A week after the PGA Tour spent a weekend at one of the most historic golf communities in America, the action moves to yet another legendary golf course as a stacked field tees it up for the 2019 Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, California.
Riviera Country Club literally is a golf time capsule, as the course has seen very little alterations to its layout since it was opened in 1927. And given the combination of a great golf course and its location in the second largest metropolitan area in the United States, the event annually attracts one of the best fields outside the major championships and the WGC’s. There’s plenty of opportunities for the world’s best to be in the spotlight both on and off the course this week.
Here’s a primer of everything to know before placing bets on the event:
Following a very lackluster field at the AT&T Pro-Am (including a complete debacle of coverage by CBS which I could probably crank out 2,000 words on that subject), there is certainly no shortage of star-power at Riviera. Fourteen of the world’s Top 20 players will vie for the trophy this weekend, and the notable names speak for themselves:
- Tiger Woods
- Phil Mickelson
- Dustin Johnson
- Rory McIlroy
- Jordan Spieth
- Justin Thomas
- Bubba Watson
- Bryson DeChambeau
- Jon Rahm
PGA Live certainly won’t have too much trouble getting together a good feature group for the Friday Fan Vote, unlike last week when we were stuck with a washed up pairing of Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan.
All eyes will certainly be on the group of players above, as no doubt the PGA Tour will work to compile a few super-groups out of them. Last year all the attention was on the Tiger Woods-Rory McIlroy-Justin Thomas Thursday/Friday grouping, and the extra attention they received from the Los Angeles crowd seemed to get the best of them. Tiger missed the cut by a mile (not surprising as he hasn’t had much success at Riviera in his career), and both Justin Thomas and Rory made post-round comments about how much of a distraction the crowds were. Expect more the same for anyone paired with the Big Cat this weekend.
The two horses for the course are Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson. They’ve won four of the last five Genesis Open’s with Bubba taking home three trophies and Dustin winning in 2017 and notching three other Top 10’s during that span. Dustin Johnson is a recent winner and Bubba played well at TPC Scottsdale, so both should be in great form heading into this week’s tournament.
Lastly, no word yet on if the national guard has been put on stand by to form a human shield around every green at Riviera to stop Sergio Garcia from doing his own bit of renovation to the putting surfaces. This is the first time Sergio is teeing it up after being disqualified for intentionally damaging five greens in Saudi Arabia. Considering Sergio is one of the least-liked golfers for American fans, he’ll for sure get his fair share of heckling from the gallery.
The Golf Course
Construction on Riviera Country Club began in 1926 by George C. Thomas in a barren canyon in Santa Monica. After consulting with the great Alister McKenzie, Thomas finalized his architecture plans and the golf course was completed the following year. It was the site of the first Los Angeles Open in 1929 and was the primary home of the tournament for the better part of seven decades, occasionally sharing duties with other golf courses in the area. Beginning in 1999, the tournament made Riviera its permanent home and has hosted it through several name changes ever since. Riviera also has hosted the 1948 U.S. Open, the 1983 and 1995 PGA Championship and the 2017 U.S. Amateur.
The golf course itself has been relatively unaltered since it’s opening. Other than bunker renovations in the 1990’s by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw (most notably at the 10th hole) and a restoration of the 8th hole by Tom Fazio, Riviera is an old soul that still packs a punch and tests the best in the world despite decades of advancement in golf equipment technology:
Besides the creative and unique layout, Riviera features a type of grass that the PGA Tour doesn’t see anywhere else on the schedule. In 1934 after a bad New Year’s Eve storm damaged most of the golf course, Riviera was re-sodded with kikuyugrass – a sticky, spongy turf native to Africa. Unlike bermudagrass, kikuyugrass does not go dormant during colder months and shows best in climates with constant sunshine – and anyone who lives in Los Angeles will tell you they certainly don’t suffer from a Vitamin D deficiency. The combination of the hard, moisture deprived soil that lays a foundation of the golf course to the grabby nature of the kikuyu plays in perfect harmony with each other and creates a track of lush fairways and tricky rough that can pose problems for anyone not used to hitting off of it.
