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Genesis Open Preview

Monday, February 12, 2018

Another week, another strong field. The TOUR hangs around in California for the final event of the West Coast Swing and for whatever reason, this year's Swing was fully loaded with superstars. 

That is certainly true this week with Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, and Rory McIlroy lighting the sky. There are also quite a few Europeans that are getting their 2018 PGA TOUR schedule geared up at Riviera.

Of course, we can't forget about Tiger Woods who is making his second start of the season. 

The Course

This week's field of 144 golfers will take on Riviera Country Club which is situated in the Los Angeles area. 

This course is tree-lined and also one of the tighter courses on TOUR. The course plays around 7,322 yards and it's a par 71. 

The yardage doesn't sound extreme on paper but six of the par 4s are over 450 yards and two of the par 5s are over 575 yards. This will force golfers to hit plenty of drivers. Because they are hitting so many driver and the fairways are tight to begin with, the amount of fairways hit will be on the very low side this week. That puts an emphasis on driver and long-iron play this week. 

When golfers miss the fairways, they will find themselves in spongy, kikuyu rough which is generally not too thick but can force you to make a decision on whether the lie is good or bad enough to have a go at the pin. Despite the lack of heavy rough, greens are still tough to hit because they are some of the smallest on the circuit and generally pretty firm. 

Getting closer to the pin, chipping is not a big deal around here. Steven Bowditch recently told me that "Rivieria is the outlier for chipping... easiest on TOUR."

While chipping may be easy, golfers will still have to face the dreaded poa annua greens once they reach the putting surfaces.  They get these greens running pretty fast, typically stimping in the 12 to 12.6 foot range.

Notable holes include the par-5 first which is one of the easiest holes on TOUR. There were 35 eagles on this hole alone, last year. Looking at the distance angle, golfers that can belt it 300+ averaged +0.054 at the par-4 12th last year while golfers that drove it 280 or less were averaging +0.452 or worse. We see another noticeable distance edge at the par-5 17th where 280+ yard drives yielded a scoring average of -0.317 or greater while drives < 280 yards produces scoring averages of -0.032 or worse. The par-4 second hole is another hole that shows a similar advantage for the big hitters. Over the course of four rounds, that's at least three strokes that can be gained just by having that extra yardage in the tank. 

Course Quotes

Sifting through some past quotes over at the Fantasy Golfanac, let's try to break down the courses to see how they will play...
Pat Perez: "No, I love the course. I'm not really long enough to play the long holes."
Sam Saunders: "You've got to drive the ball really well off the tee and you've got to control your iron shots into these greens, too. It's not just hit it high and straight at it. You've got to hit a cut shot into it to use the slope the right way or maybe turn one in to hold the green in another spot."
Adam Scott: "It really requires good shots into the greens. These older golf courses generally have more severe green complexes and having that control into the green is very important. Therefore, hitting the fairway becomes very important and you're working back like that. I like that. The bunker complexes are very nice here. They're not dissimilar to what we see down in Melbourne in Australia in some ways in shape and look. There are gum trees on the course and that makes me feel like home."
Bubba Watson: "You've got room off the tee. And when I say room off the tee, not that the fairways are wide. The tree lines are wider. Some of the trees are missing, so I can play out of it."

Jordan Spieth: "Not only do you have to be in the fairway, you have to be in the correct side of the fairway just to be able to hold them on some of these holes."

Vijay Singh: "Local knowledge is very important, from previous times you can see a break going one way and the green back says another way and you have to trust your instincts and hit it."
Overview: At Pebble Beach the main talking point was poa annua greens. They are similar greens this week but the golfers tend to focus on their love of The Riv, instead. According to the quotes, course management and shot-shaping appear to be critical here with distance being a nice bonus, not not a prerequisite. As Vijay Singh pointed out, course experience is also very useful. Knowing where they typically tuck the pins and how to attack those pin positions is a nice edge to have in your favor. Adam Scott mentioned the similarities to Australian golf. He's not the first, or last to reference that. Aaron Baddeley, 2011 champ, also said the same thing. Robert Allenby also won here in 2001. If you need to last-minute tiebreaker, consider taking an Aussie. 

Correlated Courses

Looking at past performance, golfer quotes, and course setup, these five courses/events show up as potential pointers: 

Torrey Pines
Augusta National
Firestone CC
TPC Boston
TPC Sawgrass

A trend of course management and shot-shaping certainly confrims itself in the list above. Most of the courses also feature heavy usage of the big stick, except TPC Sawgrass of course, which has a heavy emphasis on shot-making. 

The Weather

Seasonal weather looks to be in store for Pacific Palisades this week. 

Like we've seen in each of the last 12 rounds here, golfers should see temps in the 60s for most of the week with plenty of sunshine to boost their Vitamin D levels. 

Wind is rarely a major issue at this event and that looks to be the case again this week (5 to 10 MPH most of the week wih possible gusts reaching 15 MPH). Nothing extreme, by any means. 

