2019 Genesis Open picks: Why the stats show Tiger Woods won't contend at Riviera
It's fitting the year's strongest field to date comes this week at Riviera Country Club, the iconic George C. Thomas design tucked in the hills of the Pacific Palisades, perched above Santa Monica and not far from Los Angeles. This is a star-studded area, and this event features the best PGA Tour field of 2019 thus far. This will be an incredibly exciting PGA Tour season with a jam-packed schedule week after week with the majors moved up. This week is no different.
Our panel of expert golf handicappers continued their winning ways last week, with Pat Mayo picking his third successful winner in this space in 2019—calling Phil Mickelson's victory at 25-to-1 odds (and even calling Scott Stallings' top-10 at 12-1 odds). That's five winners out of 13 events this season. Those results have us even more excited for the rest of the year—to see if we can continue the momentum started with Golf Digest's weekly betting preview, which includes a PGA Tour caddie offering insight from the range and putting green every week, thanks to our partnership with The Caddie Network.
Tiger Woods is the tournament host this week at the 2019 Genesis Open, as his foundation has played host for the past couple of years. Does that mean our experts like Tiger's odds of playing well this week? Not exactly. There are some interesting stats that explain his less-than-stellar play at Riviera—read on for our full breakdown.
2019 Genesis Open Picks To Win (Odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie Guest Picker of the Week: Jon Rahm (17-1) — Jon Rahm has no real history to go off of at Riv, but at 15-1 odds, it’s very good value. He always seems to contend and comes into this week on the strength of four consecutive top-10 finishes.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National analyst: Rory McIlroy (14-1) — Recent history would indicate Rory’s iron play can’t hold up all four rounds. We’ll get nine-hole stretches where he’s unconscious, followed by frequent encounters with the long grass, many paces from the putting surfaces. It’s bizarre. Now, in spite of this, McIlroy has opened the year with a pair of top-five finishes, even with a cold putter. So he’s close. At a course where he owns a pair of T-20 finishes in two starts, and as a former Quail Hollow winner and frequenter of the Masters leaderboard, this could be Rory’s moment, especially if the greens are more receptive because of the rain.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire editor: Bryson DeChambeau (17-1) — It was a tough call to pick just one of Bryson DeChambeau or Justin Thomas for me this week, but I’m giving Bryson the slight edge here because he grades out slightly steadier in the key stats I’m focused on. He finished 41st at Riviera last year despite grading out 11th in strokes gained: tee to green (he was 131st in putting), via FantasyNational.com.
Dr. Lou Riccio, Columbia University: Dustin Johnson (9-1) — Sure, Dustin Johnson played poorly last week at Pebble Beach. But you'll have to excuse him if he let his foot off the gas just a bit after his win in Saudi Arabia just days prior. He must've been gassed. DJ rates out significantly higher than anyone else in this elite field, which is why I'm willing to pay the price to take DJ to win at some familiar turf to him.
Golf Digest editors: Justin Thomas (15-1) — Justin Thomas' stats over his past 10 rounds are amazingly good: JT has gained 7.2 strokes off the tee relative to the fields, and 5.4 strokes on approaches. That's a recipe for success at Riviera with those small greens. Thomas has said Riviera is one of his favorite courses (that goes for a lot of this field). But we think he will be engaged and fully focused on adding a win to start his season.
(Results on the season: Pat Mayo is officially on a heater. He has correctly picked Bryson DeChambeau (12-1, Shriners); Matt Kuchar (60-1 at the OHL Classic) and Phil Mickelson (25-1 at Pebble Beach). Golf Digest editor Christopher Powers correctly picked Kevin Tway (55-1) to start the season at the Safeway Open. And Lou Riccio called Rickie Fowler's win (16-1) in Phoenix.)
Sleepers/Dark Horses That Could Win at Riviera (odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Marc Leishman (41-1) — He has the length to stay in contention this week—he just needs the putter to show up.
