The Genesis Open goes off this week and it marks the seventh official PGA event of 2021 and the official end of the West coast swing for the season as well. The Tour will head back to the West coast for the US Open this year (at Torrey Pines) but for now, the Genesis Open and its host course Riviera will provide us with a solid overview of the kind of competition that we may have in store for June. The venue is one of the best the Tour has to offer and with this event now a limited 120-man Invitational field event–with better perks and prizes to the winner–we also have an elite lineup here to test it out.
Eight of the world’s top-10 players in the OWGR are here this week, with only Tyrrell Hatton and Webb Simpson sitting this one out. The field is headlined by Dustin Johnson who now has a stranglehold on the world’s best golfer title after another win early in 2021 in Saudi Arabia. Dustin, Bubba Watson and Adam Scott are now responsible for three of the last four wins at this event as there does seem to be some correlation between winning at Riviera and winning–or already having–a green jacket to your credit.
Last year Scott came off a long hiatus to grab his first win on Tour since picking up a WGC win in 2016 but, generally, this event has played out well for those who have made a commitment to staying busy during the first seven events of the season. In fact, Scott was the first winner in the past decade who hadn’t played at least one of the WMPO or Pebble Beach in the two weeks prior. It’s not necessarily a fact/trend to follow to the letter of the law this week, but it does underscore how beneficial it can be for the pros to get acclimatized to the green types and weather on the West coast before coming to this event.
Genesis Open course details
Riviera Country Club, 7,322 yards Par 71
- Field Size: 120 players
- Purse and Winner’s Prize: $9.3 million purse (winner: $1.674 million)
- Greens: Poa Annua
- Fairway: Kikuyu
- Rough: Kikuyu
- Architect: George Thomas (1927)
- Renovation: Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore (1992) / Tom Fazio (2008)
- 2020 – Adam Scott (11-under)
- 2019 – JB Holmes
- 2018 – Bubba Watson
Riviera always plays as one of the truest all-around tests of the year and produces a fun Sunday leaderboard. The venue ranked as the 10th hardest on Tour last season, playing to a scoring average of 71.255 for the week. Riviera maybe isn’t the brute test that Torrey is, but it’s tough and features Kikuya rough that can be very hard to judge and play out of, especially if the course gets wet. More importantly, as an older, tree-lined venue it’s got some tricks up its sleeves, including one of the most diabolical par 4’s on the planet.
This year the sun looks to be out for all four days, although there will be a touch of wind and cooler temperatures with highs in the high-60’s.
As a venue, the greens and fairways here are both hard to hit and players who do punch their way to a solid GIR% here for the week will have the most success. Last year’s winner Adam Scott hit 72% of the Greens in regulation here last year (2nd best in the field), while 2017 winner Dustin hit 77% of the Greens in reg that season, and ran away with the win. As such, good approach play is an obvious necessity but setting yourself up for good angles isn’t easy so it’s really an all-encompassing effort. Tough tee shots are common at Riviera where doglegs and tight fairways means shaping the ball is needed in spots and, while you don’t have to be an off the tee wizard, at least a competent off the tee game is needed.
Last year Adam Scott gained +1.8 strokes OTT here but the year before neither Justin Thomas or JB Holmes (who finished 1st-2nd) ranked inside the top-30 in SG: OTT. Ultimately, Riviera represents a culmination of the West coast swing and will typically reward players who have shown sharpness and tested themselves on several West coast stops prior. Target more elite players trending well in the ball-striking department here and you’ll likely come up with a couple names in contention this week.
Genesis Open betting discussion and picks
From an odds perspective, here is where the last four winners of this event generally went off, from an outright perspective, pre-event for the year of their win:
- 2020 – Adam Scott +3300
- 2019 – JB Holmes +15000
- 2018 – Bubba Watson +4500
- 2017- Dustin Johnson +900
This event has produced a ton of quality winners but there have been longshots littered in between. John Merrick won here in 2013 at huge odds and James Hahn accomplished a similar feat, going off at around 300-1 in 2015. JB Holmes, two years ago, was another big longshot that got it done here as the early season championship venue does seem to catch some of the elite players off guard, and has rewarded West coast battle-tested grinders. I like the mid-range (where Scott and Bubba won from the past few years) here a lot as we seem to get undervalued elite names in this event for offer every season. Don’t forget to throw in a couple of bomb plays though as they do have a solid record here over time.
Betting favorites to win the 2021 Genesis Open
Dustin Johnson +550
Johnson pulled out of last week’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am but comes in with a win already in his bag for 2021 from Saudi Arabia on the Euro Tour. Riviera has been his personal romping grounds throughout his career as he has a win and six top-10’s here over the last seven seasons. He’s the deserving favorite but in a field this deep the price isn’t big enough.
