Today's Free Picks for
Posted Wednesday, February 14 at 4:30 PM EST.
Cutoff time for this event is 10:00 AM EST.
Riviera has quite a unique character which makes for a fascinating four days of golf. It’s a Par 71 measuring 7,322 yards, which means there’s just a trio of Par 5s to exploit and eleven Par 4s, one of which – the 10th – is one of the most enjoyable risk and reward driveable Par 4s in world golf. Holes dogleg left and right, creating tough driving lines and a necessity to shape the ball both ways. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that six of the last 15 editions of this event have been won by left-handers (Phil, Bubba and Mike Weir twice each).
The greens are a Bentgrass/Poa Annua blend, while the fairways and rough are Kikuyu; the tough, grainy grass typically native to South Africa. This is fine on the fairways where balls will sit up nicely, but the thickness can be a nightmare in the rough so one is advised to keep your ball in play at all costs. Strategic bunkering is another useful defence – there’s even a sand trap posted in the middle of the sixth hole's green and the knowledge that Riviera has been selected to host the 2023 US Open gives you an idea of its complexity. Indeed, DJ’s winning mark of -17 here 12 months ago was the lowest in more than a decade, with Scott Brown and Thomas Pieters some five shots behind in second, and only 10 players finished on double-digits under par. It’s noteworthy that -12 has or would have won this event in five of the last 10 years.
What we’re looking for this week:
This is the thinking player’s stretch, where keeping your ball on the fairways gives the best chance of finding these small greens. A look at last year’s top 10 confirms that the approach-play flushers are the players to get behind this week. If we were to use the 2017 Genesis Open for pointers as to how this year’s edition might pan out then, unfortunately, we are thin on the ground: Johnson simply played stunning golf from tee-to-ball-in-hole. The world number one ranked second for Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, third for Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and fourth for Strokes Gained: Putting. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect week than that. And the bad news keeps rolling: there really is no “one size fits all” approach to taming Riviera. Take Scott Brown last year, for example. He finished T2, but his stats from tee-to-green were pretty average, to be frank. But he did gain a huge +2.45 strokes on the field with his flat stick, so that’s one way of going about it. Compare and contrast that to Charley Hoffman in T4: +3.14 for SG: Tee-to-Green (the best in the field), -0.51 for SG: Putting.
You can actually categorize each of the player’s in last year’s Genesis Open top-10. DJ is, well DJ, Brown and Kevin Na absolutely putted the lights out, Justin Rose and Hoffman are experienced old heads who can pick their way around a course like Riviera, while young guns Wes Bryan, Ollie Schneiderjans and Cameron Tringale are actually quite mature players: they opt for the strategic side of the game over letting it rip off the tee and seeing where it takes them. Pieters had won the NCAA Championship here, while Martin Laird routinely plays well in these parts of California.
We are inclined to favor the slow-and-steady plodders this week; a rarity on PGA TOUR courses these days which are routinely overpowered. The likes of Kuchar, Scott, Mickelson, Bradley, Haas, Walker, Holmes, Bubba and Ryan Moore typically play well around here, and they are experienced campaigners to a man. In the past decade alone we’ve seen top-10s here from Jim Furyk, Padraig Harrington, Luke Donald, Retief Goosen, KJ Choi and Ernie Els, while Steve Stricker won here on the eve of his 43rd birthday. That may not get the juices of gamers flowing, but that kind of player will typically yield the best results here. When it comes to correlating courses, we can occasionally create ties where they don’t really exist, and other than being Par 71s there is very little that attaches Riviera and Harbour Town Links, home to the RBC Heritage. Different designers, different greens, different layout, usually you would think there is little to see here.
But perhaps there is some kind of correlation. Aaron Baddeley has won both of those events; Wes Bryan won the RBC after finishing T4 here, Davis Love III was a five-time RBC champion and two-time Genesis Open runner-up; Ernie Els won here and finished second at Harbour Town, and Luke Donald has finished second in both. Whether you consider those links to be incidental or coincidental is at your discretion.
