While this event has been dominated by one man in recent history, the task of picking a few golfers to win the Genesis Open is a challenging proposition. With one of the deepest and talented fields of the PGA Tour schedule, there are at least two dozen names that could hoist the trophy on Sunday without anyone blinking an eye or being remotely shocked.
- 2018: Bubba Watson
- 2017: Dustin Johnson
- 2016: Bubba Watson
- 2015: James Hahn
- 2014: Bubba Watson
- 2013: John Merrick
Bubba Watson is one of the easiest golfers to forecast – there’s certain tournaments where you can completely write him off, and then there’s five or six tournaments a year when you know he’ll shine. The Genesis Open is one of those tournaments. A winner in three of the past five years, the golf course allows Bubba to showcase one of the best parts of his game – his creative shot-making ability. When Bubba is on, he can work the ball both ways and seemingly defy physics. It’s a perfect fit at a golf course where the best way to attack a hole isn’t always in a straight line:
Another consistently strong player in this event is Dustin Johnson, who won in 2017 and has three other Top 10 finishes in his last five appearances. Dustin played very poorly last week at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, particularly with his approach shots as he struggled with his distance control in the cold, gusty conditions. The weather conditions in Los Angeles won’t be any better this weekend, and he’ll have to adjust accordingly if he wants to return to the winners circle.
On the surface, it seems like Riviera is a bombers paradise when players like Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson annually deliver a stellar performance. But upon closer inspection on the golfers who finished inside the Top 20 of the event, several golfers who consistently rank poorly in Strokes Gained Off-The-Tee and driving distance competed for the victory. But with soggy and cold conditions lengthening the golf course, I expect a longer hitter to once again take home the trophy.
Who will win this year? Here are my picks (with odds courtesy of mybookie.ag):
Justin Thomas – 12/1: As long as Justin Thomas is teeing it up and hitting the ball as well as he has, he’ll always be one of my picks to win an event. Thomas has gained a ludicrous 2.08 strokes over the field on his approach shots over his last three tournaments, well making up for what so far has been a lackluster performance off the tee in 2019. As one of the best drivers in the world, I’m fully confident that he can turn it on at any given moment. But what does have me a little concerned is that he’ll be in the Bababoey Group once again at the Genesis Open, paired with Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods in the first two rounds.
Last year Justin Thomas was paired with Rory and Tiger over the first two rounds and admitted that the large crowds following this group at Riviera was a nuisance and a distraction. He recovered to finish T9, but he let that frustration carry over to the Honda Classic the following week when he ejected a drunk fan who politely requested his tee shot find a home in the bunker.
Justin Thomas took a lot of flack for the incident (a little unfairly so in this man’s opinion), but he seemed to learn from the experience. As long as he keeps his composure, there’s absolutely no reason why he can’t win the 2019 Genesis Open.
Bryson DeChambeau – 15/1: It’s a three-way battle between Bryson, Justin Rose and Brooks Koepka to lay claim as the best player in the world over the last year. While Justin Rose mathematically is the World #1 and Brooks Koepka added his second and third major in 2018, it’s Bryson DeChambeau that has won the most times worldwide over the last 10 months.
Bryson has all the tools to win not just at Riviera, but at any golf course he plays. Laugh and mock his weird swing all you want – Bryson can absolutely punish a golf ball and work the ball both ways whenever he wants. He’s a premier driver of the golf ball and, like Bubba Watson, is able to create unique shot shapes to access the most tucked and inaccessible pins.
DeChambeau checks all the boxes of a player I have in mind to win the Genesis Open, and when he’s on he’s on. When he won the Shriners in November he averaged a staggering 3.39 Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green. At the Sony Open he averaged 2.63 Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green, second in the field that week. These are titanic numbers that he’s certainly capable of replicating at a golf course where premier shot-makers rise to the occasion.
Hideki Matsuyama – 28/1: The long overdue victory for Hideki is coming – the question is when. Fully recovered from his wrist injury in 2017 he’s returned to full form with dominant ball-striking statistics. At the Farmers Insurance Open when he finished T3, he averaged a whopping 2.14 strokes gained tee-to-green and 1.31 strokes gained on his approach shots. He followed that up at the Waste Management Open by averaging 2.79 strokes gained tee-to-green and 1.70 strokes gained on his approach shots, despite the disappointing T15 finish.
The elephant that’s always in the room for Hideki is his putting, an area that routinely costs him a chance to win. While Hideki does have wins under his belt where he gained no strokes on the field with his putter, he’ll need to be at least in the Top 25 in putting this weekend if he really is a threat to win.
Still, he’s hitting the ball just as well as the other two golfers I like this week at an attractive 28/1 price. That’s good enough to for me to get down on that and hope he catches fire with the flatstick.
Luke List -135 over Kevin Na: Kevin Na finished T2 in this event in 2018 and T4 at Riviera in 2017. But he’s still trying to overcome an early season pinky injury, and even before that his form had been pretty bad over the last six months. He made his return two weeks ago in Phoenix and struggled badly with his irons, an area that he needs to fix quickly if he wants to be around for the weekend at Riviera. Take Luke List head to head over him, as List has been striking the ball well this year and should have an edge with his distance off the tee when Riviera plays longer than normal.
Hideki Matsuyama -125 over Jordan Spieth: I don’t need to fawn over Hideki again here, so let’s turn our gaze to Jordan Spieth. To sum up in as few of words as possible – he’s a mess. For years, Spieth made his hay as the best iron player in the world. While others bombed it 20 yards past his tee shots, he’d best them by consistently stuffing his approach shots to a comfortable birdie range and drain the long putt.
While he’s improved a bit on a disastrous putting performance from 2018, his iron play has regressed badly. That’s also further exposed how poor Jordan Spieth has hit the ball off the tee for well over a year. In his last three tournaments, Spieth has lost about half a shot to the field tee-to-green and has gained almost no ground on his approach shots. Yes, he has shown flashes of brilliance, but that came on the easier of the two Torrey Pines courses and at Monterrey Peninsula, the easiest golf course of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Once he faced adverse conditions on difficult tracks at Torrey Pines South and Pebble Beach, he crashed and burned.
Speith is a stay-away for me until I see definitive proof he’s turned it around with consistent ball-striking. Until then, fade away.