Mayo: Keegan Bradley (100-1) — We know all Keegan Bradley is a terrible putter—he doesn’t try to hide this fact, but his weekend at the Waste Management appeared like he actively was trying to miss the hole. Keegan lost nine strokes putting in total for the event—7.7 lost in Rounds 3 and 4. That’s almost impossible. The good news? Keegan’s ball-striking was superb, finishing fifth in the field in strokes gained/approach, and continued the perfect blend of distance and accuracy that Riviera demands. While the sample is quite small, Keegan is usually less of a disaster on Poa greens than Bermuda, and he has actually gained strokes putting at this event in five of his seven starts since 2012. You should consider top-5 and top-10 numbers for Bradley—they're pretty juicy with such a strong field.
Gdula: Keegan Bradley (100-1) — Keegan’s approach play ranks sixth among this field over his past 50 rounds. He has a solid enough track record at Riviera (3 top-10 finishes in 8 tries) that we can roll the dice at his lengthy odds.
Riccio: Tommy Fleetwood (37-1) — The Englishman's odds seem inviting considering he's a top-10 player in this field. Sure, he hasn't played much in the United States in the past five months, but he's an elite ball-striker with strong scrambling—two indicators of success at Riviera. Fleetwood rates out as third most likely to win in my advanced model, so this is a strong bet for me.
Golf Digest editors: Kevin Tway (190-1) — These feel like insane odds for a player of Kevin Tway's caliber. When ball-striking and scrambling are crucial stats, that's where Tway seems to shine. And he has proven that his A-game can contend with the best. Tway is 11th on tour in scrambling and 13th in strokes gained/around the green this year, and T-11 in driving distance. For someone who has already won earlier this season, we know he's capable of getting hot. It's worth a sprinkle at this crazy-high price.
Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
PGA Tour Caddie: Jordan Spieth (29-1) — He has a nice record at Riv, but he has yet to return to top form. With a great field this week and a course that’s going to play extra-long, it’s going to be tough for Jordan.
Mayo: Tiger Woods (22-1) — In fairness to Tiger Woods, he actually rates out well in my FantasyNational.com statistical model for this week, and when I use my gut over the numbers, I tend to be wrong. This just doesn’t feel like the spot for Tiger. Even when he was GAME GENIE Tiger, Riviera just didn’t mesh with Woods. His first PGA Tour start, as a 16-year-old, came at this track in 1992. In his 11 starts since, no wins. He’s Tiger, so a win is well within his range of outcomes, but of all the events on his schedule this season, it’s likely the one least suited to his current game. Woods played 19 tournaments in 2018 and only missed two cuts. This was one. It’s no knock on Tiger, but since he’s priced as one of the favorites in this field, that’s a pass. There will be better spots to back him, including each of the next two weeks in Mexico and at the Honda (if he decides to show up and play PGA National in two weeks).
Gdula: Jon Rahm (17-1) — Fading any of the top-five players in the field is tough this week, given how strongly they grade out for this course, but between Johnson, McIlroy, DeChambeau, and Thomas, Rahm sits lowest in my model, making him a fade for me at his short win odds.
Riccio: Branden Grace (55-1) — The South African has played well in two straight weeks—nearly winning the Waste Management two weeks ago, and then firing rounds of 67-69 at Pebble Beach before fading to a T-28 on the weekend. This is not a course suited to Grace's strengths—length is a true separator here, and according to my model, Grace is the 80th most-likely player to win this week. That's an automatic fade given the odds and likely ownership in DFS.
Golf Digest editors: Tiger Woods (22-1) — Per some great stats from ESPN's Stats and Information department, Riviera Country Club has produced Tiger Woods' lowest-career greens in regulation percentage out of any tournament he has played in. His 59.1 GIR percentage here is worse than his numbers at the U.S. Open (61.5). Tiger is plenty long to contend here, but he needs to keep it in the fairway to have a chance to hit his approaches close enough on these tiny greens. We like Tiger's chances way better at tournaments in the next few weeks. This feels like a warm-up event for him.
2019 Genesis Open: Matchups
PGA Tour Caddie: Charles Howell III (-110) over Rafa Cabrera-Bello (Sportbet) — Charles has a solid record at Riv (winning here in 2007) and comes into the event in top form, so for an even money bet, we’ll take him.
