Jamie Worsley kept up his good start at Betfred as he picked up three places last week at the WM Phoenix Open. He’s back with five more picks here for the Genesis Invitational as well as his usual in-depth preview.
Genesis Invitational Tips
- 2pts Sungjae Im – each way (1/5 8 places) – 25/1
- 1.5pts Cameron Young – each way (1/5 7 places) – 33/1
- 1.5pts Jason Day – each way (1/5 8 places) – 35/1
- 1.25pts Matt Fitzpatrick – each way (1/5 7 places) – 40/1
- 1pt Si Woo Kim – each way (1/5 7 places) – 100/1
An incredible twelve months for Scottie Scheffler came full circle at the Phoenix Open over the weekend. It was at TPC Scottsdale where Scheffler won for the first time on the PGA Tour last year, following with wins in the Arnold Palmer Invitational and WGC Matchplay; before a sensational Masters success capped off a superb two month spell that took him to the top of the world rankings.
It was apt that his first win in ten months should come at the place where it all started, as he eventually managed to see off an impressive, dogged Nick Taylor to take home the title by two strokes and in the process ascend back to the top of the world rankings.
Scheffler, Taylor et al are back in action this week in another high-class field, as we round off the West Coast swing at The Riviera Country Club with the Genesis Invitational.
The Genesis Invitational (formerly the Los Angeles Open, amongst other iterations) was first held in 1926 and has taken place every year since, barring 1943 due to WWII.
It has been held at multiple venues during that period, though Riviera Country Club is comfortably the most regular host, having been held here almost exclusively since 1973. The 1983 and 1998 renewals are the exceptions, with the event held elsewhere at Rancho Park Golf Course in ’83 and Valencia Country Club in ’98, both times due to Riviera readying itself for a major championship (the 1983 PGA Championship and 1998 US Senior Open).
Many of the game’s greats have lifted this trophy, with Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer both three-time winners; the likes of Tom Watson, Sam Snead and Phil Mickelson winning it twice. Whilst the record for most wins is shared by Scotland’s MacDonald Smith, who won four times in the late 1920’s/early 1930’s and Lloyd Mangrum, collecting four trophies between 1949 and 1956.
The tournament record is still held by Lanny Wadkins in the second of his two victories at Riviera in 1985, shooting a score of -20 to win by an impressive seven strokes; a record that was almost equalled last year, as Chile’s Joaquin Niemann claimed victory with -19, by two strokes over Collin Morikawa and Cameron Young.
Unfortunately, Niemann doesn’t return to defend the title he won so impressively last year and neither do other recent past champions: three-time winner Bubba Watson, two-time winner Phil Mickelson and 2017 champion Dustin Johnson; all, along with Niemann, now of LIV Golf.
Still, with a stellar field, made all the more star-studded by the addition of a certain Mr. Woods, we should be set for another exciting week at this fabulous old course.
The Riviera Country Club is a par 71 measuring 7322 yards, made up of 11x par 4s, 4x par 3s and 3x par 5s. It was originally designed by George Thomas in 1927 – with a helping hand from William Bell – and has been renovated multiple times since; by the team of Crenshaw and Coore in 1992, whilst Tom Fazio has made numerous alterations over the last thirty years.
Riviera has major championship history going back to the 1940’s and was the place where Ben Hogan won the first of his four US Open’s in 1948. Since then it has welcomed two further major fields: the 1983 and 1995 PGA Championships, won by Hal Hutton and Steve Elkington respectively; before Hale Irwin won the Senior US Open here in 1998.
It’s set to host a women’s major for the first time in 2026 with the US Women’s Open and in addition, it has been chosen as the host venue when the Olympics come to L.A in 2028.
This traditional old course is tree-lined, though not claustrophobically so and represents one of the toughest ball-striking tests on the PGA Tour. Over the last four years, the tight, doglegged fairways rank as the 2nd toughest to hit on tour and though the poa annua greens are large, the undulations and firmness of them mean they act as a serious repellent to errant approach shots; also ranking as the 2nd most difficult course on tour in which to hit greens.
