This week is another elevated event and will see an elite field of golfers tee it up and compete for a 20M prize purse. As of writing, 40 of the world’s top 50 golfers are in attendance, with new world number one — and last week’s winner in Phoenix — Scottie Scheffler, in the field. Joining him will be 2021 Genesis Open winner Max Homa and 2020 winner Adam Scott.
There have been no serious injuries to report, but some early WDs of note include Chris Kirk, Maverick McNealy, Webb Simpson, and Davis Riley. The alternates for this event won’t get in unless the field gets below 120 players, so as of now, the field sits at 128. One player to watch this week is Will Zalatoris, who didn't play last week and is still potentially recovering from a back injury suffered late in 2022. Tiger Woods (leg) is also returning to action this week. He last played on the PGA TOUR in the 2022 Open Championship (MC).
Woods stated on Twitter that he’s “ready to play an ACTUAL PGA Tour event” and his progress this week will be fascinating to watch. He’s currently listed at $7,300 on DraftKings for daily fantasy and at +11000 in the outright odds on DraftKings Sportsbook.
Riviera CC, Pacific Palisades, Calif.
Par 71, 7,300-7,350 yards
Riviera is one of the oldest courses on the PGA TOUR and has hosted this event every season since 1999. Riviera’s age means that it has a lot of mature trees that line the fairway, but it also features a lot of doglegs and a few quirky hole designs — like a sand trap in the middle of the green on the par 3 sixth and an impossibly small green on the driveable par 4 10th. The course was re-designed by Tom Fazio in 2008 and has played longer and tended to favor the best tee-to-green players in the world ever since.
The strains of grass at Riviera are also fairly unique as the fairways and rough are Kikuyu, which tends to be quite difficult to play out of when left to grow. Wet weather can also cause the course to play longer than its yardage, although this season doesn’t call for moisture, and we should have firm greens. The Poa greens at Riviera are also some of the most difficult on the PGA TOUR, and we see a very high rate of 3-putts and a low rate of long birdie putts made at this event every season.
Players with distance and the strength to get the ball up and out of the thick grass quickly have an advantage, and hitting a ton of greens is a massive advantage. Green in regulation percentages at Riviera tend to run 5-10% lower than the PGA TOUR average. 2017 winner Dustin Johnson led the field in greens in regulation by a wide margin that season, and in 2020 winner Adam Scott hit 72% GIR and finished second in GIR for the week.
Riviera is also a true par 71 with three par 5s, but only one (the short first hole) is a real birdie opportunity, as the other two traditionally play quite tough. The par 4s offer no relief either, as eight of the 11 play at over 430 yards or more in length, and many have tricky tee shots that challenge a player’s length and accuracy.
This is a true championship venue with few birdie holes. Winners rarely venture past 12-under par, and slightly cooler temperatures with a lack of rain in the forecast this year should keep scoring slightly down.
Key Stats: Proximity 150-175, 175-200, >200 yards / Strokes Gained: Ball Striking (APP + OTT) / Three-Putt percentage.
2023 outlook: The weather for this week looks somewhat comparable to last week. There will be cooler than normal temperatures, especially in the mornings when the first groups will be teeing off in 48-52 F weather. The afternoons warm up, but highs for the week look like they’ll top out around 60-65 F — hardly tanning weather. The good news for the players is that the wind doesn’t look like it will be too bad, but that forecast is likely to change and will be hard to predict. Wind around the 5-10 mph mark should be expected, but gusts could come in at any time and give one wave an advantage over another. Without any rain in the forecast, firmer greens should also mean tougher conditions and the likelihood we’ll see the winning score be worse than the 19 under-par score that won this event last season.
LAST 5 WINNERS
2022 - Joaquin Niemann -19 (over Collin Morikawa and Cameron Young -17)
2021 - Max Homa -12 (over Tony Finau playoff)
2020 – Adam Scott -11 (over three players at -9)
2019 – J.B. Holmes -14 (over Justin Thomas -13)
2018 – Bubba Watson -12 (over Tony Finau and Kevin Na -10)
Recent West Coast form is important this week
- Ten of the last 12 winners here had played at Pebble Beach or Phoenix as their final start before winning at Riviera. Of those, eight had played Pebble as their last start, and two had played Phoenix as their last start.