Mayo: Sung Kang (-105) over Abraham Ancer (Bodog) — A perfect 3-for-3 the past three years in Los Angeles, all finishes inside the top 25, too, Sung Kang is the sort of trending long shot to back at Riviera, especially with finishes of T-20/T-10/T-14, along with a lone missed cut in 2019. In the two measured rounds at Pebble last week, the South Korean lost more than three strokes on the greens; his tee-to-green game was so good he still managed a top-15 finish. I don’t hate a long shot play on Kang in the outright market, but in this match-up, the ANCER is now The Answer. KANG is the play.
Gdula: Bud Cauley (-120) over Harold Varner III (Sportbet) — Harold Varner III grades out as a significantly better ball-striker than Cauley, who thrives on and around the greens. Cauley has lost strokes off the tee in each of the past two events here. Varner has gained in all four of his recent tries.
Riccio: Martin Laird (-120) over Si Woo Kim — Si Woo Kim is coming off a great finish at Pebble Beach, which might lead you to believe he's the bet here. Not for me. Laird excels on longer courses and in scrambling—he gets the edge here over Si Woo.
Golf Digest editors: Xander Schauffele (-125) over Tiger Woods — Going back to our theme of fading Tiger, we like Xander Schauffele to contend at Riviera if he can keep his driver in the short grass. Xander has had more recent tournament reps than Tiger, which is why we'll go with the young gun here.
(Matchup results last week: Gdula: 1 for 1 (Scott Piercy over Kevin Kisner); GD Editors: 1 for 1 (Brandt Snedeker over J.B. Holmes); PGA Tour Caddie: 0 for 1; Mayo: 0 for 1; Riccio: 0 for 0 (He took Tony Finau over Patrick Cantlay, who was a late WD, which counts as a no-bet.)
(Matchup results for the year: Riccio: 4 for 5; GD Editors: 4 for 6; PGA Tour Caddie: 3 for 6; Gdula: 2-3-1; Mayo: 2-5-1)
Top 10 (odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Jason Kokrak (+600) and Kevin Na (+1000) — Both have very good records around Riv. The soft conditions favor Kokrak and his length, but never count out Kevin, who can scramble as well as anyone on tour. Kokrak had the T-2 in 2016 when he had the 54-hole lead, and his ball-striking is on right now.
Mayo: Hideki Matsuyama (+300) — Many will look at Matsuyama's T-15 in Phoenix and think it was a bad result. That’s only expectation-based, though. He went from 55-1 at Torrey Pines, churned out a top-five finish, and all of a sudden was 12-1 at the Waste Management Open. In terms of recent form, he enters off finishes of T-15/T-3, which is strong. Plus, we like that Matsuyama's ball-striking was there at the Waste Management—he just couldn't hit a putt (he lost four strokes to the field on the green), which is why his T-15 wasn't higher. Matsuyama was third for the week in approach, gaining a ridiculous 6.8 strokes on the field, and gets to bounce back at an event where he owns three top-25 finishes in four starts, including a T-4 in 2015.
Gdula: Tommy Fleetwood (+380) — Fleetwood, the world’s 14th-ranked player, played Pebble last week, his first PGA event since the Tour Championship, so he won’t have to travel far to get to Riviera. We have to take strokes gained data from Pebble with a grain of salt, but the numbers show his approach game was on point.
Riccio: Tony Finau (+310) — These odds are too good not to take Finau in this spot. He's Matt Kuchar with more length—a top-10 machine with the game to contend at Riviera. I don't love his pressure putting, which leads me to bet him here as a top-10 instead of a win bet.
Golf Digest editors: Paul Casey (+340) — The Englishman enters after his T-2 at Pebble Beach, where he led for most of the day on Sunday. Casey also sports strong course history at Riviera, where he owns a runner-up finish. We'd be surprised if his ball-striking prowess doesn't lead him to contend at Riviera.