This no doubt made more challenging by snatchy kikuya rough, for all it isn’t too long and strategic bunkering aside the fairways, which means Riviera ranks above average difficulty in GIR when missing the fairways.
Though the greens and slopes on them make putting tricky, you are given a little respite around them, as it ranks amongst the top 25% easiest courses on which to scramble around; something that has allowed players with less than stellar short-games to amass a good record.
The holes around here contrast greatly – typically from one to the next – keeping you on your toes throughout.
You’re lured into a false sense of security on the opening hole; a par 5 that barely scrapes over 500 yards and ultimately a hole on which if you leave with a par, you’ll be giving up a shot to many in the field.
Standout holes on the course include the par 3 6th, in which the green surrounds a large bunker in the middle and an exciting closing stretch, consisting of: the par 3 16th – which is played into the smallest green on the course – the par 5 17th and a tough par 4 closing hole, where you’re required to hit a blind tee-shot into an uneven fairway and follow with an unenviable approach into the large sloped green, where two-putting is no guarantee.
Those are all memorable holes, though the most famous hole on the course is the drivable par 4 10th. The narrow green is one of the toughest to hit on the course and despite almost everybody in the field being capable of reaching in one, the deep bunkering means that not only is getting it tight for a tap in birdie hard, but sometimes nigh-on impossible; with many players chipping back and forth between said bunkers that surround the hole. It always makes for a thrilling and intriguing watch, with players approaching with alternate strategies throughout the week.
This is a challenging but fair golf course, with birdie chances on offer throughout; though a reward only given to those who approach the ever-contrasting holes in the correct way. It possesses an average winning score of -13.2 over the last ten renewals, with winning scores rarely going lower than -15. However, it will be interesting to see if anyone is able to repeat Niemann’s winning score of -19 last year (the lowest winning score since 1985).
This is a place where you’re rarely able to get away with not producing an all-round quality performance, though first and foremost, you have to hit the ball well; strength in approach play looking particularly key.
We saw this last year, as Joaquin Niemann won off the back of a field-leading approach performance. Cameron Young in 2nd ranked 9th in approach and though not at his consistent best that week, Collin Morikawa is one of the best iron players on the planet. Adam Scott, Viktor Hovland and Scottie Scheffler all finished top 7 and ranked top 5 in approach.
Max Homa was solid enough in approach in 2021, though excelled elsewhere, particularly with the driver. However, his closest challengers: Tony Finau, Sam Burns and Cameron Smith all produced quality approach play; Finau ranking 4th, Burns 3rd and Smith 10th.
Adam Scott ranked 3rd in approach and 1st in GIR when winning in 2020, with Sung Kang in tied-2nd the leading iron player in the field. Meanwhile in 2019, JB Holmes strengthened the approach play argument, ranking 6th in approach and 1st in GIR; quality in approach also on show from his nearest competitors.
Looking a little closer at the approach stats, most shots are in the 150-200 yard range and with fairways here tough to find, I’m also keen to get those on side who excel in playing from the rough.
As such a tough driving course, strong drivers have had plenty of success. Of last year’s top 5, none ranked worse than 26th off-the-tee, whilst in 2021 Max Homa excelled most with driver, ranking 2nd in the field.
Adam Scott was solid OTT when winning in 2020 and in years previous, we find the likes of Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson, Tony Finau and Patrick Cantlay all driving it well and occupying the top of leaderboards.
Further to that, this is a place where power looks a real advantage. The top 5 last year all ranked top 13 in driving distance, whilst in 2021, none ranked lower than 26th. Adam Scott was the 8th longest hitter when winning in 2020 and leaderboards are generally littered with big-hitters throughout: JB Holmes, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Bubba Watson and Tony Finau all hitting the top 5 in recent years.