Unless otherwise stated, the following bets to win outright will be placed at BET365 because of their cash-out option during the event:
Ollie Schneiderjans 40-1
One of the classiest ball-strikers around and somebody with a calm head on those young shoulders, Ollie Schneiderjans has caught our attention this week big time. The hat-less wonder boasts the duel attack of current and course form, as he’s notched top-10s in two of his last three starts, and if we widen the net further, we note a medium-term formline of 3-MC-7-MC-19-23-17, which is a marker of Schneiderjans’ consistency. Add into the mix a T8 return at Riviera last year, and the 24-year-old is a must-pick this week at 40-1 and in DFS. If he sinks some putts, that first PGA TOUR title could be just around the corner. Schneiderjans ranks 5th ON TOUR in Par 4 Birdie or Better Leaders, 15th in SG: Tee-to-Green – 15th in SG: Approach. That’s some good ammo going in (Risking 0.2 units to win 8).
William McGirt 110-1
We’re not sure which is most encouraging for William McGirt this week: his excellent record at Riviera or his show of ball-striking at Pebble Beach on Saturday. Consistency at a track which takes no prisoners will be essential and his 20-14-6 form-line shows McGirt’s aptitude for the layout, and given he is a former Memorial Tournament winner that is perhaps no surprise: that is a course where keeping the ball out of penal rough and finding the small Bentgrass greens is key. As for his efforts last time out, McGirt finished a respectable T26 in the AT&T Pebble Beach despite having to wait for his amateur partner, Carlton from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, to hack his way around the three layouts. Included in that was a Saturday 66 at Pebble Beach in which nobody went lower at that course on the day. Some of McGirt’s key stats are his 24th ranking in Greens in Regulation, his 29th ranking Par 4 Scoring Average SG and his 41st ranking in SG: Approach (Risking 0.2 units to win 22).
Austin Cook 100-1
Austin Cook is making his debut here, but he’s a high-class debutant that is simply overpriced on recent form. Does 100-1 sound like the right price on a pro who won on the PGA Tour only six starts ago, has since been a 54-hole leader and also notched a decent top-20 at the Sony? Cook is clearly a top prospect. In just 19 starts on the PGA Tour, he's made no fewer than 12 top-25s and won already. His game stats are equally impressive - ranking third for greens in regulation and sixth for scrambling amongst this elite field over the past 12 months. That sort of golf will inevitably create plenty of chances in contention and is good enough for us. These are the times when we really miss Betfair’s exchange because Cook is also perfect for trading at this price, but that’s a story for another time. For all our U.K. readers (and there aren’t many) take note (Risking 0.2 units to win 20 units).
Sang-Moon Bae 110-1
You have to feel sorry for South Korean sportsmen sometimes. They must complete their National Service between the ages of 18-35 if they don’t have residency elsewhere, and that was the reason that Sang-Moon – a two-time PGA TOUR and three-time Asian Tour winner – disappeared from view for a couple of years, but now he is back and at the age of 31, is ready to make up for lost time. After a couple of tournaments to ease his way back in, Sang-Moon produced a solid display of all-round hitting to finish T15 at Pebble Beach. The signs are encouraging then for a player who in his last full season as a PGA TOUR pro in 2015 recorded five top-10 finishes, and whose three visits to Riviera have yielded an excellent 8-12-8 form-line. This is a pro that is very much under the radar and who is playing with confidence and a very clear mind (Risking 0.2 units to win 22).
Head-to-head Matchups for Genesis Open
HEAD-TO-HEAD MATCHUPS for Genesis Open
The quality of talent at this level is getting better every year and there are literally between 45 and 50 golfers every event that have a truly legit chance to win but we can’t bet them all. To pick a winner outright is a big time challenge but the real money in these events is in the head-to-head challenges and that’s where our bread and butter will be earned. We may post daily head-to-heads as well so keep your eye out for those. In the meantime, the H2H wagers below are for 72 holes:
Adam Scott -110 over Charl Schwartzel @ Bet365
Last year, Charl Schwartzel missed the cut here and the year before that, in 2016, he finished 12 strokes behind Adam Scott. In fact, the only time that Schwartzel beat Scott at this course was way back in 2013 when Charl was striking the ball well. Last season was a rarity for Schwartzel in that he didn’t lift a trophy anywhere worldwide – the first year in quite some time he hasn’t got his hands on some silverware but don't ignore the signs. He’s won a Masters among others and is content with life on his farm in South Africa, so maybe he’s more mentally checked out than we’re led to believe. You may read about his love for this course and his success here but again, that was quite some time ago. Franky, we think this one is a steal.