The design of almost every hole at Riviera is a favorite to the golf architecture community, and for a hole by hole breakdown Andy Johnson (a.k.a. the Fried Egg) wrote a great piece covering just that subject. To me, three holes on the golf course really stand out:
The 503 yard Par 5 1st hole offers up one of the best opening tee-shots in golf. With the historic Riviera Club House in the shadows, golfers tee off to a 30 yard wide fairway 60 feet below them. For most amateurs, the barranca rough that cuts across the fairway about 330 yards out won’t be in play. But most professionals can easily carry their tee shot 300 yards in the air, and if you give them a helping breeze from an elevated tee position they can easily bounce their opening shot into that rough. Most professionals will likely pull a fairway metal or a driving iron to lay short of the barranca and set up a very manageable second to get their round off to a great start.
This hole was redesigned by Tom Fazio in an attempt to bring it back to the original design of George Thomas. With dueling fairways, golfers have two options – hit it down the right onto a narrow fairway, or take it down the left to a slightly more generous one but contend with two fairway bunkers in the landing zone. While the intent was to make a line down the left fairway more risk-reward, both the advancement in golf technology and the construction of the green has rendered this point moot. For one, most golfers have plenty of carry on their drives to navigate around the fairway bunkers down the left fairway. Also, because of the back to front sloping of the green and the lack of any greenside hazards to contend with, there really isn’t much of a difference between opting for the “safer” right fairway or the “riskier” left fairway. It’s a hole likely better conceptualized than actually executed.
Now THIS is a proper risk-reward hole – a driveable 315 yard Par 4 featuring heavy bunkering and a lightning fast, narrow tabletop green that slopes towards the front bunker. It’s a hole where one round a golfer can easily make birdie and the next they go bunker to bunker to bunker and card a triple.
The $1,000,000 question of the hole is if it’s better to lay up short of the bunker 265 yards out and pitch up with an optimal angle to the green, or navigate around the fairway and greenside bunkers and go for it. Last year, Golf Week analyzed every birdie or better score and every bogey or worse score on the 10th during the 2017 Genesis Open and compared to shotlink data to see whether it was better to lay up or go for the green:
Birdies or Better
Bogeys or Worse
Based on the data from that tournament, there was about as much of a chance one would walk off the 10th with a birdie or a bogey or worse by laying up. As for those who went for the green, as long as the tee shot carried the bunker on the left side of the fairway and settled either left or short of the green the chances of carding a birdie were good. Expect the pros to be very aggressive on this hole this weekend.
Last week at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the focus on who to target revolved more around the strengths of the short game, always a challenging proposition as that’s a fairly volatile area of the game to rely on. This event reverts back to favor those with strengths on the tee-to-green game, with a stronger emphasis on the approach shots. Most greens have very unique and complex sloping and the margin for error on them are quite small. Those who are best at picking a small target and have a strong command over distance and spin control on their irons tend to be featured at the top of the leaderboard annually. It’s no wonder some of the best ball-strikers and shot makers in the world like Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth make frequent appearances towards the top of the leaderboard at this event.
While Riviera isn’t a bombers paradise, shorter hitters might be slightly behind the eight ball heading into this week. The Los Angeles area has received a ton of rain over the last two weeks, getting over 2.5 inches of rain in the first weekend of February and over half and inch of ran this past weekend. The golf course is also expected to get over half an inch of rain on Wednesday night. This might create a bit of an ugly situation at Riviera between the wet sod and an already spongy kikuyu grass that on its own acts as an inhibitor of roll. Riviera is going to play really long this weekend. As such, gamblers would be wise to break ties towards longer hitters off the tee for DraftKings lineups and matchup props.