Finally we can’t sleep on the short-game, these greens are tough to hit and players will need to scramble well, whilst the putter has proven important over the years. JB Holmes led the field on the greens in 2019, Max Homa ranked 7th in 2021 and last year, Niemann’s four closest challengers ranked top 8 in putting.
Key Stats: SG: Approach, Greens-in-Regulation, Proximity 150-200, Proximity from the Rough, SG: Off-the-Tee, Driving Distance, Scrambling, SG: Putting (poa)
Valspar Championship (Innisbrook – Copperhead Course)
The Copperhead Course compares closely to Riviera. Greens are the third most difficult to hit – just behind Riviera – whilst the severity of penalty for missing fairways is closely matched too. It ranks similarly in scrambling and putting; additionally it sees most approach shots hit in that 150-200 yard range.
Mark Calcavecchia’s dated form is the only evidence of someone winning both events, but there is a bounty of form-ties outside of that. Sam Burns has won the last two renewals of the Valspar back-to-back and finished 3rd at Riviera in 2021, whilst last year’s Genesis winner, Niemann, has gone well on both trips to Innisbrook, finishing 8th in 2021.
Adam Hadwin is another past Valspar winner with a good record here, having only missed one cut in eight and recorded a 6th place finish. Jason Kokrak has been runner-up at both, Cameron Tringale has two 3rds there to go with good efforts here and extra form-ties are found from Kevin Na, Ryan Moore, Sang-moon Bae and Scott Brown.
Wells Fargo Championship (Quail Hollow)
Another similarly championship-like test and major host, Quail Hollow can give us strong clues for this week. Though it puts a little more strain on the short-game, it is of a similar high level of difficulty from a ball-striking sense and generally sees players who don’t lack for distance dominate. Whilst also putting importance on approaches from 150-200 yards.
Max Homa, JB Holmes and James Hahn have all won at both courses; Kevin Na and Ryan Moore appear again with form across the events and Viktor Hovland has a 3rd there, to go with his two top 5s at Riviera.
Farmers Insurance Open (Torrey Pines)
The theme of major courses continues. Not only does the Farmers Insurance Open and Torrey Pines match up well with Riviera geographically – being in California – it similarly has some of the most difficult to find fairways on tour; whilst its poa annua greens are of a similar level of difficulty to here.
Max Homa, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson have all won both events; Adam Scott and JB Holmes compliment winning efforts at Riviera with runner-up finishes in the Farmers and Marc Leishman – a winner at Torrey Pines – has two top 5s in the Genesis. Meanwhile, Viktor Hovland has a 2nd place finish there and more links are on offer from Cameron Tringale, Talor Gooch and Joaquin Niemann.
Houston Open (Memorial Park)
Now for two events in Texas that rank closely in a number of aspects to Riviera, starting with the Houston Open at Memorial Park. This difficult all-round test is reminiscent of the level found here and has some strong form-ties.
All three players to have won there since the event switched to Memorial Park – Tony Finau, Jason Kokrak and Carlos Ortiz – all have good records at Riviera; Talor Gooch, Sam Burns, Cameron Tringale and Adam Hadwin possessing good form at both venues.
Texas Open (TPC San Antonio)
Finally, the Texas Open at TPC San Antonio is a tough ball-striking test, with some of the most difficult to find fairways on tour and possesses a comparable level of scrambling difficulty to Riviera.
Adam Scott has won both titles, Martin Laird has won there and has a good record at Riviera; whilst Matt Kuchar and Matt Jones have both finished runner-up in Texas to compliment strong records in California. Ryan Moore, Adam Hadwin and Cameron Tringale amongst a range of players to possess crossover form.
Conditions are set to be cold and breezy throughout the week, with rain currently forecast for over the weekend.
Combine one of the best courses on the PGA Tour with a field consisting of 23 of the top 25 players in the world, and this week’s Genesis Invitational was already a highly anticipated tournament.
