexico. He's racked up six straight worldwide top-25s entering Riviera and still hasn't missed a cut on the PGA Tour since turning pro. The former Cal star is familiar with Riviera, having made the round-of-16 at the 2017 U.S. Amateur there. Morikawa is ranked in the top-10 on Tour in both strokes gained: approach and tee to green, as well as par-4 450-500.
Matt Kuchar - $7,800 (60-1)
We don't think Kuchar is a threat to win this week – he's never finished better than T8 (2016) – but he almost always makes the cut and has had a number of top-25s through the years. Remember, this is not a $9,000 Matt Kuchar but a sub-$8,000 Matt Kuchar.
Ryan Moore - $7,600 (80-1)
Something has gotten into Moore this season. After years of being toward the bottom of the pack in driving distance – ranked 177th on Tour last year – he is now pounding it, ranking 66th at an average of more than 300 yards. On top of that, his accuracy has not suffered, ranking 11th on Tour. That's quite a combo, and it adds up to ranking top-10 in strokes gained: approach. Going back 10 years at Riviera, he has three top-10s and two more top-25s.
Kevin Na - $7,600 (60-1)
Na has had some excellent weeks at Riviera, with four top-10s and two more top-25s over the past decade. Last year was not one of those years, however, as he tied for 33rd. For a short hitter, Na has mastered the long par-4s, ranking 12th on Tour in par-4 450-500. He also has top-20s in two of his past three starts, at La Quinta and Pebble Beach.
Matthew Wolff - $7,100 (125-1)
Beginning with his breakthrough win in Minnesota last July, Wolff ran off 11 straights cuts until missing last time out at Phoenix. That included a tie for 21st at Torrey Pines. The 20-year-old really powers the ball off the tee, ranking 19th on Tour in distance and third in strokes gained: off the tee. Wolff is tied for 22nd in par-4 450-500.
Corey Conners - $7,000 (100-1)
Conners does not hit it far, but he is highly accurate, ranking 38th in driving accuracy and eighth in greens in regulation. He's made 12 of his past 13 cuts dating to last summer, 10 of them top-25s. This will be his Riviera debut.
J.T. Poston - $6,900 (125-1)
Poston has played Riviera twice before, finishing T28 last year and T17 in 2017. He's missed only two of his past 14 cuts, a stretch that includes his maiden win at the Wyndham. Poston ranks 11th on Tour in strokes gained: putting, and that will help him reach a lot of weekends.
Andrew Putnam - $6,800 (150-1)
It's interesting to find the world's 56th-ranked golfer at sub-$7,000. Putnam has run off 17 straight cuts until missing at Phoenix last time out. He has some seriously bad driving numbers – he's short and inaccurate – yet somehow ranks 18th in par-4 450-500. Part of that we could attribute Putnam's stellar putting, as he ranks first on Tour.