This article is part of our Betting on Golf series.
The last stop in the West Coast swing is the Genesis Invitational at notorious Riviera Country Club. Following an event in which not a single top-10 player in the Official World Golf Ranking took the course, this week's field is stacked, with eight of the top 10 set to tee it up. Last year, Adam Scott (33-1 odds) broke a nearly four-year PGA Tour winless drought and picked up his second career victory in this event, winning by two strokes over Scott Brown, Sung Kang and Matt Kuchar.
Riviera CC has two very intriguing holes to kick off both the front and back nines. An elevated tee shot on No. 1 makes the hole play more like a long par-4, and the drivable par-4 10th, which is surrounded by bunkers, produces a wide range of scores on that hole. False fronts and runoffs on the putting surfaces make hitting greens in regulation tougher than a typical venue, and that will put an increased importance on play around the green and make driving accuracy less of a factor. Overall, Riviera plays as one of the most difficult courses on Tour, with only one winner going lower than 15-under-par in the last 10 years.
Horses for the Course
These players have the lowest score to par at the Genesis Invitational since 2016:
DJ played Riviera better than anyone else over the last five years, finishing a remarkable 17 shots better than anyone other than Scott. He used a balanced attack when he won in 2017, ranking second in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and fourth in SG: Putting that week. In fact, he only lost strokes to the field in a single category here over the last four years. A well-rounded approach will certainly be needed this week.
In the Proper Form
The following players gained the most strokes from tee-to-green over their last five tournaments played:
Davis is likely the biggest surprise on this list, and the young Australian is emerging as one of the top up-and-coming players in the game. He doesn't have any weaknesses in his game, and his all-around play should fit well here. He comes into this event in much better form than he was in in 2019, when he missed the cut in his only prior appearance. Along with Johnson, Watson also makes both lists as a player. When he missed the cut last year, Watson lost over four shots to the field on the greens.
Justin Thomas (14-1)
It's easy to overlook Thomas considering he missed the cut here last year and isn't as fresh in people's minds, having made only two starts in 2021. However, he had a chance to win both the Sentry TOC and WMPO, and might have come through had off-the-course items not popped up between his third and final rounds. Thomas gained 1.25 shots on approach over his last 10 rounds at Riviera, and he recorded both a runner-up and a top-10 result in two of the past three years.
Hideki Matsuyama (45-1)
Matsuyama is approaching four years without a win on Tour, and he finds himself in roughly the same position Scott was in when he broke a similar drought last year. Matsuyama played the weekend nine-under-par last year – two shots better than anyone else in the field. You won't find many courses that fit his eye better than Riviera, as Matsuyama finished inside the top 10 in SG: Tee-to-Green four of the past five years here. The putter is always a question mark but at this price I'm willing to take my chances.
Talor Gooch (175-1)
This is obviously a long shot and you can adjust to top-5 or top-10 if you're more comfortable with those odds. However, I think Gooch is ready to pick up his first win this year. A bit of a late bloomer, he has already notched two top-5s this season, including at a stacked field in THE CJ CUP. Gooch finished 10th here last year, and his third-round 64 tied for the low round of the week. He fits the mold as a player that is above-average in every facet of the game.
Cameron Smith (15-2)
Smith has had a quiet start to 2021, but he has had a couple of weeks off, and let's not forget he finished runner-up at the Masters not all that long ago. Smith is another guy that has a well-rounded game, and his inaccuracy off the tee shouldn't be as much of a factor this week. We've seen him go low at Riviera, shooting a 65 in 2018 en route to a share of sixth place.
Rickie Fowler (10-1)
I wouldn't have confidence betting Fowler to win right now, but he's due to get some momentum going. He's on a stretch of five straight weeks where he's lost strokes to the field with his putter, but he's been great with the flat stick throughout his career and is a guy to look out for when he gets things going with that club. This feels like too good of a price to pass up.
Mackenzie Hughes (16-1)
With short game having an increased importance this week, look no further than Hughes, who features one of the biggest disparities between driving and approach play compared to on and around the greens. Last season he gained 1.14 strokes per round in SG: Around-the-Green and putting combined. This is a generous price for someone who already has two top-10s this season and qualified for the TOUR Championship last September.
Similar to the James Hahn fade last week, this is the fifth consecutive start for Streelman, and both physical and mental fatigue could be an issue after he faltered on the back nine at Pebble Beach. Harman made 16 of his last 17 cuts and has made two straight at Riviera. I love that kind of consistency, although this is mainly a fade on Streelman.
With all the talent on Tour it's easy to forget about Ancer, but since the start of 2020 he has a pair of runners-up and seven others top-15s – including in his last PGA start at The American Express. I do like Henley's game, but this isn't a great course fit for him, and he's been inconsistent of late, missing the cut in two of his last four events. He hasn't recorded a top-10 result since The ZOZO Championship last fall.
It's usually best not to overthink these head-to-head matchups, and I'll take the better golfer in a pick'em matchup. After dominating the Korn Ferry Tour last season, Zalatoris has quickly picked up where he left off, with four top-10s and only one missed cut in nine events on the bigger stage. Although the sample size is small, he ranks sixth on Tour this season in SG: Tee-to-Green. Na has had some good results here, but he also finished over par in his last three rounds at Riviera.