Editor’s note: Daniel Berger and Cameron Champ have withdrawn from The Genesis Invitational.
The field this week will be set at around 120 players. This event has taken on “Invitational” status after it received new sponsorship and is the official tournament of Tiger Woods’ charity foundation and event management. The smaller field means a few less players to choose from, but overall, we’re also going to be treated to more elite fields here over time and this year is no exception. All four of the world’s top four players are in attendance with Webb Simpson and Tyrrell Hatton being the only no shows from the OWGR’s top-10 players.
After not seeing him play since the TOC in Maui, we’ll finally be getting another look at Bryson DeChambeau here, who finished T5 at this event last season. Both he and Dustin Johnson played in Saudi Arabia two weeks ago and took last week off. Xander Schauffele is back in the field after coming close (again) at the WMPO and the last two winners on the PGA TOUR—
Daniel Berger and Brooks Koepka—are also both in attendance. Despite the slightly smaller field, the regular cut rules still apply with the top-65 and ties playing the weekend. This course can play tough and we’ve seen several top players blow up here in the past so getting 6/6 through will still be an accomplishment.
Riviera CC, Pacific Palisades, California
Par 71, 7,300-7,350 yards
Riviera is one of the oldest courses on the PGA TOUR and has hosted this event pretty much every year since 1973. Riviera’s age means that it has a lot of mature trees that line the fairway, but it also features a lot of doglegs and a few quirky hole designs — like a sand-trap in the middle of a green on the par three sixth, and an impossibly small green on the driveable par four 10th. The course was re-designed by Tom Fazio in 2008 and has played longer and tended to favor the best tee to green players in the world ever since.
The strains of grass at Riviera are also fairly unique as the fairways and rough are Kikuyu which tends to be quite difficult to play out of when left to grow. Wet weather can also cause the course to play longer than its yardage although sunny skies look to be a constant for this year’s version. Still, players with distance and the strength to get the ball up and out of the thick grass quickly have an advantage here and hitting a ton of greens is almost always a must as the rough and green complexes are some of the toughest on the PGA TOUR. Green in regulation percentages here tend to run 5-10% lower than the PGA TOUR average. 2017 winner Dustin Johnson led the field in greens in regulation by a wide margin that season and last year’s winner Adam Scott hit 72% GIR and finished 2nd in GIR for the week.
Riviera is also a true par 71 with three par fives, but only one (the short first hole) is a real birdie opportunity as the other two traditionally play quite tough. The par fours are where the real test of the course lies, as eight of the 11 play at over 430 yards or more in length and have tricky tee shots that challenge a player’s length and accuracy. This is a true championship venue with few birdie holes and while we have seen winners here reach the mid-teens, don’t be shocked if the cooler weather and tough setup keeps the winning score close to single digits.
2021 outlook: At first glance, the weather doesn’t look too bad and we likely won’t have any rain or the soft conditions which plagued the Pebble event at times last week. That being said, don’t expect tropical conditions either. The highs are only expected to be in the mid 60s for the week here and morning lows will hover around 48-50 degrees F, so the course will likely play longer in the morning. There’s also going to be at least a little wind this week with afternoon waves seeing 7-10 mph the first two days. The better weather in the p.m. could prove to be a bigger advantage though but keep an eye on the wind in case it gets nastier. It is expected to pick up a bit on Saturday as well, so expect another grind it out event at Riviera with the winner likely coming in around 10-15 under par.
LAST 5 WINNERS
2020 – Adam Scott -11 (over three players at -9)
2019 – J.B. Holmes -14 (over Justin Thomas -13)
2018 – Bubba Watson -12 (over Tony Finau and Kevin Na -10)
2017 – Dustin Johnson -17 (over Thomas Pieters -12)
2016 – Bubba Watson -15 (over Adam Scott -14)
Recent west coast form is important this week
- Nine of the last 10 winners here had played in Pebble Beach or Phoenix as their final start before winning at Riviera: seven had played Pebble as their last start and two had played Phoenix as their last start (the exception was Scott who hadn’t played either before winning here last season).
