One of the best events of the year takes place on the PGA Tour this week as the best players in the world head to southern California for the Genesis Invitational, an event which often gives up a good guide as to who will be a danger at Augusta in just seven weeks.
Adam Scott warmed up for what he hoped would have been a strong tilt at Augusta by winning the title last year but then a pandemic struck to blow that out of the water. He defends the title against an incredibly strong field.
2020 – Adam Scott
2019 – JB Holmes
2018 – Bubba Watson
2017 – Dustin Johnson
2016 – Bubba Watson
2015 – James Hahn
2014 – Bubba Watson
2013 – John Merrick
2012 – Bill Haas
2011 – Aaron Baddeley
Riviera Country Club is a course for the ages but it always generates a decent tournament. Don’t be swayed by the long hitters on the roll of honour because the course has been soaked in recent years due to bad weather but the one thing we shouldn’t ignore is the amount of Augusta specialists that are on there. This course plays very similar to that one with the only difference being the smaller greens on this Californian track.
The course, which will host the Olympics in seven years, is a par 71 which measures 7,322 yards and is very much a second shot golf course. You need good iron play into these greens and because they are small excellent scrambling is also a necessity too. Given that there isn’t a lot of trouble off the tee the bigger hitters can let their driver go but you don’t need length over an excellent second shot and in game. Precise iron play is huge here.
Eight of the top 10 in the world are teeing it up this week for what I’ve seen called a major in all but name. That is understandable given the quality of both the course and the field. Only Tyrrell Hatton and Webb Simpson from that elite band are not here. The Pebble Beach winner from last week Daniel Berger was due to be in the field but he pulled out earlier in the week. The defending champion Adam Scott is also teeing it up.
There are other former champions in the field including Bubba Watson, JB Holmes and James Hahn while there are plenty of other notables such as Jordan Spieth, Scottie Scheffler, Hideki Matsuyama and Viktor Hovland. The latter two form part of a decent overseas challenge which also include Marc Leishman, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Abraham Ancer and Sergio Garcia. Matt Wolff and Rickie Fowler are just some of the other Americans in the field.
Dustin Johnson won this title back in 2017 and if there are similarities with Riviera and Augusta then it is probably significant that Johnson won around the latter back in November. He is the 11/2 favourite to win the tournament and it is hard to go against that when you consider that he won the Saudi International on his last start. He has the power fade which is a big weapon on this course but the wedge game to be competitive as well. He looks the man to beat but he is far too short for me to back in this field.
We have co second favourites of three at 12/1 this week and they are all superstars of the game in the form of Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas. Rahm has been here twice and finished 9-17 which you’d have to suggest is poor for a player of his quality. McIlroy and Thomas both have top five finishes here in the last couple of years so have to be respected. I just can’t get that McIlroy demise in Abu Dhabi out of my head which puts me off him while Thomas looks a fair price really.
Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele come next in the betting at 14/1. There is a lot to like about Cantlay but his putter was stone cold last week. That isn’t necessarily important this week because these are hard greens to putt on but it isn’t a huge turn on to be fair. Schauffele seems to have developed the art of contending without winning and at this price he’d either need to be your only bet to get paid out or he’d need to win. Given the latter can’t be guaranteed he isn’t for me either.
Bryson DeChambeau is a 16/1 shot to win the tournament which looks fair, if not a little on the short side. His quality and his power have been spoken about ever since the sport returned from the first lockdown but I’m not sure those are the traits needed around here. I think a little more touch is required and while he has all the power in the world since he added that power his wedge game has lost some of its strength. That is a huge put off here.
I like three main bets this week as it is the only tournament on the radar. The first of those comes in the form of the man I believe to be the best iron player in the game right now in Collin Morikawa. If there is a negative it is that this is only his second appearance in the competition but he didn’t go too badly on debut and this course should really suit his strengths. He was competitive on the Aloha stretch of the season last month and I’m not going to read much into his poor effort in Dubai. I don’t think he’s ready for European Tour golf just yet. He’s certainly ready for here though and this precise iron player has to go very well here.
Another man who has precision with irons but actually all across his bag is Joaquin Niemann and he is my second main bet. He hasn’t been seen since Hawaii where he was second in both events so there is an element of taking a chance that he has got no rust to deal with. If he hasn’t he should go well here. He is fourth ranked in the all-around ranking on the PGA Tour this season which shows that his whole bag is working. He has scored well all season and that is no surprise given that he sits inside the top 10 in strokes gained from tee to green. If he can match the field for putting his long game is going to have him in a very good place.
It is always hard for me to leave Bubba Watson out of the staking plan whenever this tournament comes around. He won it with my money on him in 2018, his third win in the event, and he has also won twice around Augusta. We know Bubba has certain tracks which suit his eyes which he plays better on than others and this is certainly one of those. His form hasn’t been brilliant in the lead up to this event but he sits third in strokes gained from tee to green this season and that is a massive thing here. That suggests his results have been down to a lack of form with the flat stick but we know he plays these greens well so Watson may well be primed to win again here.
I’ll go with three outsiders this week as well and the first of those comes in the form of Russell Henley who ticks a lot of boxes here. Henley sits seventh on the tour in greens in regulation and he’s even better than that in bogey avoidance. Indeed nobody beats him in that statistic on the entire PGA Tour so that is something that stands out. He is also on the fringes of the top 10 in strokes gained from tee to green as well so statistically Henley meets a lot of the challenges here. Henley has been playing some decent golf this season and made the top 20 here for the first time last year. I expect an improvement on that this week.
The former champion James Hahn has caught my eye going into this week too. He was in the top 10 at Phoenix recently which was impressive enough and he is another who ticks a lot of the statistical boxes around here. He sits in the top 25 on tour in greens in regulation and in bogey avoidance which are arguably the two most important things you need around here. When you add in that he has won, albeit prior to a few modifications, a three figure price on a man who has shown signs of form recently looks a little big to me.
Emiliano Grillo is the other player I’m wanting to be on this week. His tee to green game has been exceptionally good for a number of years now and eventually that is going to crack the code around here. Grillo is fifth on the tour for greens in regulation and he sits comfortably in the top 10 in bogey avoidance. If that wasn’t enough he is inside the top 25 for strokes gained off the tee so he really should be going well around here. The Argentine has been playing much better than his results have suggested this season, with a few poor Sundays not helping in that regard but he went eight under for the weekend in Phoenix which has hopefully sorted those issues out and if it has he looks a massive price here.
Back C.Morikawa to win Genesis Invitational (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 34.00 with William Hill (1/5 1-8)
Back him here:
Back B.Watson to win Genesis Invitational (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 41.00 with 888sport (1/5 1-8)
Back him here:
Back J.Niemann to win Genesis Invitational (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 41.00 with Sky Bet (1/5 1-8)
Back R.Henley to win Genesis Invitational (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 76.00 with Bet365 (1/5 1-8)
Back J.Hahn to win Genesis Invitational (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 126.00 with Bet365 (1/5 1-8)
Back E.Grillo to win Genesis Invitational (e/w) for a 0.5/10 stake at 161.00 with Bet365 (1/5 1-8)