Greetings. The all too brief West Coast swing of the 2021-22 PGA Tour season reaches its conclusion this week at the best golf course on the circuit, Riviera Country Club.
The tournament, a 120-man invitational, has again attracted a field worthy of the layout. The top 10 in the world are on site in Pacific Palisades, Calif., poised to tackle the George Thomas layout that continues to challenge every aspect of their polished game.
Recent champions attacked this classic with their driver. The fairways are among the most difficult to hit on the PGA Tour (55 percent) and the greens are diabolical. Hammering tee shots then lofting short irons and wedges on approach has been a reliable formula for success. Regular contenders and winners here have proven they can thrive in California on similar grasses. Players find the green in regulation 57.5 percent of the time compared to the Tour average of 65.6 so a nifty short game and strong bunker play also received extra consideration this week.
Looking back at the top-25 finishers in recent years, most came in riding strong SG: Tee-to-Green form and roughly 90 percent were better than the field average for the week in that area. There are courses on the PGA Tour where a player can somewhat fake it around with the long game, putt like the devil and cash a large check. Riviera is not one of those places.
Riviera demands excellence through the bag, creativity and touch. We watched the second best short par 4 on the PGA Tour create excitement on the weekend in Scottsdale. This week, the 315-yard 10th will provide more thrills. It will make at least one of the best in the world look silly as they putt out for bogey – or worse.
It will be difficult to top last week’s entertaining finish. If any course on the calendar can, it’s Riviera. And the playoff hole, the aforementioned, 10th, is a much, much better choice.
As always, good luck.
Wyndham Clark, Joel Dahmen, James Hahn, Matt Kuchar, Sebastian Munoz, C.T. Pan, Mito Pereira, Pat Perez, Aaron Rai, Patrick Rodgers.
Golfer power rankings
25. Adam Scott – Always a smart option at one of his favorite courses where he’s won and finished runner up in the last five years. Struggled a bit off the tee at TPC Scottsdale but iron play and short game showed no ill effects after a three-month break from serious competition. Top 10 in the field in poa annua putting and rises to the challenge on a difficult test.
24. Thomas Pieters – The often fiery and occasionally ballistic Belgian won earlier this year in a solid field in Abu Dhabi – his second title in the last five starts on the DP World Tour. Hasn’t had a top 10 in the U.S. since the 2018 PGA. Finished runner up at Riviera in 2017.
23. Max Homa – The hometown hero and defending champion gained 4.3 shots Tee-to-Green and five shots Off-the-Tee in a T-14 last week in Scottsdale. It was his best ballstriking effort since he won the Fortinet in the fall. That event was also on poa annua greens.
22. Viktor Hovland – Since turning pro in the summer of 2019, our friendly Norwegian Forest Cat has missed consecutive cuts only once and those two tournaments were held three months apart. Last week’s brief appearance was the second worst ballstriking outing of his young career. Don’t sweat it. He finished fifth here last year and thou shall not be omitted from these rankings.
21. Kevin Na – By all accounts, the pros expect to encounter a firm, fast Riviera this week which gives Na an opportunity to compete. He’s the best scrambler in the field, flourishes in bunkers, avoids bogeys and ranks top 40 in scoring on difficult courses. Landed in the Riviera top 5 in 2017 and 2018.
20. Jordan Spieth – While I expected Spieth to finish better than T-60 in Scottsdale, a closer look reveals his short game and putter betrayed him in the lively desert. Easy fixes. Skipped the Genesis last year but has five top 15s on his resume here and he’s only two weeks removed from his best ballstriking since last May’s PGA Championship.
19. Luke List – Despite winning at Torrey Pines three weeks ago, remains an affordable alternative. Horrific putting (5.9 shots lost) relegated List to a T-53 in Scottsdale but poa is his favorite surface and he gained 4.8 shots Tee-to-Green in that effort, extending an exemplary run of ballstriking. Good bunker game, 14th in field in 450-500 yard par 4s and past success at comp course Quail Hollow.
18. Marc Leishman – Gained 6.4 shots Tee-to-Green in a top 20 at the Farmers three weeks ago, which was his best ballstriking in more than a year. Has made the last three Genesis cuts with a T-4 in 2019. Exquisite touch out of sand and the dastardly Kikuyu is an asset if Riviera attains its desired firmness.
17. Justin Thomas – There’s not a good reason to leave him off your roster but JT and I are taking a short break. He gained 12.7 shots Tee-to-Green a week ago, including 7.1 on approach. He’s finished in the top 25 in eight consecutive tournaments with four top 5s in the span. Let the 2019 Genesis slip away and missed the cut here the last two years.