It’s easy to forget about Adam Scott; the Australian simply doesn’t get his golf clubs out of the garage all that often these days. A known surfing addict, Scott splits his time between the Bahamas and the beautiful Crans-sur-Montana in Switzerland. The 37-year-old suddenly finds himself motivated a-new, however. He has dropped to 51 in the Official World Golf Rankings, meaning that he won’t be invited to WGC events until he is back inside the top 50. It’s perhaps little wonder that he is back on Tour at Riviera; a course that he has loved over the years. A winner here in 2005, he’s also twice finished runner-up (including as recently as 2016) and has five top-20s to his name in his last six visits. Can the Aussie still hang with the best? In 2017 he made 16 appearances on the PGA TOUR, finished inside the top-25 in nine of them and recorded highs of T6 at the Players’ Championship, T9 at The Masters and T10 at the St Jude Classic, as well as T11 here. You bet he can (Risking 2.2 units to win 2).
This is a first-round matchup only! Harris English has played this course one time, which occurred last year and he missed the cut after shooting 71 and 73 respectively over the first two rounds. Pieters also played this course last year and made the cut after firing away a 70 and 68 in the first two rounds, which was six strokes better than English. It’s not the only time that Pieters has played here either…..read on.
History dictates that form at Riviera is key to predicting strong performances here and that is evident from the number of repeat winners at this stretch as well as the number of champions that had recorded at least one top-20 at the track prior to lifting the trophy with DJ, Mickelson, Bubba, Aaron Baddeley and Bill Haas all ticking that box. Thus, we can be relatively bullish about the chances of Pieters to have a strong event. The Belgian won the 2012 NCAA Championship here, and in his first senior-level appearance at Riviera finished T2 behind Johnson; a performance pepped up by a final round of 63. Pieters has been playing reasonably well of late with T5 and T11 in the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi Championship and Turkish Airlines Open respectively, and anybody who finishes inside the top-five of two WGC events and The Masters as part of their debut season in the US deserves huge credit. He might even be worth a bet at 45-1, but we can’t bet everyone. However, we can easily get behind him to beat English at these odds (Risking 2.4 units to win 2).
We’re not going to stop at just the first round matchup for Pieters, as he’s taking back a very nice price against Daniel Berger and it’s probably because Berger has market presence while Pieters does not. This course is not in Berger’s wheelhouse, as he’s played here just one time since 2013 and missed the cut. When pro’s like a course and feel like they have a great chance to finish high in the money, they don’t miss it. So, why did he choose it this year? This course will be hosting the U.S Open in a few years and it’s a very good idea to get comfortable here. Clearly, Berger is not (Risking 2 units to win 2.64 units).
1st ROUND MATCHUP ONLY, Ted Potter Jr. was an unlikely winner last week at Pebble Beach so his stock is higher than it’s ever been. The elation of winning likely hasn’t subsided yet and we trust it’ll be very difficult for Potter Jr. to maintain that intensity and focus level here. Potter, after all, lost his main Tour card and had to go about things the hard way: regaining it via the http://Web.com Tour. That said, Potter hasn’t played this course since 2014. He’s played here for three consecutive years from 2012 to 2014 and missed the cut twice including the last time he played here four years ago. We’re pretty sure that he likely wouldn’t have even chosen this event had he known such a big pay-cheque was coming last week. Potter shot beautifully last week for the final three days but this is a completely different course and Potter comes in with a completely different state of mind. This week he’s relieved.
Kyle Stanley was one of the finest players on tour from tee to green during the main 2017 campaign, and while that is by no means a guarantee of success it just happened to coincide with the best season of his career to date. A long-awaited second PGA TOUR title came at the Quicken Loans National, and a total of five top-10 finishes was perhaps highlighted by his T4 return at THE PLAYERS Championship. We’re almost always in favor of fading unlikely winners the week after an exhilarating win and this fits perfectly (Risking 2.28 units to win 2).
