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Fantasy Preview: 2018 Genesis Open

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The final stop of the West Coast Swing takes us to the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club, a historic and challenging golf course that measures more than 7,300 yards with thick rough. It should come as no surprise that long hitters such as Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson have excelled here recently; Riviera is a ball strikers paradise that demands length off the tee and excellent long iron play for success.

Seven of the 11 Par 4’s measure more than 450 yards, while the two Par 5’s on the back 9 can only be reached by the longer hitters. The driveable Par-4 10th hole should offer up lots of entertainment, with both eagles and double bogeys (or worse) very much in play. Last year, Dustin Johnson finally broke his duck at Riviera, running away with victory. He posted 17-under par to win by 5 strokes over Scott Brown and Thomas Pieters.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Dustin Johnson 5/1
  • Rory Mcilroy 12/1
  • Jordan Spieth 12/1
  • Justin Thomas 18/1
  • Phil Mickelson 22/1
  • Paul Casey 25/1
  • Tommy Fleetwood 28/1

Boasting an impressive field, it may come as a bit of a surprise to see Dustin Johnson (5/1, DK Price $11,900) this much shorter in price than the likes of Rory Mcilroy, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas this week. Ordinarily I would agree, but this week has a different feel to it. As far as courses go, Riviera is tailor made for Dustin. The only surprise when it comes to the World No. 1 is that he has only managed to claim victory here once so far in his career. In the last four editions of this event, he has finished 2nd, T2, 4th and 1st.

“It’s such a good golf course and there’s really not much trouble,” Johnson said. “It’s just a golf course where you have to hit good shots. You’ve got to control your golf ball, you’ve got to hit it in the right spots. The first time I ever came here as a rookie on tour, I just loved this and I felt like it was a place that really suited my game.”

While the other big names have struggled in recent weeks, particularly on the greens, Johnson’s only issue is that he’ll feel he should have won all three of his official PGA Tour events so far this season instead of only one. Johnson leads the field in Strokes Gained Off the Tee and Ball Striking over his past 12 rounds, and he also leads the field in proximity to the hole from the important 175-200 yard range over his past 24 rounds. He’s 2nd in this field for Strokes Gained on Par 5’s over his last 24 rounds, and he has the lowest scoring average on the PGA Tour this season (68.716).

Simply put, the best player in the world is going to a course that suits his game better than any other. Over the last five editions of this event, Johnson has a positive Strokes Gained Total of over 52 strokes. That’s 17 strokes more than K.J. Choi, who is in second place on the list. The potential is there for Dustin to dominate this event for the foreseeable future.

Last week’s missed opportunity at Pebble Beach may only serve as more motivation for Johnson, too. He bounced back after throwing away the WGC-HSBC Championship at the back end of last year by lapping the field at his opening event of 2018, the Sentry Tournament of Champions. That could be a good omen for the South Carolina native. Having now established himself as the best player in the world, the defending champion deserves to be the prohibitive favorite this week.

Should you be brave enough to oppose Dustin and the other market leaders, you’ll be rewarded with bigger prices than usual for players down the board. Charley Hoffman (100/1, DK Price $ 7,400) stands out at a three-figure price, although after withdrawing last week with a back injury he comes with a buyer-beware warning. But we’ve already seen the unpredictability of back injuries this year — Jason Day pulled out of the Wednesday Pro-Am at Torrey Pines before going on to win the event in Monday playoff. You should take the risk this week with the value in Hoffman’s price.

Hoffman is 28th in Strokes Gained Off the Tee and 24th in Strokes Gained Approaching the Green over his past 12 rounds. While these aren’t spectacular statistics, they are solid numbers considering that good execution in both areas will be much needed in order to achieve this week. Charley is also 6th in Proximity to the hole over his last 12 rounds and 17th in Strokes Gained on Par 5’s over the same period. All parts of his game are seemingly very solid before an event that demands consistency.

The Californian didn’t have a great record at Riviera before last year, with only one previous Top-20 finish. But last year he finished T4, and he did so despite being the only player in the Top-20 to lose strokes on the tricky poa annua greens. With the confidence of returning to a place where he exhibited excellent ball striking last year, the quotes of 100/1 look a little too big for Hoffman — should you be willing to take the risk on his back holding up.

And speaking of bad backs, Tiger Woods (45/1) is in the field this week. It’s just his second official start on the PGA Tour in 2018. In his first start, Tiger carded rounds of 72-71-70-72 to finish T23 at The Farmers Insurance Open. Woods, a 79-time PGA Tour winner, has never won at Riviera.

Recommended Plays

  • Dustin Johnson 5/1, DK Price $11,900
  • Charley Hoffman 100/1 DK Price $7,400
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Gianni is a freelance writer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts as well as a Diploma in Sports Journalism. He can be contacted at gmagliocco@outlook.com. Follow him on Twitter @giancarlomag

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