- Only two of the last nine winners had missed the cut in their final start prior to winning at Riviera (Holmes 2019, Watson 2016).
Winners Stats and Course Highlights
2020 Winner: Adam Scott at 11-under par
2020 lead-in form (T11-T33-T42-T17-T6)
· Driving Distance (DD) isn’t the be all and end all this week. Bill Haas ranked 66th in DD here in 2012 and won, James Hahn was 30th for the week in DD in 2015 when he won, and J.B. Holmes was 41st in 2019.
· That being said, in 2017, five of the top 10 finishers were in the top 20 for the week in driving distance and in 2018, five of the top-13 players here ranked inside the top-40 in distance off the tee for the season.
· Strokes Gained: Tee to Green is likely the best to emphasize here as Riviera is truly an all-encompassing test. Five of the past six winners have ranked inside the top-5 in SG: Tee to Green stats for the week of their win at Riviera, with 2018 winner Bubba Watson ranking first in this stat when he last won here. Last year’s champion Adam Scott gained over +10-strokes TTG for the week.
· Greens here are typically very hard to hit as the field average is 5-10% lower than the PGA TOUR average most seasons. Strong GIR %’s often pays off here and the last three winners have ranked T8 or better in GIR hit.
Finding Values (DraftKings Sportsbook)
Odds to win are one factor to think about when picking players (but not the only thing, so be careful putting too much weight on them). This section is going to detail a few of the players who have the best fantasy value comparative to their DraftKings Sportsbook odds of winning this week.
All odds provided by DraftKings Sportsbook and all odds subject to change.
HORSES FOR COURSES
1. Bubba Watson ($8,900; best finishes: win-2018, 2016, 2014): Bubba has now won this event in three of the past seven seasons and is the clear lead horse this week. He does have a couple of hiccups on his record here, as he has missed the cut three times at this event and withdrawn in-play twice since 2010, but was solid here in 2019 putting in a T15 finish. He showed some form in Phoenix and could be ready to hit the gas for a run at a fourth title this week.
2. Dustin Johnson ($11,300; best finishes: win-2017, T2-2015): Johnson may only have one win at Riviera but his record remains the most consistent of anyone in the field. Over the past eight seasons he’s only finished outside the top-10 here once (2018-T16) and has two runner-up finishes to go with his win here from 2017. With several challenging tee shots, Riviera sets up perfectly for DJ’s skillset.
3. Adam Scott ($9,000; best finishes: win-2020, win-2005—36-hole event): Scott has a long record of playing at Riviera and is now a two-time winner here. The Aussie finished T2 back in 2016 to Bubba Watson, was T8 here in 2019 and of course broke through for a win here last season as well. This will be his first start since the Farmers, but he finished T10 there and looks ready to challenge again soon.
4. Matt Kuchar ($7,200; best finishes: T2-2020, T8-2016): Kuchar leads the charge here for shorter hitters who have managed to find success around this challenging track. He demolished these greens last season gaining over +8.0 strokes putting and has now landed two top-10’s here in the past five seasons. He hasn’t been in good form of late but a return to one of his favorite venues could spark something good.
5. Hideki Matsuyama ($9,100; best finishes: T5-2020, T9-2019): Matsuyama has really started to click with this venue of late. He’s now played here in five of the last six seasons and put up finishes of T11 or better in four of those starts, with just one MC marring his record. He’s treaded water of late but is still making cuts. Don’t be shocked if he makes a run at another trophy here.
DRAFTKINGS DFS STRATEGY
Cash Games: Xander and Cantlay the perfect value duo
Both Cantlay and Schauffele are coming into this week off near misses. Schauffele continues to showcase an unreal sharpness on the greens while Cantlay led the field in TTG strokes gained last week. They both look undervalued here and have decent course histories. I mentioned Viktor Hovland ($8,700) in the value section, and he does like a solid cash target as a result. Max Homa ($8,200) and Sergio Garcia ($7,700) are two other players whose salaries look too cheap for the kind of form they are offering us. Other potential HU’s and 50/50 targets here include the likes of Scottie Scheffler ($8,500), Sam Burns ($7,400) and Doug Ghim ($6,900).
