The Cheat Sheet provides fantasy golf players with course information, player history and the most noteworthy trends of the week to help them with their roster selections.
The field this week should be set at around 140 players, so while it is still large, it isn’t quite as big as many regular PGA Tour events, which host 150+ players. There’s no Pro-Am portion to this event, either, so we’re back to a Friday cut with the top 70 players and ties getting to play the weekend. As far as the competition goes, this is a venue that has attracted quality fields in years past — and this year is no different. Top international players like Tommy Fleetwood, Louis Oosthuizen and Hideki Matsuyama all are in the field this week along with U.S. stars Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson. Past winners here also feature a lot of elite names with Phil Mickelson (2010 and 2009), Dustin Johnson (2017), James Hahn (2015) and Bubba Watson (2014, 2016, 2018) all in the field and looking to add to their trophy collection. It also should be mentioned Tiger Woods is back after a two-week break and will be making his second start of the season as he tries to get ramped up for what should be a busy Florida swing for him.
Riviera CC, Pacific Palisades, California
Par 71, 7,300-7,350 yards
Riviera is one of the oldest courses on tour and has hosted this event pretty much every year since 1973. Riviera’s age means it has a lot of mature trees that line the fairway, and it also features a lot of doglegs and a few quirky hole designs — like a sand trap in the middle of a 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 favored bigger hitters ever since.
The strains of grass at Riviera are also fairly unique. The fairways and rough are Kikuyu, which tends to be quite difficult to play out of when left to grow. Wet weather is in the forecast this week, so expect the course to play longer than usual. As such, players with distance and the strength to get the ball up and out of the thick grass quickly will have an advantage, and players who hit a lot of greens (and don’t have to chip much) also will thrive. The 2017 winner, Dustin Johnson, led the field in greens in regulation by a wide margin by hitting more than 77 percent of the greens in regulation. Bubba Watson has finished T7 or better in greens hit in each of his three Riviera wins.
In general, the course plays quite long, especially if it’s wet, and often is ranked as one of the tougher tracks on tour. Last year was no exception. It ranked as the ninth toughest venue on tour and played to a scoring average well above par at 71.759. Riviera is a true par 71 with three par 5s, but only one (the short first hole) is a real birdie opportunity. The other two traditionally play quite tough. The par 4s are where the real test of the course lies, as eight of the 11 play at 430 yards or more in length and have tricky tee shots that challenge a player’s length and accuracy. This is a true championship venue with few birdie holes, and while we have seen winners here reach the mid-teens, don’t be shocked if the poor weather forecast for the week keeps the winning score in the single digits.
2019 Weather Report: The weather might be an issue this week. Both Wednesday and Thursday are slated to receive a lot of rain. There’s a near 100 percent chance of precipitation in the forecast for Thursday, so delays and a possible suspension of play is possible. The rain is expected to clear up by Friday afternoon, and the weekend does look much better.
Winds also will be a factor this week, though, with gusts set to hit 15 mph Saturday and constant winds of 10-12 mph are in the forecast for the first two days. This looks like an ugly week overall, and guessing which wave gets out on top will be difficult. If play is delayed Thursday, the afternoon wave could get pushed back to better conditions, but that’s conditional on Friday being playable. Expect most players to have to play more than 18 holes Saturday — and possibly Sunday, too.
PAST FIVE WINNERS
2018 — Bubba Watson -12 (over Tony Finau and Kevin Na -10)
2017 — Dustin Johnson -17 (over Thomas Pieters -12)
2016 — Bubba Watson -15 (over Adam Scott -14)
2015 — James Hahn -6 (in playoff over Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey)
2014 — Bubba Watson -15 (over Dustin Johnson -13)
Recent West Coast form is important this week:
— Each of the past eight winners had played Pebble Beach or Phoenix as their final start before winning at Riviera. Six had played Pebble as their last start, and two had played Phoenix as their last start.
— None of the lpast eight winners had missed the cut in their final start prior to winning at Riviera.
Strokes Gained: Off the Tee
Strokes Gained: Tee to Green
Driving Distance (DD) isn’t the be-all, end-all this week. Bill Haas ranked 66th in DD here in 2012 and won, and James Hahn was 30th for the week in DD in 2015 when he won. That being said, seven of the top 10 golfers from 2015 ranked in the top 25 for Driving Distance for the week, and in 2016, five of the top 10 were in the top 20 for the week. Last year, five of the top 13 players here ranked inside the top 40 in distance off the tee for the season.
In addition to Driving Distance being a factor, Strokes Gained: Off the Tee and Strokes Gained: Tee to Green also have been big indicators for past champions. Winners here have averaged significantly higher in these stats vs. other venues on tour, and two of the past five winners here (Dustin Johnson 2017 and Bubba Watson 2014) ranked first in Strokes Gained: OTT for the week of their win. Additionally, each of the past five winners have ranked inside the top five in SG: TTG for the week of their win at Riviera, with last year’s winner, Bubba Watson, ranking second in this stat for the week.
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 comparative to their odds of winning this week.
|Paul Casey||30-1||$8,900||Marc Leishman $9,000 and 33-1
Tony Finau $9,100 and 30-1
|Scott Stallings||80-1||$7,500||Andrew Putnam $7,500 and 100-1
Martin Laird $7,600 and 90-1
Cameron Champ $7,600 and 90-1
HORSES FOR COURSES
1. Bubba Watson (best finishes: win-2018, 2016, 2014): Watson has won this event in three of the past five seasons and is the clear lead horse this week. He does have a couple of hiccups on his record here, as he has missed the cut twice at this event and withdrew in-play twice since 2010. Still, his upside at Riviera is unmatched, and the mercurial lefty is a perfect fit for the challenging and classic venue.
