The Genesis Open (formerly Northern Trust Open) takes place this week at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California – technically in Los Angeles – and the course was designed by George C. Thomas Jr. The course is listed at 7,322 yards and is a par-71, and it’s important to note that the greens are Poa Annua.
This event will be one of the harder courses in the West Coast swing, with the average winning score in the last five years sitting at -10.8. Last year’s winner, Bubba Watson, posted a -15 in both 2016 and 2014 and took first place both times. Watson is one of four golfers – along with Phil Mickelson, Mike Weir and Corey Pavin – to win the tournament twice, with all but Watson’s coming in back-to-back years. Course history will have a definite impact here, even looking beyond the winning score; Dustin Johnson finished 2nd here in back-to-back years (2014 and 2015) as another example of that. This course has even been referred to as “Hogan’s Alley” after Ben Hogan won here three times with a second-place finish in the 1940s, so knowing how to get around at Riviera is a great advantage.
The Genesis Open is one of the strongest fields this early in the year, with some notables including Jason Day, DJ, Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama and Sergio Garcia.
Riviera Country Club – 7,322 Yards
Riviera is a par-71 which means it has only three par-5s to the four par-3s on the course, of varying difficulty. Although the par-5s are commonly referred to as hard by players and media alike, last year there were actually 48 eagles scored over the four rounds. The opening hole of the tournament is a par-5 (505 yards) which is the easiest of the three, and the remaining two are the 11th at 583, and the 17th at 590 yards – the 11th is reachable in two with two very well-placed shots, but the 17th features a tough two-tiered green which makes landing in front of the green a priority.
The par-3s are also not exactly scoring holes: the 199-yard 6th is two-tiered with a bunker placed on the downslope of the green, all four of the par-3s have very dangerously placed bunkers, and the shortest hole at 166 has a very small green with more horribly tough bunkers.
Ball-striking and Driving Accuracy will be large factors this week with only 54.3% of the field hitting the fairway on average (courtesy FutureOfFantasy.com), which speaks to how narrow these fairways are. With the way the course sets up, it favours golfers that can hit fades (or lefties that can hit draws), as the doglegs tend to go right. Once landing – hopefully – in the fairway, the golfers will be hitting off Kikuyu grass which is a little spongier than the typical grass found on Tour. That will kill some of the roll in the ball, so players that can retain accuracy while still hitting it a little further through the air will have an advantage; check Carry Distance statistics to find the longer hitters who aren’t using roll to get added distance.
If a golfer misses the fairway, they’ll be in thick Kikuyu rough which could really put the ball in bad spots. With the sponge-like nature of the grass, getting into the rough could make for tough outs as it tends to envelope the ball. Golfers that excel out of the rough will be something to take note of, as so many fairways get missed on this course.
As mentioned, the greens here are Poa Annua, and there are a number of two-tiered greens with well-placed bunkers. The average size of the greens is only 5,000 square feet, so they’re tougher to hit – only 56.5% in regulation – and are very undulating and fast. Golfers with good putting statistics on Poa Annua courses or at events like the Masters, Pebble Beach, or Dean&DeLuca (Colonial) should have some success here.
The Key Stats
Some key stats focus on, based on prior years:
- Strokes Gained : Tee to Green
- Strokes Gained : Approach
- Proximity to the Hole from the Rough
- Driving Accuracy %
Strokes Gained: Tee to Green:
Although it’s a fairly catch-all stat, looking at the last three winners at Riviera stresses how important SG:T2G will be this week: in 2014, the winner (Bubba Watson) led the field in this category, and the runner-up (Dustin Johnson) finished third. In 2015, the top-3 in this category finished the event as T2, 1st, and T4. This was essentially a repeat last year, when the winner gained the most strokes from tee-to-green. Generally, performing well in this category should have you near the top of the leaderboard, but its’s a stark measure for this event.
Strokes Gained: Approach:
There should be more of a focus specifically on the 150-175 yard Approach range (35% of approach shots from this range), but the overall category again shows as being fairly important with regards to winning. The winner over the last three seasons has finished in the top-30 in this category.
Proximity to the Hole from the Rough:
Rough on Riviera can be fairly penal because of the type of grass, so players that can get close to the pin on their approach shots out of the rough will have a heavy advantage. Because so many fairways will be missed, players that have shown this ability consistently are who to target; ignore 2017 numbers, look at the last few years of statistics, with more weighting towards 2016.
Driving Accuracy %:
Golfers that can improve on the 54.3% field average will give themselves great second approach shots and opportunities to get to the green. Staying away from the tough rough will be one of the keys this week.
Ball-striking as broken down by the PGA Tour is a ranking based on the combination of Total Driving (combination of Driving Distance and Accuracy), and Greens in Regulation. Riviera has commonly been referred to as a Ball-Striker’s paradise, so focusing on golfers that are good off-the-tee that can then hit greens is crucial.
Statistics that have some measure of importance, but aren’t be-all end-alls:
- Par-5 Scoring: with 48 eagles scored here last year and a scoring average of only 71.027, picking up birdies or even 10-point eagles will be a giant advantage.
- Carry Distance: as mentioned in the course notes, there won’t be much roll at Riviera. Guys that can retain accuracy (more important) but carry it longer are who to look for.
- Strokes Gained: Putting: this hasn’t shown as that important throughout history, but focusing on golfers that can pick up strokes on Poa compared to their other putting stats could unearth some gems.
- Course History: course history at the top of the field has had an impact going back through the years that it will need to be weighted