This was dialled up a notch on Friday as Tiger Woods confirmed his participation; playing for the first time since last year’s Open Championship and in a regular PGA Tour event for the first time since the ZOZO Championship in October 2020.
There he will join last week’s Phoenix Open winner and reigning Masters Champion, Scottie Scheffler, who returned to world #1 with last week’s victory; joined again by #2 Rory McIlroy and #3 Jon Rahm. A field that may provide huge pointers for that first major of the year at Augusta in April.
Another stellar field headed by Jon Rahm at 8/1. He’s finished no worse than 7th on his first four starts this year, has an excellent record here and is the man they all have to beat. Rory comes next in the betting after underwhelming last week and is closely followed by Scottie Scheffler.
Despite the strong field, this place has often been a bit of a graveyard for favourites, so I’m not keen to dive in so near the top of the betting. The next rung down includes Xander Schauffele, Justin Thomas and Tony Finau at around the 16/1 mark; Schauffele making some appeal but despite a good record here, he’s never really managed to get involved and despite a good finish last week, Thomas is still struggling a little with the putter.
2pts Sungjae Im – each way (1/5 8 places)
Instead, it’s with Sungjae Im I start this week. He’s continued to show the type of strong form that was on offer at the end of last year and I’m certain he’s capable of correcting what at current is a very ordinary record in this event.
Im finished 2022 by recording three 2nd place finishes over the course of his final eight events, where he was hitting the ball well and looking good with the putter. He’s maintained this level of form at the start of 2023, first finishing 13th in the Tournament of Champions, where he put on a strong ball-striking display but struggled a little with his usually strong short-game.
Everything was a little off when missing the cut at the Sony on his next start but he’s made up for that in his latest three events. He rediscovered form with his short-game in an 18th place finish in The AmEx, though went missing with his irons, something he has put right in his next two starts; ranking 2nd in approach when finishing 4th in the Farmers Insurance Open and was 12th in approach last week in Phoenix, when finishing 6th.
He’s typically a strong driver of the ball, ranking 8th, 16th and 20th on the PGA Tour in the last three seasons and despite not being one of the longer hitters, is by no means short.
This all adds up to a player who possesses quality in every area and who should be able to play well here, despite a record of MC-MC-33 in his three starts so far. Two top 6s in the Farmers – where he has proven his ability to putt poa annua – offer further encouragement, as does a 4th at the Valspar and combined with his form in recent starts, bodes well for a good performance this week.
1.5pts Cameron Young – each way (1/5 7 places)
Cameron Young was well fancied in Phoenix last week and underwhelmed; however, I’m willing to forgive him that. He’d just arrived off the back of an excellent 2nd place finish in a strong field at the Saudi International and can bounce back from his 64th place finish last week here at Riviera – a place where he finished an excellent 2nd on debut last year – at a slightly inflated price to last week.
Last week was only Young’s third start on the PGA Tour this year after a terrific first season on the main tour in 2022; coming after a 13th in the ToC on his first start of 2023, a 26th in The AmEx and that 2nd in the Saudi slotted in just before Phoenix.
He’s driving it well, something you’d expect for a player who ranked as the 2nd best driver on tour last season; one of the longest too, ranking 3rd in driving distance. This was on show in that 2nd place finish here last year, ranking 2nd in the field OTT and he combined that with getting the greens right away, ranking 4th in putting and was an impressive 9th in approach.
The irons have too been strong lately and though the putter has been a little cold on recent starts, that performance on these greens last year was his best putting performance of the year. Something I’m hoping he can replicate this year to put up another strong showing at Riviera.
1.5pts Jason Day – each way (1/5 8 places)
Jason Day went well for us last week in Phoenix, continuing his resurgence with an excellent 5th place finish. He looked good in all areas there and I see little reason not to go back in on him again this week, despite his poor record in the event.
That poor record has seen Day miss three of five cuts at Riviera and finish no better than 62nd. An odd record for a player of his quality and one who relishes putting on these poa surfaces.
