2024 Genesis Invitational Preview

2024 Genesis Invitational Preview

The PGA Tour winds down its West Coast Swing this weekend. Another star-studded field heads to Riviera Country Club for the 2024 Genesis Invitational. As always, here is your early deep-dive of the 2024 Genesis Invitational and a preview of how to bet.


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2024 Genesis Invitational Preview

The Field

The PGA Tour once again will put on a Signature Event. And while most of the best golfers in the world will tee it up at Riviera, there’s one name that stands heads and shoulders above the rest that’ll draw immense attention.

Tiger Woods is back. He returns to an official PGA Tour event for the first time since the Masters last spring. The golf world got its first glimpse at Tiger Woods back in action last December at the Hero World Challenge. While seeing him be one of the leaders in Strokes Gained – Off-the-Tee was encouraging, the rest of his game looked very rusty. He’ll look to shake off that rust at Riviera.

Other notables in the field include Ludvig Aberg, Patrick Cantlay, Viktor Hovland, Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele, Scottie Scheffler, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.

For the full field, click here.

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.

The golf course itself has been relatively unaltered since its opening. Other than bunker renovations by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw and restoration of the 7th and 8th holes by Tom Fazio, Riviera is an old soul that still packs a punch. It tests the best in the world despite decades of technological advancement in equipment:

Besides the creative and unique layout, Riviera features a type of grass that the PGA Tour doesn’t see very often. In 1934, Riviera was re-sodded with Kikuyu grass after a New Year’s Eve storm damaged the golf course. Kikuyu is a sticky, spongy turf native to Africa. Kikuyu is also featured summer grass at Torrey Pines, which these players see at the Farmers Insurance Open and any U.S. Open at the golf course.

Unlike bermudagrass, Kikuyu does not go dormant during colder months. It also shows best in climates with constant sunshine, as Los Angeles enjoys throughout the year. The combination of the hard, moisture-deprived soil that lays the foundation of the golf course to the grabby nature of the Kikuyu plays in perfect harmony with each other. It creates a track of lush fairways and tricky rough that can pose problems for anyone not used to hitting off of it.

Here’s an article from Dan Rapaport with more information about the unique nature of kikuyu grass.

Also, like Torrey Pines, the greens are made with poa annua grass. This grass is essentially a weed that grows throughout the day. Poa annua surfaces are quite bumpy and not easy to putt on. Confident strokes are needed to putt well on these surfaces.

The design of almost every hole at Riviera is a favorite to the golf architecture community, and Andy Johnson (a.k.a. the Fried Egg) wrote a hole-by-hole breakdown covering just that subject. That is definitely a recommended read for a more detailed analysis of every hole at Riviera Country Club.

Betting Strategies

To begin the 2024 Genesis Invitational Preview, here is general information about Riviera Country Club.

Yardage: 7,322 Yards

Par: 71

Average Green Size: 7,500 sq. feet

  • Riviera Country Club features the 4th largest greens by area on the PGA Tour.

Agronomy

  • Greens: Poa Annua (12.5 on stimpmeter)
  • Collars & Approaches: Ryegrass Overseed
  • Fairways: Kikuyu Grass
  • Rough: Kikuyu Grass (2″)

The agronomy is quite important to how Riviera Country Club plays.

As mentioned earlier, kikuyu is a spongey and sticky turf grass. Once the ball lands onto Kikuyu, the ball doesn’t tend to roll out very far. In many ways, it behaves a bit like paspalum. As such, Kikuyu can make Riviera Country Club play longer than the 7,322-yard scorecard would suggest.

In addition, players are once again back on California poa annua. Poa annua is one of the most difficult putting surfaces that the players on the PGA Tour will putt on. And not only is it difficult to read, but the greens at Riviera play fairly quickly. Riviera features some of the most difficult greens to putt on annually.

Past Champions

  • 2023: Jon Rahm (-17)
  • 2022: Joaquin Niemann (-19)
  • 2021: Max Homa (-12)
  • 2020: Adam Scott (-11)
  • 2019: J.B. Holmes (-14)

Average Scores

  • 2023: -0.09
  • 2022: -0.60
  • 2021: +0.35
  • 2020: +0.24
  • 2019: +0.28

Historically, Riviera Country Club is one of the tougher non-major venues on the PGA Tour. Riviera plays the toughest when it is firm, cold, and the wind is up. That was what happened from 2019 to 2021 when the average scores were over par, and the winning score didn’t creep past -14.

However, the last two Genesis Invitationals didn’t pack quite as much of a punch. In 2022, the golf course was quite soft, and Riviera didn’t receive a lot of wind. Combine benign conditions with advancements in golf technology, and the best players in the world picked apart Riviera.

In 2023, Riviera did pack a punch due to the weather conditions. However, over the weekend, the wind died down, and the golf course played quite soft and receptive. That allowed the average scores to rival that of 2022 over the weekend.

As for the 2024 tournament, Los Angeles saw record rainfall a couple of weeks ago. As such, Riviera Country Club will play quite soft on the outset.

Looking ahead at the weather forecast, the first three days look like absolutely ideal playing conditions. Temperatures will hover in the mid-60s, there won’t be much wind, and the sun will be out for most of the tournament.

However, on Sunday, there appears to be a chance for some very nasty, likely unplayable weather. And Monday doesn’t look great either. Could we see another 54-hole tournament? For the first two signature events, being cut short to 54 holes each would be a disaster for the PGA Tour. Stay tuned.

Predictive Skillsets

Here is the predictive skillset chart for Riviera Country Club (per DataGolf). This chart will preview what types of players should excel at the 2024 Genesis Invitational. In addition, below is a commentary about each part of the golf game and why certain skill sets are and are not as predictive as the typical PGA Tour setup.