- Only two of the last 11 winners had missed the cut in their final start prior to winning at Riviera (Holmes in 2019, Watson in 2016).
Winners Stats and Course Highlights
2022 Winner: Joaquin Niemann at 19-under par
2022 lead-in form (T8-T6-MC-MC-T5)
- Driving Distance (DD) isn’t the be-all and end-all this week. Bill Haas ranked 66th in DD here in 2012 and won, James Hahn was 30th for the week in DD in 2015 when he won, and J.B. Holmes was 41st in 2019.
- Niemann was solid off the tee last season but did most of his damage with approaches and had a career week around the greens — his multiple-stroke win at 19-under marked the lowest winning score in over five seasons.
- Six of the past seven winners have ranked inside the top five in SG: Tee to Green stats for the week of their win at Riviera.
- Greens here are typically very hard to hit as the field average tends to hover around 5-10% lower than the PGA TOUR average. Strong proximity stats from 150 yards and out will be of vital importance.
- With players missing lots of greens, a sharp around-the-green game is also necessary — Niemann’s career week around the greens last year helped him hold off two very solid players.
Finding Values (DraftKings Sportsbook)
Odds to win are one factor to think about when picking players (but not the only thing, so be careful putting too much weight on them). This section is going to detail a few of the players who have the best fantasy value compared to their DraftKings Sportsbook odds of winning this week.
All odds provided by DraftKings Sportsbook and all odds subject to change.
HORSES FOR COURSES
1. Max Homa ($9,700; best finishes: win-2021, T10-2022): Homa won this event in 2021 and has become somewhat of a west coast specialist over the past three seasons, grabbing wins at Silverado, Torrey Pines, and Riviera over that span. He’s made the cut at Riviera four years in a row now and finished inside the top 10 each of the past two seasons.
2. Adam Scott ($8,000; best finishes: win-2020, win-2005—36-hole event): Scott has a long record of playing well at Riviera and is now a two-time winner of the event. The Aussie finished T2 back in 2016 to Bubba Watson, was T8 here in 2019, and, of course, broke through for a win at Riviera in 2020 as well.
3. Tony Finau ($9,500; best finishes: 2nd-2021, T2-2018): Finau was an unlucky playoff loser at this event in 2021. It was a tough loss for Finau, who led the field in strokes gained tee to green stats for the week but was outputted by Max Homa down the stretch. Finau’s posted multiple runner-up finishes at Riviera, which sets up perfectly for this longer technical test.
4. Rory McIlroy ($10,500; best finishes: win-2017, T2-2015): McIlroy has now played at Riviera five years in a row and has posted four top 20’s at this week’s stop. Rory’s consistency off the tee makes up a huge portion of his strokes gained at courses like this, but he’s had issues on approach at Riviera and has gained less than 1.0 strokes in that area in each of his past two visits.
5. Patrick Rodgers ($7,000; best finishes: T12-2021, TT15-2019): If you want a wild card to target from down below, then the course history on Patrick Rodgers this week makes him look like a tempting target. The former Stanford Cardinal has finished T30 or better at this event in five of the last six seasons and ranks 12th in strokes gained total stats at Riviera since 2017.
DRAFTKINGS DFS STRATEGY
Cash Games: Im and Hovand are a solid duo to double up on
The talent at the top of the board remains deep and elite this week, such that balanced builds in cash game formats make a lot of sense. Both Viktor Hovland ($8,900) and Sungjae Im ($9,400) have proven they can hang on these longer, more difficult courses and are coming off solid starts in Phoenix. Hovland looks mightily underpriced at $8,900, and it would not be shocking to see his short game and putting take a tick up this week at Riviera. He’s finished T4 and T5 at this event and gained over 5.0 strokes putting at Riviera last season. Im is playing great week-in and week-out and has gained over 4.0 strokes on approach and over 2.0 strokes around the greens in each of his last two starts. Other potential targets for this format include Tony Finau ($9,500), Hideki Matsuyama ($8,200), Keegan Bradley ($7,700), and Patrick Rodgers ($7,000).