Indeed we see that in his strong record at the Farmers, where he’s a two-time winner, whilst he’s also a past champion at Quail Hollow, making that poor record here even more confusing; though at the same time, convincing me he’s capable of much better.
He can certainly achieve that this week if continuing in the same form he’s shown since the end of last year and carried over into this, finishing 18th, 7th and 5th on his first three starts of 2023.
These results have been engineered by all-round consistency and mean Day has an extremely attractive collection of stats in regards to this week’s test. He ranks 15th in approach and 22nd in GIR, iron play complimented by ranking 12th in proximity from the rough and 36th in approaches from 150-175 yards.
He’s also driving it well, ranking 29th and despite the swing changes, still packs enough of a punch off-the-tee, ranking top 50 in driving distance. Meanwhile, the short-game skills which have been on show for much of his career remain of a high standard, ranking 5th in scrambling and 31st in putting.
If Day can repeat this level of form in these areas this week, he’s certain to improve drastically on that poor record and complete that full return to form that has been brewing over these recent months.
1.25pts Matt Fitzpatrick – each way (1/5 7 places)
Matt Fitzpatrick picked up the biggest win of his career last year when he was crowned US Open champion at Brookline. He continued to play well after that for the remainder of 2022, with the driver and putter looking particularly sound. He’s not quite got going yet this year but I’m taking him to kickstart his year at a place he finished 5th in 2021; on the type of difficult US Open style test he typically relishes.
Fitzpatrick’s US Open win came thanks to a superb tee-to-green performance, ranking 1st in the field and this was a theme of his golf for much of last year, as he finished last season ranked the 7th best T2G player on the PGA Tour. Particularly pleasing was the driver, where he ranked 10th and has picked up some length that should play into his hands even more around here.
In addition he was the best scrambler on tour last year and combined with him being one of the best putters around for a number of years now, he makes a compelling case this week.
When finishing 5th here in 2021 – following on from a 30th on debut in 2020 – he played well across the board but didn’t at the time possess the length off the tee that is usually required to win the Genesis, which he has now rectified. His 5th in last year’s Valspar adds further strength to the argument this test suits.
Fitzpatrick was doing all of his best work in the final round of his 29th place finish in the Phoenix Open last week, signing off with a second-best of the day 65 and can hopefully carry that momentum over into this week at this suitable championship test.
1pt Si Woo Kim – each way (1/5 7 places)
Tommy Fleetwood made some appeal at three figures but hasn’t really got going this year. Instead, I’ll finish with Si Woo Kim; a player who very much has got going, having won the Sony Open on his first start of the year and has followed with three top 25s in a row since.
In fact, Si Woo hasn’t missed a cut in thirteen events, a run which stretches back to The Open last year, where he finished 15th. A run of form which has seen each club in the bag able to take credit.
This has been evident this year, with his win at the Sony engineered by a field-leading approach performance; whereas in those subsequent three top 25s, he’s been at this best with the short-game – the putter (often his biggest weakness) looking in particularly good condition – whilst the driver remains a consistently solid club for the Korean.
He’s also been one of the best scramblers on tour this season, ranking 12th – a stat he regularly ranks high in – and when examining his excellent approach stats, we find him ranking 15th in proximity 150-175 yards and 9th from 175-200. A skillset that makes him an attractive prospect this week.
He demonstrated his ability to perform around here back in 2019, finishing 3rd thanks to a great week on and around the greens, ranking top 5 in both categories. His record outside of this isn’t as impressive, though he’s hitting the ball more consistently right now and we can draw further promise from a good record in Texas, where he’s finished 4th and at the Farmers, where he’s recorded multiple top 25s; showing both there and here, a liking for poa greens.
Kim showed in his 2017 PLAYERS Championship win that he isn’t afraid to take down an elite field; clearly in good condition after winning his 4th PGA Tour title in Hawaii last month, he looks well placed for another big performance at Riviera.
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