Tournaments: Spieth and Ancer interesting GPP pivots
The narrative this week will certainly focus around the need for distance at Riviera but strong approach and tee to green play are more important. I discuss Spieth ($9,200) as a play below but Ancer is also someone who could get ignored here and makes for an interesting pivot under $8K. He’s made the cut here in all three of his appearances, despite losing badly around the greens. He’s improved in that area recently though so a bigger week could be ahead. Francesco Molinari ($7,600) is another shorter hitter who could see his ownership drop significantly this week, even after his DK price dropped significantly. He’s put up quality starts in two of three starts in 2021 thus far and could spike again here. Other potential GPP targets this week include Cameron Davis ($7,500),
Cameron Champ ($6,900), and Branden Grace ($6,700).
Top Recent Form
1. Patrick Cantlay ($9,600, T3-T2): Hasn’t finished worse than T17 now over his last five starts and is second in this field in SG: Total stats over the last six weeks.
2. Xander Schauffele ($9,900, T2-T2): Continues to get himself in contention in nearly every event he plays. 2nd in SG: Putting and 5th in SG: Tee to Green stats over the last 50 rounds.
3. Cameron Davis ($7,500, T14-T32-T3): Can be very hot or cold with his play but has gained +5.5 strokes or more on his approaches in two of last three starts. Has gained strokes ATG in four straight starts now.
4. Jordan Spieth ($9,200, T3-T4): Playing much better of late and has now gained +12-strokes on his approaches in his last two starts combined. Has been in the final group on Sunday in each of the last two PGA TOUR events.
5. Cameron Tringale ($7,600, T7-T17): Riding three top-20’s in a row into this week. He’s really firing with his irons and putter as he’s now gained strokes in both areas in five of his last six starts.
MY PICK: Jordan Spieth ($9,200)
Spieth was my pick here last season and fizzled out quickly after a strong Pebble Beach finish, but this year feels different. In the final group now two Sundays in a row, the 27-year-old has now finished T10 and T18 in SG: Tee to Green stats the last two events, and finished T4 last week despite finishing just 42nd in SG: Putting. Those kinds of stats certainly leave some room for improvement and when the putter really starts firing for Spieth again is when we could get the real breakthrough. Riviera is a different sort of test in that it’s more of a championship venue where bigger hitters have prospered, but Greens in Regulation here is the true name of the game and Spieth has been excellent with his irons the last two weeks, gaining +12-strokes on approaches combined at the WMPO and Pebble Beach.
In his previous seven appearances at Riviera, Spieth has finished T12 or better three times, narrowly missing out on a playoff here in 2015. The Genesis Invitational has tended to reward those who have put in the time and effort at the previous West coast stops, like Phoenix and Pebble, and Spieth certainly has done that, putting him in a good spot to potentially flourish for one more week. I like staying on him here—at a venue that he’s discussed his fondness for in the past—to see if he can break through for that elusive comeback win in the city of Angels.
MY SLEEPER: Branden Grace ($6,700)
Grace could be a player to watch for a potential pop soon and he’s definitely on my radar here as a GPP target for DraftKings at under $7K in price. The South African has had a tough stretch of late but has started to put together a few better looking finishes of late. Last week marked his third made cut in his last four PGA TOUR starts and while his tee to green game is still rounding into form, he looked comfortable on the greens, gaining +3.2 strokes on the Pebble’s Poa putting surfaces. Putting has always been an issue for Grace, so if he’s confident with that club good things can often follow for the 32-year-old, who has amassed 12 professional wins since 2012.
While he’s missed the cut at Riviera the past two seasons, he’s shown some affinity for the course and the Kikuyu grass they use (similar to what’s found in South Africa). He’s gained over a stroke on his approaches here in three of his four career appearances, so if he continues to display confidence with his putter here, we could see an uptick in his ball-striking this week as well. He’s a great GPP target for me here and shouldn’t draw much in terms of ownership in any of the big GPPs on DraftKings.
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