(Top-10 results last week: Mayo hit both of his top-10 bets (Mickelson at +250 and Scott Stallings at +1200). Riccio: 0 for 1; Gdula: 0 for 1; PGA Tour Caddie: 0 for 1; GD Editors: 0 for 1)
(Top-10 results for the year: Mayo: 3 for 6; PGA Tour Caddie: 2 for 6; GD Editors: 2 for 6; Riccio: 2 for 6; Gdula: 1 for 6)
Mayo: Ownership should influence a lot of decision-making in selecting your DraftKings lineup. Much like how the golfers are strategizing to win an event, you need to be plotting on how to win the DraftKings game. Because, many people forget, it is a game, with defined rules. For the interest of time, and word counts, you can read a full explanation of why gaming ownership is important here, from my column this week. Here's who I like this week:
Rory McIlroy ($10,700); Hideki Matsuyama ($9,300); Sergio Garcia ($8,200); Sung Kang ($7,400); Grayson Murray ($6,100)
Now, as I pointed out in my PME Genesis preview show, no one’s going to own Sergio. He’s not so popular at the moment. That has nothing to do with how well he’s expected to play at Riviera, but people won’t take him regardless. That’s a buying opportunity, especially for a class player like Garcia, who sports an immaculate record at this course and had reeled off seven straight top-10 finishes before his DQ in Saudi Arabia. Oh, and Grayson is just a DK favorite of mine. He makes a ton of birdies and, like Sergio, people can’t stand him so they don’t use him. Strangely, no where in the DraftKings scoring does it say his birdies count for less. So I’m happy to take them for my team.
Riccio: Tommy Fleetwood and Matt Kuchar are safe bets to make the cut here, so I like them as players to build your lineup around. Fleetwood's length off the tee and greens-in-regulation make him an attract bet to win, too. With such a strong field, you need to choose well at the top half of the field to make money this week. Dustin Johnson's success at Riviera and his elite talent give him an edge over the others in this range right now.
Dustin Johnson ($11,400); Jordan Spieth ($9,200); Tommy Fleetwood ($8,600); Matt Kuchar ($8,500); Seamus Power ($6,200); Seth Reeves ($6,100)
Golf Digest Editors: Dustin Johnson is expensive this week—so we can understand why our DFS experts are suggesting to go elsewhere this week. But picking the winner is important to cashing your DFS lineups. Though we didn't go with the most chalky pick to win going with Justin Thomas, we do like DJ in a DFS spot. His par-5 scoring advantage should be a separator here. Even if he doesn't win, we'd think he's a lock for a top-10—which you need to return value on the investment you'd be making in this spot. And the rest of the players here are all guys we'd be confident will make the cut and finish around the top 20.
Dustin Johnson ($11,400); Cam Smith ($8,400); Charles Howell III ($7,900); Jason Kokrak ($7,600); Sung Kang ($7,400); Keegan Bradley ($7,300)
Gdula: It’s a heavy field this week, so I like the idea of balanced lineups even if it means being thin on the top five golfers. You can build a sturdier lineup by loading up on the second and third tier:
Hideki Matsuyama ($11,100), Paul Casey ($11,000), Patrick Cantlay ($10,800), Bubba Watson ($10,700), Tony Finau ($10,600), Tommy Fleetwood ($10,100), Adam Scott ($9,600).
Riccio: Seth Reeves might not be a name you're familiar with, but he rates out surprisingly strong on my model. He has missed his past four cuts, so take this advice with caution: Reeves could be a great pivot at a low price point in DFS lineups. Same with Hickok: These guys have the length and long par-4 scoring to make the weekend at Riv.
Dustin Johnson ($12,000); Jon Rahm ($11,800); Jordan Spieth ($10,900); Tommy Fleetwood ($10,100); Seth Reeves ($7,500); Kramer Hickok ($7,400)
GD Editors: Dustin Johnson ($12,000); Hideki Matsuyama ($11,100); Adam Hadwin ($9,700); Keegan Bradley ($9,300); Scott Stallings ($9,000); Sung Kang ($8,900)
About our experts
Dr. Lou Riccio, a PhD senior lecturer, teaches rational decision making at Columbia's Graduate School of Business and has served on the USGA's handicap research team for three decades. His predictive analysis and modeling helps him make expert picks for our column.
Pat Mayo is known as one of the pre-eminent experts in daily-fantasy sports and golf handicapping specifically. Mayo is a 14-time fantasy sports-writers association finalist and earned the 2018 FSWA "podcast of the year" award. Mayo is on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com. Here’s a link to watch his complete DraftKings preview of the Genesis Open.
Brandon Gdula, a senior editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, recently won the 2018 fantasy sports-writers association Golf Writer of the Year (congrats, Brandon!). Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.