Market and overview
A major outside a major is how many see the newly named Genesis Open from Riviera Country Club. The track comprises pristine conditioned lush terrain, usually playing fast and firm with little rough, and where errant shots can go unpunished despite the fairways being framed by trees. This year rain has been in the area and it is set to play softer like the earlier rounds in 2016. The in-form duo of Jordan Spieth - 8.50 - and Hideki Matsuyama - 10.00 - are joined by world no.3 Dustin Johnson - 9.50 - and world no. 1 Jason Day - 15.00 - to take a large chunk out of the market. Dustin loves the sight lines and shape from the tees here and rates it one of his favourite weeks of the year. Eight of the world's top 10 line up this week.
Bubba the man to beat?
Like Augusta, this is a big hitter’s paradise. It's aesthetically similar and requires different shot shapes into the greens, imagination around them, and lag putting is also a theme given tough to access pins. There are two places Bubba Watson - 33.00 or 7.50 - really thrives - Augusta and Riviera - and it's no coincidence. He used a remarkable strategy to win here last year and said he actually aimed for the rough on certain holes just to get optimal approach angle into the hard to access pin locations. The two-time champ also got away with numerous errant shots in 2014 when winning here, just like you can at Augusta. Bubba hasn't really got going this year, shooting 69-74 in Phoenix but this means his price of 34.00 or 7.50 is very big relative to the market leaders. Last season Riviera saw the least putts holed from 10' and in on the Poa Annua greens, and this will negate his inefficiencies on the greens.
The course - Riviera Country Club par 71, 7322 yards
The grasses at Riviera are a different strain to Augusta and Steve Rintoul uses the term "Brillo pad" when referencing the strains here. He talks about "Bermuda on Steroids", though just 1.5 inch Kikuyu rough lines the fairways. There is some sticky stuff around the surfaces though and brace yourselves for a few duffs this week with plenty of greens inevitably being missed. William McGirt said when conditions are not fast and firm with run out of fairways, lesser hitters have little chance at Riviera.
This is due to tucked pins behind bunkers and elevations on smallish greens that are hard to hold, meaning proximity to the hole will be a high average. Coming in with the longer irons is a significant disadvantage which is why siding with the bigger hitters who will be approaching with a higher flight is a must this week.
Ball strikers like Francesco Molinari and Kevin Chappell are two who may have this disadvantage. Shaping it both ways is necessary from the tees and finding the correct side off the markers is imperative, even if it lands in the relatively benign rough. Greens are expected to be running a fast 12.5' on the stimp. Early starters will get the best of the Poa Annua greens. Experience and talent always rises to the top at Riviera.
Genesis Open Ones to watch
Sergio Garcia - 26.00 or 6.00 - is another who rates Riviera CC very highly: "The kind of course that is asking you to hit the proper shots" is how the Spaniard describes the track and there are not many better ball strikers in the game than Sergio who just missed out on a playoff here in 2015 and was also 4th back in 2012. He loves courses where shaping the ball from the tees is required (9th in total driving '16) and the Spaniard is in a good place with an upcoming marriage on the cards. He comes here off the back of a win in the Dubai Desert where incidentally he ranked 1st for Greens In Regulation - a hugely significant metric for Riviera.
I have an asterisk on my notes beside Marc Leishman - 76.00 or 16.00 - who caught my attention here last year, especially on the par 5s which are important to take advantage of at Riviera.
The Aussie hit four rounds in the sixties. Leish started 2017 with a couple of top 20s and then sat just one shot off third place after 54 holes the other week in Phoenix. He carded a 73 on Sunday for a 24th place finish which leaves him under the radar. Leish is a ball striking machine who may benefit again from the expected softer conditions this year.
Sul Yeung Noh - 151.00 or 31.00 - is a very much underrated South Korean who holds form of 16-22-20 in three appearances at Riviera. He's deceptively long and averages over 300 yards off the tee in the 2017 season. Noh is already a winner on both the European and PGA Tour circuits and heads to Riviera off a top 10 at the Pebble Beach National.
Compatriot Sung Kang - 251.0 or 51.00 - is on the radar too having posted a top 10 here last year. Kang was dealt a rough draw last week but bounced back with a 3rd round -6 (65) at Monterey which included a back nine of 32 comprising 6 birdies.