2. Dustin Johnson (best finishes: win-2017; T2-2015): Johnson has the most consistent record of anyone at Riviera. Over the past five seasons he’s finished outside the top five here only once (2018-T16), finished runner-up in 2015 and won the event back in 2017. With several challenging tee shots, Riviera sets up perfectly for DJ’s style of game.
3. Adam Scott (best finishes: win-2005 (36-hole event); T2-2016): Scott has a long record of playing at Riviera and is a past champion here, winning the rain-shortened version back in 2005, which featured only 36 holes (unofficial win). The Aussie has performed well here recently, too, as he finished T2 back in 2016 to Bubba Watson and has finished T11 or better in three of his past four starts here.
4. Martin Laird (best finishes: T8-2017; T9-2018): Laird has a strong record on the West Coast, and Riviera has been one of his best venues. Since 2014 he’s played Riviera four times and made the cut in each appearance. Laird also has recorded top-10 finishes here in each of the past two seasons.
5. KJ Choi (best finishes: T3-2009; T5-2016): Choi has an amazingly consistent record at Riviera, as he previously had made the cut here every year since 2001, a streak that ended last season with an MC. He has finished T5 here as recently as 2016 but hasn’t played much to start 2019, and his reduced schedule and advancing age counter his great course history somewhat.
Cash Games: There are a lot of studs at the top this week to choose from. Starting with the insane course history of Dustin Johnson ($11,400) is fine, but I’d prefer a more price-friendly combo made up of two of Xander Schauffele ($9,400), Hideki Matsuyama ($9,300) and Tony Finau ($9,100). All three have solid recent form and course history and save you a lot of salary. Below them, Adam Hadwin ($7,800), Jason Kokrak ($7,600) and Bud Cauley ($7,400) all look like decent $7K values, while the likes of Joel Dahmen ($7,000) and Brandon Harkins ($6,800) also can be considered for savings.
Tournaments: Justin Thomas ($11,000) might not have the best course history of the top players, but his recent form has been great, and he makes for a good pay-up anchor in GPP lineups. Thomas has improved his finishing position here each of the past three seasons. Below him, Tommy Fleetwood ($8,500) played well in spurts last week and should fit this course nicely, while Louis Oosthuizen ($8,000) has started 2019 well and should be lower-owned in his range. Other potential GPP targets here include Russell Henley ($7,100), Charley Hoffman ($7,100), Anirban Lahiri ($6,600) and Jhonattan Vegas ($6,500).
Top Recent Form
1. Phil Mickelson: In three starts this year, Mickelson has recorded a T2 and a win. He opened his season with a round of 60 and then shot 7-under in the final round at Pebble to nab his fifth title there. He comes in with great form and deserving of top spot on this list.
2. Bryson DeChambeau: DeChambeau played two weeks in a row in the desert and grabbed his first win of the season in Dubai. He finished sixth the following week in Saudi Arabia and hasn’t finished worse than T10 in his past four starts. He still is humming along with the best in the world.
3. Justin Thomas: Thomas has looked close to putting it altogether recently and finished T3 in two of his first three starts of 2019. He went off in the final group in Phoenix and comes in with solid momentum on a course he’s improved his finishing position on each of the past three years.
4. Paul Casey: Casey has heated up quickly. He now has recorded a T2 and solo-second in each of his past two starts. He led going into the final round at Pebble last week but was overtaken by a great round from Mickelson and had to settle for second there. He’s trending well, though, and should be looking to capitalize on this form.
5. Rory McIlroy: McIlroy has played only two events thus far in 2019, but he’s shown well in each start. A fourth-place finish in Hawaii at the TOC was followed by a T5 at the Farmers Insurance Open, where he finished well. Riviera sets up well for his off-the-tee game, and a wet course might also favor him this week.
MY PICK: Hideki Matsuyama ($9,300)
It’s taken a while, but Matsuyama is starting to flash some of his pre-2018 injury form that made him one of the most consistent ball-strikers in the world. The Japanese superstar landed a T3 at the Farmers, ranking sixth in approaches and third in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green for the week there. A T16 at Phoenix, where he again ranked third in approaches and second in tee-to-green stats followed and affirmed Hideki is nearing the top of his game.
His course history this week isn’t as impressive as his Phoenix history, but a T23-T4-T11 record (with a MC from 2017) isn’t all bad, either, and speaks to the fact he has somewhat figured out how to get around this demanding venue. The world’s elite ball-strikers have prospered at Riviera, with the past five winners all ranking fifth or better in tee-to-green stats here for the week of their win. Matsuyama would seem a fitting name to add to the trophy here, and his low $9K DraftKings price means he’s quite affordable in DFS. He’s my pick to win this week and complete his comeback.
MY SLEEPER: Bud Cauley ($7,400)
Cauley enters this week off two solid starts; a T13 at the Farmers Insurance Open and a T26 at the Phoenix Open. This West Coast stretch typically hasn’t been the best for Cauley, so his form entering this week should be somewhat of an eye opener. Coming off an injury-plagued 2018, when a car crash forced him to miss most events in the spring-summer, Cauley features an all-around game that is firing. He comes in ranked 17th in around-the-green stats on the season and boasts an approach game that ranked 14th in the field his most recent time out in Phoenix.
He’s got some improving course history at Riviera, too, as he’s gone T20-T61 here the past two seasons, shooting three rounds of 70 or better here last year. A talented player who has endured a lot of injuries so far in his young career, Cauley looks healthy and motivated to begin the season and sets up well for a course that demands good shot-making but also rewards creativity and touch around and on the greens. He sets up as a nice value this week for an event that features a demanding venue.
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