16. Bubba Watson – After a runner-up finish two weeks ago in Saudi Arabia, made his first domestic start of 2022 at the Waste Management, tying for 14th behind impeccable ballstriking – seventh in last week’s field in SG: Tee-to-Green and 7.7 shots gained on approach. Next up? A course where he’s won on three occasions.
15. Brooks Koepka – Riviera can feel like a major. Brooks likes majors. Other than the occasional wayward tee shot, his game looked sharp last week (T-3) as his ballstriking reached a level unseen since last summer. Nothing special on his resume here – T-38 and T-43 the last two years.
14. Matt Fitzpatrick – Was dialed in off the tee and on approach last week, gaining 7.2 shots Tee-to-Green, his best effort in more than two years. Pair that with a tasty price and pleasing record at Riviera – T-5 and T-30 the last two years – and expect him to be a popular option in Vegas and beyond this week.
13. Joaquin Niemann – Top 25 in the field in scoring on difficult courses and 450-500-yard par 4s yet it hasn’t translated to tremendous success at Riviera, going 44-MC-43 the last three years. What’s promising is an improving short game – better than the field average four starts in a row – and his T-6 at Torrey Pines on similar grasses.
12. Sam Burns – Sure he’s missed consecutive cuts. But he also gained 2.4 shots on approach last week. So, he’s trending in the right direction as he becomes acclimated after a two-win 2021. Let a three-shot lead slip away here on the back nine a year ago.
11. Talor Gooch – Can quickly wash away a sour Sunday in Scottsdale at one of his favorite courses on the PGA Tour. Top 20 in his last three appearances in Pacific Palisades. Landed in top 30 in the field in nine of the 10 statistical categories in this week’s model. Putts his best on poa annua greens and has bettered the field average on approach in 10 consecutive starts.
10. Dustin Johnson – Nobody knows their way around Riviera better than Johnson. His record is outstanding and in the last five years alone has four top 10s, a 16th and a victory. It would surprise no one if he collected the trophy here again.
9. Xander Schauffele – Sneaky good record here – four consecutive finishes between ninth and 23rd. Flushed his golf ball for four days at TPC Scottsdale (13.1 shots gained Tee-to-Green) but ranks only 62nd in the field in scoring on 450-500 yard par 4s and 81st in scrambling.
8. Cam Smith – Won in Kapalua and missed the cut in the Sony when his irons went awry. Finished top 10 here in 2018 and 2021 and also thrives on the uneven lies of Augusta National. Ranks 11th in the field in putting on poa annua and 15th in avoiding bogeys.
7. Scottie Scheffler – After breaking through and becoming a PGA Tour champion last week, imagine he’ll ride the good vibes to another solid finish at Riviera, where he’s finished T-20 and T-30 the last two years… and with a caddie — Ted Scott — who was on the bag for all three of Bubba Watson’s victories at Riv.
6. Jon Rahm – Snuck in through the backdoor for yet another top-10 finish in Scottsdale, gaining 11.3 shots Tee-to-Green and losing 2.3 shots with the putter. Ranks seventh in the field in scoring at Riviera with two top 10s and a T-17 the last three years.
5. Patrick Cantlay – Playing better than anybody in the world. All that’s missing from a strong West Coast run is a victory. The Southern Californian would love to add his name to the illustrious list of L.A. Open champions. Top 5 in scoring on 450-500 yard par 4s, scrambling, avoiding bogeys and hitting greens in regulation.
4. Hideki Matsuyama – Has gained at least 2.6 shots on approach in five tournaments in a row, including 5.1 in a tie for eighth in the WM Phoenix Open. Finished top 10 at Riviera in 2019 and 2020. Has gained shots on the greens here in two of his last three appearances.
3. Rory McIlroy – Before missing the cut here last year, recorded a 20-4-5 run the previous three years. Has a strong record at Quail Hollow and to a lesser degree, Augusta National. Ranks top 3 in the field in scoring in difficult conditions and scoring on 450-500 yard par 4s. Can only hope there’s no scar tissue from his home hole water ball in Dubai.
2. Will Zalatoris – Tied for 15th in his Riviera debut a year ago. Tied for lowest score in regulation at Torrey Pines despite losing 1.3 shots on the greens. One of only two players in the field who is top 15 in greens in regulation and scrambling. Newfound clubhead speed should help him attack the par 5s, which provide key scoring opportunities.
1. Collin Morikawa – He’s going to win the Genesis multiple times before he’s done so may as well start this week. He’s second in the field in SG: Tee-to-Green over the last 50 rounds and scoring on difficult courses. Gained 7.5 shots on approach here last year and putted awful to finish T-43. Can win with a below average week on the greens on a course that should be ideal for his tight penetrating fades.