For Fantasy Players:
Horse for the Course: Dustin Johnson ($11,900 Draft Kings, 12,900 Fan Duel)
We gave you DJ last week and see no reason to abandon him here. They say the best way to get over a fall is to jump right back in the saddle, so once again we will be throwing a huge chunk of our salary cap at the world number one. It’s a testament to his powers that finishing joint-second is considered something of a disappointment these days, and Johnson himself alluded to the fact that he was a tad miffed not to convert a 54-hole joint-lead into silverware at Pebble Beach. Never fear though, as that will give him added incentive to get his hands on the trophy this week, and hell hath no fury like the best player in the world scorned. That DJ has played Riviera -49 in the past four years, which is 20 shots better than anybody else – is hugely relevant, and an indictment of his love for this stretch. He has finished inside the top-five in six of his last eight trips, and that is quite frankly ludicrous. To the naked eye DJ looked in fine form at Pebble Beach, and while he didn’t make enough birdies on the weekend, there is still a firm foundation for improvement this week. As was the case last time out, there is no more likely winner than Johnson at Riviera, so why draft anybody else in the top slot? SG: Off-the-Tee – 1st - Par 4 Scoring Average – 1st - SG: Tee-to-Green – 4th. Nuff said.
Others to consider for DFS or to win are:
Ryan Moore ($6,900 Draft Kings, 9,300 Fan Duel)
A five-time PGA TOUR winner and Ryder Cupper is the same price as Nicholas Lindheim and Peter Malnati this week. Let that sink in for a minute…. The assumption then is that Moore completely hates playing at Riviera, but that’s not true either: MC-10-22-MC-27-17-4 is an agreeable turn at this treacherous stretch. Okay, so he hasn’t played much of late, but in four starts since the start of the wraparound season, Moore has finished T6 at the OHL Classic and T17 at the Safeway Open. Bag a bargain here.
James Hahn ($7,100 Draft Kings, 9,000 Fan Duel)
Hahn picked up his maiden PGA TOUR title here in 2015 (the Northern Trust Open as it was known back then), and so Riviera is a venue that will clearly be close to his heart. The 36-year-old spent his college years at Berkeley and is still affiliated to the Metropolitan GC in Oakland, so we shouldn’t be surprised that Hahn often saves his best golf for California. He played some decent golf at Pebble Beach last week, and indeed his stats suggest somebody who is striking the ball better than his T26 finish: +2.10 from tee-to-green and +1.08 with putter in hand indicates a decent performance – an opening round of 74 at Spyglass Hill derailing a good effort from there-on-in (68-70-68).
Martin Laird ($6,900 Draft Kings, 8,600 Fan Duel)
Laird is completely off the radar this week, but the Scot is your classic horses-for-courses type player, who typically shows his best form at roughly this time of the year. Back-to-back top-10s at the Phoenix Open have followed a pair of top-10 finishes in three starts at the Farmers Insurance Open, and this is a trend that has informed the three-time PGA TOUR winner’s career so far. So, with a form-line of 8-11 at Riviera in the past two years, we have every confidence that another strong showing is imminent. The recent trend has been for former PGA TOUR champions to get back into the winner’s circle after a lengthy absence, with Gary Woodland and Ted Potter Jr. both ending long droughts of late. Perhaps Laird can make it a hat-trick at a layout he knows well.
The above are just suggestions to help you along with your roster, as there are dozens more we could have easily profiled too. You have to mix and match to come up with a roster and hopefully finish in the money. If you are stuck, you can always Tweet me to ask about a low-priced golfer to fill out your roster and I would be happy to assist you. For instance, you might have 6800.00 left for one player and need the best choice in that range. I can usually give you a strong suggestion.
The total risk for this event is 10.48 units and we’ll update it when the results are official.
4 golfers to win outright @ 0.2 units each = -0.8 units
#7021 Thomas Pieters +132 over Daniel Berger + 2.64 units
Adam Scott -110 over Charl Schwartzel = +2 units
First-round matchup of Thomas Pieters -120 over Harris English was a PUSH
6.64 units in wins - 0.8 units in losses = a net profit of +5.84 units for this event.
Open an account today at Pinnacle Sports
They offer win-only odds in the outrights and for the PGA, European, Champions and LPGA Tours only, but they make up for this in terms of value in their matchups. They consistently offer unique tournament matchups for the PGA which at 10-20 cent lines and no ties are the best on offer in the business. Unfortunately, they only offer 18-hole matchups for the PGA Tour.
Genesis Open (Risking 10.48 units - To Win: 0.00)