2024 Genesis Invitational Preview

Off the Tee

The predictive skillset chart suggests that driving distance is as predictive of success at Riviera as it is at a standard PGA Tour setup. What’s most notable from the chart, however, is that the skill of driving accuracy is not very predictive at all for who will play well at Riviera Country Club.

Driving at Riviera Country Club is pretty difficult. Since 2015, the golf course ranks as the 17th most difficult on the PGA Tour. Players are often tasked to shape the ball in multiple ways off the tee, which, with modern technology, isn’t something they’re used to doing. And the golf course does a good job bottlenecking in key driving zones or protecting them from a well-placed hazard. Fairways are difficult to hit.

There seems to be a shift in strategy over the last few years at Riviera. Up until 2019, it seems as though players pulled less than driver off the tee to play a more positional style of golf. The greens have so much character at Riviera that, for most, playing from the correct side of the fairway is a must. Up until 2019, the average driving distance at the course ranged in 280ish yards.

But starting in 2020, the average driving distance exploded. And it’s more than that can be explained with advancements in technology. This was the average driving distance of all drives from 2020 to 2023:

  • 2019: 290.2
  • 2020: 293.6
  • 2021: 294.4
  • 2022: 294.5

Driving distances have only advanced about 1 yard per year. As such, this increase represents a clear shift in strategy off the tee at Riviera.

It might be because the data suggests that missing a fairway at Riviera isn’t impactful on one’s overall score on the hole. In fact, Riviera is the least penal golf course to miss a fairway in terms of the average score on a hole from drives that hit the fairway and those that don’t.

It has mostly to do with the greens. Especially when they play firm. There is so much undulation caused by spines, tiers, and swales that balls have trouble staying on the putting surface, even from shots from the fairway. And it’s so difficult to putt on the green. Players simply don’t make a ton of putts from either long-range or run the risk of three-putting. There are many variables that limit how much reward there is to hitting a fairway at Riviera.

That’s why driving distance has taken on a much more important role in how players have separated themselves off the tee in recent years. And with the fairways playing very soft in 2024, expect longer hitters once again to have a big edge at Riviera Country Club.

Approach

Iron play is slightly less predictive of success at Riviera than it would be at the typical PGA Tour venue. But it’s still one of the most predictive skill sets to refer to. It’s still not something that a bettor can ignore.

Overall, the relative difficulty of iron shots at Riviera is about the same as the typical PGA Tour setup. Since 2015, shots from under 150 are slightly harder than the typical PGA Tour setup. And shots from over 150 yards are slightly easier than the typical PGA Tour setup.

What’s odd about this revelation is the annually low green in regulation rates at the golf course. Since 2015, the green in regulation rate at Riviera Country Club is only 55.5%.

That’s the 6th lowest rate on the PGA Tour in that stretch. The greens are very undulated and run quite fast. Once the ball gets going on the wrong side of a slope, there’s a good chance it’ll roll off the green. So, while on its face, the approach shots players hit aren’t tremendously difficult, the greens serve as a defense to keep balls off the surface.

Around the Green

Players who excel around the green generally do very well at Riviera Country Club. Of all the predictive skill sets, this is the only one that has a higher than PGA Tour average in correlation to success at Riviera.

One reason is one that was already mentioned. The green in regulation rate at Riviera is quite low. As such, the Genesis Invitational can sometimes turn into a contest of who can get up and down the best.

Another reason is that the conditions for getting up and down aren’t impossible. It’s just that there’s a very fine line between success and failure on these greens. Those who have a deft touch, spin control, and know how the greens break can get up and down fairly easily. Those who struggle around the green, however, are in for a long day.

The most difficult aspect around the green at Riviera is with their bunkers. Since 2015, Riviera features the 12th toughest conditions to get up and down from a greenside bunker. The bunkers at Riviera feature very steep faces. And combine this with the significantly undulated and quick greens, getting your ball to end up close to the hole from a greenside bunker is a very difficult proposition.

Putting

Like the other California golf courses, the greens at Riviera Country Club are difficult to putt on. Since 2015, Riviera Country Club has featured the 5th most difficult greens to putt on. This includes the 6th most difficult conditions on putts under 5 feet and the fifth most from five to 15 feet. In addition, Riviera has been one of the Top 10 most difficult greens to putt from over 15 feet in each of the last five seasons on the PGA Tour.

The poa annua is not an easy surface to putt on. But what makes Riviera greens so difficult is the combination of their undulated nature and their very fast speeds. Players are often putting defensively at Riviera. This might be a reason why there’s a lower-than-average correlation to good putters finding success at Riviera. When everyone is putting defensively, it can level the playing field a bit between bad putters and good ones because no one is making a lot of putts overall.

Approach Shot Distribution

Here are the types of approach shots players will face at the Riviera Country Club. This is a preview of what to expect from one’s overall approach play at the 2024 Genesis Invitational.

2024 Genesis Invitational Preview

This proximity chart is nearly identical to the one featured at last week’s WM Phoenix Open. There is a heavy concentration of approach shots between 150 and 200 yards. There also are much fewer shots from under 150 yards than the PGA Tour average. However, there are slightly more shots from over 200 yards at Riviera Country Club than there were last week at the WM Phoenix Open.

Given the wet turf conditions at Riviera this week, don’t expect the ball to roll out a lot. As such, these proximity buckets will shift a bit longer this week. Expect the golf course to play longer than it typically does.

Follow the tips in this preview, and one should put together a solid betting card or DFS lineup for the 2024 Genesis Invitational.

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