Jon Rahm +1200
Rahm comes off another OK showing at the WMPO, where he finished T13. His iron play did start to pick up in Phoenix so perhaps he’s close to a breakthrough. In two career starts at Riviera he’s finished T17 and T9 but lost strokes on his approaches in both starts. He’s worth considering at this price but ultimately there’s other players in this range who feel closer.
Rory McIlroy +1250
I nearly went back to the well with Rory this week, who I backed at Phoenix to another mediocre finish. His record at Riviera is solid with two T20’s and two more top-5 finishes to his credit here in four starts. His off the tee prowess definitely plays well at venues like this but the same argument for him finding success at the Farmers and WMPO could have been (and was) made. I don’t feel like I’m missing much by skipping him at this price anymore.
Justin Thomas +1400
Thomas has had a tough start to 2021 with some on/off the course issues and then also having the unfortunate news that his grandfather had passed away during the week of the WMPO. He’s performed well at this venue before–finishing second here in 2019–but his approach and around the green game noticeably slipped at the WMPO. I’d rather look elsewhere in this range.
Bryson DeChambeau +1650
Bryson has played a light schedule so far in 2021 that includes a T11 at the TOC event in Maui and a T18 out in Saudi Arabia. When he starts to get up into this tier of odds, taking a shot with Bryson is never a bad idea for an outright bet. However, his lack of West coast play worries me enough to stay off him here. He was T5 at this event last season.
Patrick Cantlay +1700
Cantlay is playing some great golf right now, likely the best of his career. He probably would have won last week if he found any traction on the greens at Pebble as he ranked first in SG: Tee to Green stats for the week. To me, he’s still the best futures target for the upcoming majors given the odds available on him and I featured him in my 2021 Masters preview here. Ultimately I sided with Schauffele over him this week but the two are neck and neck for current form right now so taking one or both here makes a ton of sense to me.
Favorite bets (each-ways and outrights)
For more info on types of golf bets available each week, be sure to check out more info here. Each way bets refer to bets that include a bet to win and a bet to place (usually to at least top-5 but sometimes are available up to top-8 or more).
Xander Schauffele +1400 or better
With Schauffele’s odds back up to +1400 or even +1600 in places, I think it’s fine to take a shot with him this week. The 25-year-old is playing such consistent golf that it’s become a bit of a mental game with him and, like a coal under pressure, you have to think all of the competitive experience/pressure he’s been gaining/under lately is eventually going to lead to a diamond/win.
Cliche driven analogies aside, Schauffele does set up well for the complete test of golf that is Riviera. While his Off the Tee performance had dipped down towards the end of 2021, he showcased better control with that club in Phoenix where he gained +4.9 strokes OTT for the week and has now gained +1 or more strokes OTT in each of his last five starts. Schauffele’s played Riviera three-times already in his career and has gained an average of +3.2 strokes on his approaches and +6.0 strokes tee to green over those three appearances. Overall, he’s looked more comfortable here than at Torrey Pines too, where he finally broke through for a T2 finish a few weeks ago, after posting a handful of missed cuts there in prior years.
The name of the game here is timing and with a lot of the other top players still looking to kick things into higher gear, Schauffele enters this week already on the verge and desperate to break a winless drought that’s stretched over two years now. The venue suits him and with his odds back up to bettable ranges, I’d rather dip my toes in here than chance someone else who hasn’t shown as good form–or been less active–along the West coast this Winter.
Jordan Spieth +3500 or better (each-way)
The narrative around Spieth this week will centre around his off the tee game and whether he can hit it straight enough to deal with Riviera’s tough setup. It’s a concern but focusing too much on what he does off the tee could make you miss the larger picture here. Spieth has now gained +12.0 strokes on his approaches over the last two weeks and looked confident throughout the bag at Pebble last week as he was hitting clutch drives down the stretch there in a bid to catch the leaders. A cold putter ultimately betrayed him, but the fact he was able to grab a T4 finish despite finishing just 42nd in SG:Putting for the week is a great indicator that his tee to green game is in good enough form to take on a test like Riviera.
While good off the tee play here helps, it’s not the be all, end all. In 2019 neither eventual winner JB Holmes nor runner-up Justin Thomas finished inside the top-30 for the week in OTT stats–Thomas actually lost strokes OTT that week. Further, while control is an issue with Spieth he’s not as short OTT as people think. In Phoenix he ranked 16th in Driving Distance, averaging 317 yards Off the Tee for the week, and ranked 17th in DD at Pebble, while also gaining strokes OTT.
You can literally see the confidence seeping back into Spieth’s game right now and while Riviera may not be an ideal setup, it’s not one he dislikes either.