Tournaments: Thomas and Spieth, good momentum targets
Justin Thomas ($10,100) was one of the best players in Phoenix over the weekend, where he climbed up the leaderboard to grab a T4 finish. The American gained over 8.0 strokes ball-striking for the week and was great everywhere except on the greens, where he lost strokes to the field. Thomas’ price has gone over the 10k mark, which should keep his ownership somewhat suppressed in big field GPPs. Spieth also had an amazing week ball striking in Phoenix, and at $8,600, is still relatively cheap compared to the upside he brings. He’s made the cut at Riviera in 8 of his last 9 starts and finished top 15 at this event four times in his career. Other potential GPP targets this week include Wyndham Clark ($7,800), Russell Henley ($7,300), Jhonattan Vegas ($6,900), and Danny Willett ($6,400).
Top Recent Form
1. Jon Rahm ($11,100, Recent finishes: 3rd-T7-win): Rahm couldn’t quite catch the leaders last week but posted yet another top-five finish, nevertheless. He’s finished inside the top 10 in each of his last eight professional starts.
3. Scottie Scheffler ($10,700, Recent finishes: win-T11): Scheffler dominated last week, gaining over 9.5 strokes on approach and over 4.0 strokes putting in windy conditions. If his putter continues to fire, more wins will be coming soon.
3. Sungjae Im ($9,400, Recent finishes: T6-T8): Im remains super steady and has now posted top 20 finishes in four of his last five starts. He’s been extremely consistent around the greens and gained over 4.0 strokes ATG in Phoenix.
4. Rickie Fowler ($7,900, Recent finishes: T10-T11): Fowler’s game looks sharper and sharper with each passing week. He’s gained over 4.0 strokes on approach and putting in each of his last two starts.
5. Taylor Moore ($7,200, Recent finishes: T14-T15-T11): Moore has had a quietly consistent start to 2023. He’s posted three straight top-15 finishes and has gained strokes OTT and on approach in each of those starts.
MY PICK: Jason Day ($8,400)
Day continued to impress last week in Phoenix, where he posted a T5 finish at a course in TPC Scottsdale where he’d never seriously challenged for a top 10 before in his career. For the week, the Aussie gained an impressive 6.4 strokes ball-striking and, more importantly, showed immense upside on the greens, where he gained over 3.0 strokes putting for the second week in a row. At his peak, Day’s putting was near unflappable, so seeing the confidence return to that part of his game should have us very intrigued.
This week at Riviera represents a potential opportunity to invest in him for DFS and betting purposes too. Day’s record at Riviera is just as bad as it was last week at TPC Scottsdale (prior to his finish last week), as the former world number one has never finished better than T62 at the Genesis in five career appearances. The lack of course history may be a little concerning to look at on paper, but considering Day’s record on this side of the country (multiple wins at Torrey Pines and top fives at Pebble), you have to figure there’s untapped upside lurking for him at Riviera as well.
Day’s longer-range proximity numbers have all been trending up, and he now ranks fifth in strokes gained ball-striking numbers over the past 24 rounds. With a tougher test on tap, Day’s putting and around the green skill could be the difference maker and makes him a great target for GPPs and the outright market on DraftKings Sportsbook — where he sits with solid +3500 odds.
MY SLEEPER: Alex Noren ($7,300)
When we’re diving deeper down into the salary structure this week on DraftKings, our choices seem limited to a couple of different styles of players. Either we take our chances with some high-end ball-strikers like Gary Woodland ($7,000) — who seem very likely to lose strokes around and on the greens this week — or we take on a more well-rounded player like Alex Noren, who can potentially make up a ton of strokes for us with his superb around the green play and putting.
I side with Noren this week, who comes in off a missed cut but is also playing some very steady golf. He only missed the cut by a stroke at the WM Phoenix Open and still gained strokes on approach for the week. Prior to the Phoenix start, he’d finished top five in three straight events, as well. Overall, Noren has gained over 1.0 strokes on approach in each of his last four PGA TOUR starts and has played this venue in four of the last five seasons — and made the cut in each appearance.
His upside may be a little capped a little due to his lack of distance, but the Swede is playing strong golf at the moment and has flashed upside at longer courses like Torrey Pines (second in 2018) and Memorial Park (T4 - 2022) before. With sentiment low after missing the cut last week, he makes sense as a value target and a good top-20 option on DraftKings Sportsbook.
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