Predictions for this week’s Genesis InvitationalWritten by Wesley Cheng
After attracting a historically weak field at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, The Genesis Invitational caps off the PGA’s west coast swing with mini-major vibes.
Eight of the world’s top 10 golfers will be in attendance with (coincidentally) eight of the top 10 FedEx Cup points leaders playing as well.
Historically known as one of the best tournaments of the year, The Riviera Country Club is one of the most challenging courses PGA golfers encounter. This is the type tournament where the best of the best usually prevails.
A par 71, 7,322 yard track in Pacific Palisades, Calif., The Riviera Country Club demands exceptional tee shots and precision with long irons.
As many PGA analysts have alluded to, Riviera’s Poa greens will also be a point of emphasis. Staying bogey-free will be key considering how many up-and-down situations golfers will be faced with. There’s no room for error on these greens.
Riviera Country Club holds six par 4s that are 450 yards or more and it’s on those holes where the winner will separate themselves from the pack.
With a bunker smack-dab in the middle of the green, the 199 yard, par 3 on hole 6 profiles as the most unique one to watch at this tournament. If golfers find themselves on the wrong part of the green, they’ll have to negotiate chipping over or putting around the bunker.
The last four winners of this tournament all ranked within the top 10 in GIRs. With the rough not overly punishing at Riviera, having length off the tee should make those approach shots less demanding.
Another stat to observe is ‘par 4 efficiency 450-500 yards’. The golfers who can stay out of trouble on these holes should have a direct correlation to the top of the leaderboard.
CANADIANS IN CONTENTION
Canadians in the field this week
What’s Working – Of the four Canadians, Conners currently ranks as the longest driver and is doing it with impeccable accuracy (11th on tour). Considering the course design, his current ball striking form will be needed to climb this jam packed leaderboard. He’s hitting 73 percent of his GIRs this season, a hallmark of his game, and that accuracy correlates perfectly with this tournament. He’s the betting favourite amongst the Canadians for a reason.
What He’ll Need – Keep doing what he does best. While it’ll be important to negotiate these Poa greens effectively, ball striking is ultimately the key at Riviera. Should he find a way to get extra length off the tee without compromising too much on accuracy, he can make a serious run this weekend with the world’s top players.
What’s Working – Having registered two top 10 finishes already this season, Hughes will need to ride his hot putter. He was T3 in putts per GIR for the Vivint Houston Open and T12 at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship.
What He’ll Need – Missing the cut by a stroke at the Farmers (his last appearance), the Hamilton, Ont. native will need to gain more strokes tee-to-green to compete. This course favours the top ball strikers on tour and Hughes will need to improve on his iron play to have a legitimate chance of competing. He’s in the midst of his best season since his breakout in 2017 and a jump in GIRs would be the perfect complement to his impressive putting.
What’s Working – Winning on tour in itself is such a monumental achievement, expecting Taylor to go back-to-back was wishful thinking. Finishing 39th last week, Taylor was rock solid with his ball striking finishing 25th in strokes gained: tee-to-green. His lag putting was in fine form but he missed one too many inside 10 feet. He finished 65th in strokes gained: putting after going 2nd in his win last year.
What He’ll Need – Over the past few seasons, Taylor has been consistently delivering results with his ball striking. In 2020-21, the one stat that jumps off the page is his sand save percentage (59.09), good for 32ndon tour thus far. In the two years prior, he ranked 138th and 141st. Golfers will likely find themselves in trouble around the green and keeping bogey-free will be key.
What’s Working – Four starts at the Genesis Open? Four made cuts. With a 6th place finish in 2018, Hadwin has proven he can navigate this course. Ranked 12th on the season in strokes gained: around-the-green, his touch will be needed on a course that often leaves golfers in unfavourable lies. There are a lot of ways to get yourself in trouble at Riviera so getting up and down will be key to staying atop the leaderboard.
What He’ll Need – With six par 4s over 450 yards, Hadwin will need some extra pop off the tee to keep his approach shots within a reasonable distance. He’s always profiled as an accurate driver but simply hitting FIRs won’t get you the win. Look at the winner’s list over the past five years – Adam Scott, J.B. Holmes, Bubba Watson (2x), and Dustin Johnson. The results clearly suggest bombers have an advantage this weekend.
NOTABLES IN THE FIELD
Dustin Johnson – After backing out of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Johnson returns as the undeniable betting favourite with several key stats supporting that. He has the course history having finished top 5 in six-out-of-13 appearances (including a victory in 2017). He’s eighth in driving distance and fourth in GIRs this season, both key stats for The Riviera.
Adam Scott – Even though the defending champ might be past his prime, his iron game can pick up at a moment’s notice. In four of the last seven seasons, he’s finished top 10 in strokes gained: approach-the-green. During his victory last February, he was second in GIRs and finished a respectable 27th in driving distance.
Bryson DeChambeau – Since winning the U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club in September, DeChambeau has participated in just three PGA events. His last appearance was a T7 at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and he’ll look to improve off of that performance. After withdrawing in his first appearance here in 2017, he’s improved his performance each tourney highlighted by a T5 finish last year. His tour leading driving distance will be a key asset for Riviera.
LONG-SHOT TO WIN
Matthew NeSmith – Coming off a T16 at Pebble and a T7 in Scottsdale, NeSmith walks into The Riviera Country Club on a roll. I’ve mentioned GIR percentage being a key performance indicator this weekend, well the 27-year-old currently ranks second on tour in that stat this season. Traditionally a below average putter, he was 25th and 32nd in putts per GIR over his last two tournaments displaying some momentum. At 150:1, his accurate ball striking should give him a chance to compete once again.