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Chasing DJ: The Players to Watch at the Genesis Invitational and Korn Ferry Opener

By: Kyle Cunningham-Rhoads

Eight of our top 10 players are competing, and the stroke average for the field is almost a full stroke better than at Pebble Beach.

This week takes us to Riviera, where the Genesis Invitational features a power-packed field. Riviera Country Club is a 7,322-yard, par 71 in Pacific Palisades, California, a coastal neighborhood of Los Angeles. The course plays a little over par on average, with a standard deviation of about eight strokes per round. Though eight strokes per round are not hugely variant, there are three specific holes where the opportunity to win must be seized.

The par-5 first hole at Riviera plays just over 503 yards, making it a must-birdie to start the round. About 61% of players birdie this hole, so opening with a par will be losing almost a full stroke to the field. The other holes of interest come on the back nine. No. 11 is more of a traditional par 5 and offers the risk/reward of laying up or going for the green. Most players will choose to lay up, but some of the longer hitters will be able to attack the green in two.

The third hole we’re interested in is the one that follows, the par-4 12th. It plays 474 yards, hardly the longest par 4 on tour, but the green is extremely narrow and is flanked by a huge bunker and Bogey’s Tree. An approach pulled too far to the left is out of bounds.

Par-4 scoring is what we’re looking for most on this course, with a sprinkle of par-5 scoring. With such a loaded field, it’s almost certain that one of the top dogs will hoist the trophy.

Jordan Spieth had another 54-hole lead before faltering during the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Last week, Jordan Spieth had another 54-hole lead, only to see a different golfer walk away with the victory. Despite a poor Sunday performance, Spieth is slowly inching his way back up in our golfer baselines. According to the recency-weighted player model, Spieth moved eight spots up into 58th. While we still don’t see him as “back,” it’s encouraging to see back-to-back weeks of improvement.

Three other golfers moved significantly upwards in our rankings after the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Maverick McNealy moved up 21 spots to crack the top 100 and is now No. 98. Charley Hoffman used an impressive Sunday to move up eight spots into 91st, and Daniel Berger won the tournament and moved up one spot to eighth in the world. Joel Dahmen, Alex Noren, Will Zalatoris and Rickie Fowler all dropped exactly nine spots to 55th, 73rd, 44th, and 65th, respectively.

Pick to Win

Dustin Johnson is the easy choice, but it’s also the right one. DJ is playing the best golf of his illustrious career, and this course suits him well. He’s the best in the world on long par 4s and is projected to gain more than a full stroke per round over the field on such holes. You have to get all the way down to our 23rd ranked player in the field before finding someone who fits this course better than DJ does compared to the average PGA course. We have DJ leading the field this week with an 8.59% chance to win.

Other PLAYERS WHO COULD CONTEND

Of the recent additions to the tour, Viktor Hovland is our highest rated. The 23-year-old Hovland is ranked ninth in the field by the model. His subpar, though much improved, chipping could be his downfall, but his length and ability to stay out of trouble off the tee will come in handy. His best hole types are both par 4 types and par 5s, which are all important on this course. He actually doesn’t crack the top 10 in the field in any of those three, as he’s 14th in short par 4s, 11th in long par 4s and 14th in par 5s. But there’s something to be said for being good at all of them. He’ll have more opportunities to score than other golfers.

Another player with a recent victory, Matthew Fitzpatrick is a lot like Hovland in that he excels on all hole types, though that’s really where the comparison ends. His proficiency with the short game is well regarded on tour and will come in handy at a course where greens in regulation is about 8% lower than tour average. The model ranks him 11th in the field this week in win odds at about 41-1, well above the 70-1 or so odds he’s showing across the market.

Longshots Who Could Surprise

Corey Conners, of Canada, is the 22nd-ranked player in the field this weekend, according to the model. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The nice part about loaded fields is that players like Corey Conners are considered “longshots.” Usually in the 40-1 range, Conners’ odds this week sit above 100-1. It’s a course fit for him, as he plays his best golf on long par 4s and par 5s. His short game can get him into trouble, but he’s a pure ball-striker and has the ability to birdie some of the long par 4s while others fight for par. He’s our 22nd-ranked player in the field, right next to Joaquin Niemann. He’s likely being undervalued and should have a chance to be on the first page of the leaderboard on Sunday.

