The final piece of The West Coast Swing has us in California for the fourth time in five weeks and what a better way to finish strong than at historic Riviera Country Club in beautiful Pacific Palisades for The Genesis Open.
The Plantation Course at Kapalua, Torrey Pines in La Jolla, and Pebble Beach Golf Links are iconic places, not only in golf, but in the world. Riviera however, may actually be the best test of golf of them all. The 10th hole is arguably the best short Par 4 in the world. The 6th hole is a Par 3 with a sand bunker in the middle of the green. Like Olympic Club in San Francisco, the 18th hole heads up a hill to a green that sits in the shadow of a towering, gorgeous, Spanish style clubhouse and an elevated, amphitheater like viewing area for the gallery. While this classic course has a little bit of everything, it is primarily known as a pure ball striker’s layout with plenty of doglegs that force players to work crisply hit shots around corners with both savvy and creativity.
Riviera Country Club opened in 1926. It has hosted The L.A. Open fifty-four times (now called The Genesis Open) as well as three Major Championships. Another area of distinction for the course is the grass, it's Kikuyu Grass. It makes for a wonderful playing surface in the fairways as the sharp blades prop the ball up high and cleanly atop the turf but in the areas that are not closely mown - in the rough and around the greens - the Kikuyu is a bear. It is sticky and gnarly, it will allow balls to bury in it and will grab a club head more so than any other type of grass these players will see all year.
But who better to deal with a great test of golf than the best field we’ve seen all season? World No. 1, Dustin Johnson is your defending champion and he brings with him, world No. 3 and world No. 4, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas respectively. Rory McIlroy makes the trip down the coast after missing the cut at Pebble Beach last week and will give Riviera a go. More top notch European players, such as Branden Grace, Charl Schwartzel, Shane Lowry, Paul Casey, and first timer, Tommy Fleetwood are in the fray. But from a popularity standpoint, none can hold a candle to Tiger Woods. Yes, he’s back for his second appearance in 2018 after a very respectable 23rd place finish three weeks ago at Torrey Pines. Tiger has never won at Riviera before and while his short game was excellent in San Diego, he’ll need to tidy up his game off of the tee if he is going to make another splash this week. Woods is better than 60-1 to win currently at Bookmaker.
Dustin Johnson (+6.25 Pinnacle): The record speaks for itself here. DJ is a machine at Riviera, notching seven Top 10 finishes in ten appearances. Last year was his first victory but with a win earlier this season at Kapalua and a 2nd last week at Pebble, he looks to have another head of steam coming in.
Jordan Spieth (+13.54 Pinnacle): Still warming up to the new season, Spieth is beginning to put it all together. His putting improved last week in finishing 20th. He’s played here five times with three Top 25’s. He was 4th in 2015.
Rory McIlroy (+13.54 Pinnacle): Rory’s first ever appearance at The AT&T last week did not go so well with a missed cut. He comes to The Genesis for just the second time after finishing 20th in 2016. He had three rounds in the 60’s that year before closing with a disappointing 75.
Phil Mickelson (+26.3 Bookmaker): Phil came out prior to this season, saying he was extra focused on having a big year and right now he’s living up to that claim. He was 2nd in Pebble last week and 5th before that in Phoenix. It is the first time he’s put together two straight Top 5’s since 2013, the last year that he won a tournament. Mickelson is a two-time winner here.
Paul Casey (+30.26 Bookmaker): Casey looked his usual sharp self last week, hitting greens in regulation and ball striking his way to a Top 10 finish. He’s only missed one cut here in six trips and took 2nd in 2015.
Tommy Fleetwood (+33.17 Bookmaker): Ball striking is the key at Riviera and Fleetwood leads The European Tour in Greens in Regulation. He is coming off of a win and a 6th place finish on The Euro Tour in January. He’s vaulted to number 13 in the world rankings and this is his first trip to The Genesis.
The Long Shots
Branden Grace (+52.5 Bookmaker): Grace spent his January on The European Tour going 37-15-and-2. He followed that up last week with a 20th at Pebble Beach in his first ever time playing the event. The South African will be plenty familiar with Kikuyu Grass this week, a place at which he finished 22nd in his debut last season.
William McGirt (+10000 5Dimes): If Dustin Johnson is not this week’s horse for the course, McGirt certainly is. He is all ball striker and his putting has improved as well. He is 10th on Tour in Scrambling. His last three trips to Riviera have gone 20-14-and-6.
K.J. Choi (+20000 5Dimes): Maybe the most impressive stat in Choi’s career.. he’s played here 17-straight years and hasn’t ever missed a cut. Only once has he finished worse than 35th and he’s put together five Top 10 finishes. Worth a shot at 200-to-1? Maybe so.
Dustin Johnson (+6.25 Pinnacle): I picked DJ here last year too and that turned out just fine. It is tough to play such short odds and it is tough for anybody to repeat as champion but I don’t know if there is a better choice in the field this week. We mentioned he has seven Top 10’s here in ten tries. How about six of those are Top 5’s! He is nearly unstoppable here. What I like the best about this set up though is the fact that Ted Potter Jr. did not crack last week, and Johnson was beaten to finish line by Potter at Pebble. Coming up short like that I believe gives him a little something extra this week – and that’s about all he needs.