In seven visits he’s now finished top-12 here on three occasions and narrowly missed a playoff here in his T4 finish in 2015. With his odds now pushed back up into the mid-30’s and Spieth having trended well off of Pebble and the WMPO–similar to many of the recent winners–I think the time is right to jump on him for a week and see if we can catch the comeback win that seems inevitable at this point.
Hideki Matsuyama +3500 or better (each-way)
Like Spieth, I’m also fine targeting Matsuyama here for a potential breakout win. Hideki’s trends haven’t been as strong as Spieth’s of late, but he’s also not coming back from as big of a hole. Matsuyama hasn’t been able to grind out any huge traction yet in 2021, mainly thanks to a cold putter, but his iron game has shown flashes of brilliance–he gained +6.8 strokes on APP at the Sony. He’s also coming to a venue where his tee to green game has shone bright for him over the years. In four of his last five appearances at Riviera, Hideki has gained +7.5 strokes or more tee to green here, and +2.5 strokes or more OTT, so clearly the venue meshes well with his swing.
There’s other flashier names in this range and, I’ll admit, it’s hard betting Hideki at this price with Collin Morikawa’s name nearby. Ultimately though, Riviera has rewarded experience and recent West coast form over pure youthful exuberance so I don’t feel bashful for siding with Hideki here, who has pummeled these classic, tree-lined venus over his career with wins at Firestone, Muirfield Village and Sheshan Golf Club. Ranked 4th in SG: ATG play and 13th in TTG play over the last 50-rounds, he gets the benefit of the doubt here from me given his solid record at this course and ability to get himself in contention consistently at venues like this with his solid TTG game.
Max Homa +6000 or better (each-way)
I don’t want to go too all-in on one trend, but playing well at Pebble and the WMPO have tended to be good indicators here and it’s enough for me to get on Max Homa this week, a player whose odds haven’t moved much despite putting up some very solid results of late. Homa was a winner at another big, long course in Quail Hollow two years ago, and the venue has good correlation with Riviera as we’ve seen players like James Hahn and Rory McIlroy have success at both.
Homa’s long term form took a dip last year but over his last seven starts he’s now made six cuts and has found a massive groove with his irons of late, gaining +3.5 or more strokes on approach in his last three starts. A solid player off the tee when he’s on, Homa gained over +5.0 strokes TTG at Riviera in a T5 finish last season and looks undervalued considering his current West coast form. He’s the top mid-range, each-way target for me this week.
Cameron Davis +10000 or better (each-way)
I struggled where to go at these odds as we have players like Matt Wolff (+7000) and Francesco Molinari (+9000), who deserve to be bet at those big of prices, but I’ll again respect the West coast form trend and put up Cameron Davis here instead. Davis is a talent, who grabbed an Australian Open title back in 2017 at the age of 21, against a field that included several elite players. The now 25-year-old has added a Korn Ferry Tour title to his trophy case and looks on the verge of getting some PGA hardware eventually too. He’s coming off the back of four consecutive solid finishes which have seen him gain +5.0 strokes or more TTG, in each start. He also ranks 13th in SG:OTT stats over the last 50-rounds. If a young player is going to break through here, don’t be shocked if it’s him, as his game is big enough to surprise in one of these elite field events.
Russell Henley +600 top-10
Henley has started to show some affinity for Riviera in his last two starts here as he’s now made the cut at this event three years running and was in contention going into Sunday last year, before fading to T17. Since that start he’s gone on a bit of a blitz but still needs lots of OWGR to get himself back inside the top-50 in the world rankings.
Ranked first in SG: Approach stats over the last 50-rounds, he got off to a solid start in Phoenix, where he gained +4.1 strokes with his irons. For me, he makes for a nice target in the top-10 and top-20 markets this week. Riviera may be a bit too long a venue for him to overcome, but he’s certainly capable of navigating himself to a top finish here if the putter heats up a bit as it did for him here last season.
Patrick Cantlay +100 over Jon Rahm
Cantlay enters this week off a T3 performance at Pebble where he led the field in SG: TTG green stats. He’s not finished worse than T17 in his last five starts and has a solid record at Riviera. Rahm’s dealt with a little bit of iffy ball-striking since changing clubs and injuring his back before the American Express. The plus money on Cantlay looks worth taking.
Rory McIlroy +100 over Justin Thomas
From a consistency standpoint, Rory’s been great at Riviera, finishing no worse than T20 here the last four seasons. Thomas’ iron game means he can go off anywhere but was uncharacteristically unsharp at the WMPO and seems to have off course issues taking away his focus right now. Again, the plus money odds look like the right side to be on here.
Check out our other Genesis Invitational content:
- Matchups and outrights from Matt Ramos