Brendon Todd is a bit of an anomaly in how he scores. He’s one of the shortest hitters on tour but still performs well on the longer holes. In this field, he’s expected to gain strokes on every type of hole. A birdie here, a par save there and Todd can be right at the top. Of course, he could also go the other way, but with a longer-odds player, all we’re really looking for is someone who has any shot at all, and Todd is such a player. While we don’t really expect him to win, the model reveals that Todd has a better than 75% chance to make the cut.

Mackenzie Hughes is known almost entirely for his short game. His ball-striking stats are all below average, but he’s top 25 in short game. It’s tough to hit greens at Riviera and good scrambling is vital, so playing someone who doesn’t hit a ton of greens anyway with an excellent around-the-green game could be advantageous. Like Todd and Fitzpatrick, Hughes could be overlooked this week because of his lack of length, but he has more than enough skill around the greens to make up for it.

Favorite Draftkings GPP Plays

Unlike last week, we find the $6,000s to be largely barren. It’ll be tough to fit in two of the top players while maintaining quality at the bottom, but between $7,000-9,000, there are some quality players to center your team around. Taking into account data from the model, Xander Schauffele and Fitzpatrick are our favorite plays.

$9,000+

Jon Rahm                   $10,400

Xander Schauffele      $9,900

Patrick Cantlay           $9,600

Tony Finau                  $9,300

$8,000s

Viktor Hovland            $8,700

Scottie Scheffler         $8,500

Jason Kokrak              $8,000

$7,000s

Abraham Ancer           $7,900

Russell Henley            $7,800

Sergio Garcia              $7,700

Matthew Fitzpatrick    $7,600

Corey Conners           $7,500

Kevin Streelman         $7,400

Brendon Todd             $7,100

$6,000s

Mackenzie Hughes     $6,600

KORN FERRY IS HERE

The Korn Ferry Tour opens its 2021 campaign this weekend on a course where players can score in bunches. Last year, six players carded scores of 20-under par or better and everyone who made the cut finished the tournament under par. This type of course opens up the winner’s circle to just about everyone. Lakewood National is a par 72 but with five par 5s and par 3s. This opens the door even further for players who score well on par 5s.

Lee Hodges is one of the top players on the Korn Ferry Tour, and he should be one to watch in the opener this weekend. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Of the 42 players the model projects to have greater than a 1.00% chance to win, Lee Hodges figures to open some eyes at 3.38%. Hodges is one of the top players on the Korn Ferry Tour and his proficiency on all types of holes gives him ample opportunities to score this week. He gains strokes on every hole type and ranks in the top 15 in the field in all types of holes except long par 3s.

Chilean Mito Periera is another player who could surprise, according to the model. We have Mito as our 10th-ranked player in the field with about a 43-1 chance to win, much greater than the 100-1 he’s being listed at. Like Hodges, Periera gains strokes on all types of holes. He’s not as highly ranked as Hodges, but with the ability to score everywhere he’s another to watch out for.

Our longest odds pick this week is Ryan McCormick. McCormick has plenty of flaws, but he’s long off the tee and scores exceptionally well on par 5s. With five of them at this course, he’ll have plenty of chances to record some low numbers.

Favorite Draftkings GPP Plays
$9,000+

Taylor Pendrith           $9,700

Chad Ramey               $9,400

Brad Hopfinger           $9,100

Lee Hodges                $9,000

$8,000s

Ben Martin                  $8,400

Zecheng Dou              $8,000

$6,000s/7,000s

Brandon Harkins         $7,900

Max Greyserman        $7,500

Erik Barnes                 $7,400

Callum Tarren             $7,200

Mito Pereira                $7,100

Taylor Moore              $7,100

Ryan McCormick        $6,500

 

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