Players to Watch

Rory McIlroy
His debut at the AT&T Pro-Am was going swell until a 4-putt ruined his week. Considering he also putted from the collar on that hole, it was basically a 5-putt. That derailed his round and he later admitted that he let the greens get in his head. The beauty of golf is that he can reset the memory bank as he prepares for an entirely new course this week. His lone appearance at this event came in 2016 where he was positioned in T5-T7-T5 after the first three rounds. Then he ballooned to a 4-over 75 in round four, falling to T20 by week's end. He gained 1.2 strokes with the putter during that debut, so perhaps he can erase those poor Pebble memories quickly and get back in the mix this week. 

Jordan Spieth
Finally put an end to those putting woes last week. After the event he had this to say, "My putter made tremendous progress this week. I feel great about it going forward and I just need to tighten up the swing a little bit, just wedge play really, I need to tighten up a little bit. But it was very close. The putts I missed today were ones that I misread. I don't think I put one bad stroke on it, which is the first I can say, first time can I say that in a long time." Has a long history at Riviera CC, dating back to his college days. His best is a T4 here in 2015 but with his putting figured out  and plenty of course experience, it wouldn't be shocking to see him match that or even set a new tournament-best finish this week. 
Phil Mickelson
Another event where Lefty has feasted in his career. He's a two-time champ here, winning back-to-back editions in 2008 and 2009. Has only played it once since 2014 due to family trips and what not, interferring. Returned last year to post a T34. After close calls in each of the past two weeks, we might as well keep it rolling with the in-form 47-year-old. 
Tommy Fleetwood
There will be a lot of hype around the Englishman this year and it all starts this week. I have no doubt he has the chops to contend regularly on the PGA TOUR this season but I will hesitate just a little this week as he makes his debut in California. We've seen this California poa annua wreak havoc on many a great golfers that aren't familiar with it. Gamers may look at Thomas Pieters strong debut last year and say Tommy should be next in line. However, Pieters has some college pedigree at Riviera CC already on his resume. 

Thomas Pieters
Speaking of the Belgian Bomber, this big hitter fired an 8-under 63 during his Genesis Open debut last year, vaulting him into second place on the final leaderboard. Like I just mentioned above, it wasn't his first time seeing the classical layout as he won the 2012 NCAAs at the Riv, winning that event by three shots. After his strong debut, he said the following, "I love Riviera. It just suits my eye. You want to keep playing the course almost. I just want to go out there right now and play some more, it’s so much fun to play.

K.J. Choi
You can't talk about Riviera Country Club without mentioning Choi. He's 17-for-17 at this event 15 of those doubling as top 35s. He just poked his head up for a top 30 at Pebble Beach, as well. There must be something about the Golden State that brings out the best in Choi. 

Sangmoon Bae 

Perhaps he has the answer for why K.J. Choi would also love this layout. When asked about what Bae likes here at Riviera CC he said this, "Everything, the green, green speed, the rough. I like this grass, the kikuyu. Pretty much the same as Korea or Japan." Earlier we established that Aussies are comfortable here but it seems that South Koreans are also very comfortable with the grass types at Riviera CC. 
Harris English 
Has five career top 15s in the state of California. That includes a T10 at this event (2014). Also one of the first names I think of when it comes to shot-shaping. 

Jason Kokrak
Nothing inside the top 30 in his first four trips here. Since then, He was the 36-hole leader in 2016 and T11 thru 54 holes last year. One of the best golfers to still be winless on the PGA TOUR. If I had to pick a course where Kokrak would pop his maiden win, Riviera CC would definitely be inside the top 3-to-5 venues I'd choose. 
Brandon Harkins
Rallied on Sunday after making the cut on the number. You're not supposed to contend at Riviera without some course experience but first-timers weren't supposed to perform well at Torrey Pines or Pebble Beach, either, and Harkins posted top 15s at both. Last week, Harkins brought a lot of pre-TOUR course experience to the Monterey Peninsula but I'm not sure he'll have that same experience here at The Riv. I'm still optimistic for Harkins while we stay in Cali, though. 

Adam Scott
I gave the Aussie the benefit of the doubt last week as he returned from a nine-week layoff. That turned out to be a mistake as he really struggled at Pebble Beach. After experimenting with the "Langer method" of putting in Australia, he went back to the short putter last week and claims he will keep it short moving forward. I'm glad he's made that decision but I would have like to have seen something better than an MC last week. Scott calls this his favorite course in the world and everything points to him being a great play...except for his form over the past year, especially the past six months. 

Tiger Woods
Impressed with a T23 in his return (Farmers). Now we'll head to another course where he has plenty of local knowledge. This wasn't one of his "courses" during his prime as he never won this event and hasn't played the event since 2006. Based on the eye test, the biggest problem at Torrey Pines was his lack of accuracy off the tee. Riviera CC is going to force him to pull plenty of drivers and it's a course where the field will average less than 55% of fairways hit. That means that even with a good week of driving, the narrative of hitting errant tee shots probably won't be striped this week. I'm excited to see how he fares this week, but I'm playing it safe still as far as investing in weekly fantasy leagues goes. 

Ranking the Field

Playing European Tour Fantasy Golf? Give Matt Cooper's Oman Open Preview a look. Check back on Tuesday for our Expert Picks and then on Wednesday, I will return for some last-minute DFS tips in the DFS Dish. 

Josh Culp joined Rotoworld in 2014. The DFS enthusiast from Iowa State can be found on Twitter @futureoffantasy.
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