WATCH: Is Ollie Schniederjans in for a monster week at Riviera?
The Cheat Sheet provides fantasy golf players with course info, 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 golfers, so while it is still large, it isn’t quite as big as many regular PGA Tour events that host 150+ golfers. There’s no Pro-Am portion to this event either, so we’re back to a Friday cut with the top-70 golfers and ties getting to play the weekend. As far as the competition goes, this is still a pretty elite field and has an almost World Golf Championship-quality feel. Top European Tour golfers like Tommy Fleetwood, Thomas Pieters and Alex Noren are all in the field this week along with U.S. stars Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson.
Like almost every year, this is setting up as one of the best, early non-major events of the season, and the influx of great young golfers from around the world should only enhance the excitement on Sunday.
Riviera CC, Pacific Palisades, California
Par 71, 7,300-7,350 yards
Riviera is one of the older courses on tour and has hosted this event pretty much every year since 1973. As an older-style course, it has a lot more 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 nearly impossible small green on the short par-4 10th. The course was redesigned by Tom Fazio in 2008 and has played longer and favored bigger hitters it has seemed 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. As such, golfers with distance and the strength to get the ball up and out of the thick grass have an advantage, and golfers who hit a lot of greens (and don’t have to chip much) also will thrive. Last year’s winner, Dustin Johnson, led the field in Greens in Regulation by a wide margin by hitting over 77 percent of the greens in regulation.
In general, the course plays long and is one of the tougher tests on tour. Last year saw some softer conditions and a more gettable course that only played as the 23rd toughest on tour (and yielded a scoring average barely over par at 71.01). Riviera is 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 tough. The par 4s are where the real test of the course lies, as eight of the 11 play at more than 430 yards in length and have tricky tee shots that challenge the golfers’ length and accuracy. Many of these holes will be difficult to score on, and while we have seen winners here reach the mid-teens below par, don’t be shocked if the winner is in single digits this week either.
2018 Outlook – The weather this week looks like we again will dodge any rainy weather or delays. It should be noted that while we’re likely to see mostly sunny skies, it is forecast to be in the low 50s to high 40s in the morning the first two days, so it’s possible the morning groups struggle a touch. The wind isn’t supposed to see gusts over 10 mph (that could change, though), but Friday morning does have a little more wind than Thursday as of writing. As always, my best suggestion is to check the weather Wednesday night before making decisions.
LAST FIVE WINNERS
- 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)
- 2013 — John Merrick -11 (in playoff over Charlie Beljan)
- 2012 — Bill Haas -7 (in playoff over Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley)
- Recent form is important this week: Each of the last seven winners at Riviera had placed 29th or better in the week preceding their victory 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 in DD when he won in 2015. That being said, seven of the top-10 golfers from 2015 ranked in the top 25 for DD for the week, and in 2016, five of the top 10 were in the top 20 for the week. Bombers traditionally have held many of the top finishing spots here over the past two or three years, and last year, Dustin Johnson ranked first in this stat by a healthy nine yards.
Editor’s Note: Bill Haas has withdrawn from the event.
In addition to Driving Distance being a factor, Strokes Gained: Off the Tee (OTT) and Strokes Gained: Tee to Green (TTG) 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 last four winners here (Dustin Johnson in 2017 and Bubba Watson in 2014) have ranked first in Strokes Gained: OTT for the week of their win. Additionally, each of the past four winners has ranked inside the top five in Strokes Gained: TTG for the week of their win at Riviera.
Odds to win are one factor to think about when picking golfers (but not the only thing, so be careful putting too much weight on them). This section is going to detail a few of the golfers who have the best fantasy value comparative to their odds of winning this week.
|Charles Howell III||60-1||$7,300||Kevin Na $7,500 and 100-1
Bryson DeChambeau $7,500 and 100-1
Martin Kaymer $7,500 and 100-1
|Kevin Chappell||45-1||$7,700||Beau Hossler $7,700 and 80-1
Bubba Watson $7,800 and 45-1
Kevin Streelman $7,800 and 60-1
K.J. Choi has an amazingly consistent record at this event, as he’s now made the cut every year he’s played since 2001. He also finished T5 here in 2016 and T17 last season. Choi finished a solid T26 last week and will be hard to fade just based on his amazing consistency at this venue.
Keegan Bradley has made five of his last six cuts at this event — a streak that includes finishes of fourth and second (loss in a playoff). He’s coming off a solid start to the year, which includes a T5 at the Farmers, and is set up for a bounce-back opportunity at one of his favorite venues.
J.B. Holmes has a great record at this course, although he’s never won here. Holmes has made nine of his last 10 cuts at this event and has finished 12th or better in six of those appearances. He’s not in great form at the moment, but this venue is set up well for his skill set.
Dustin Johnson once again makes this list, as he’s put together two second-place finishes, a third, two fourths, a 10th and a win (last year) all since 2009. He’ll be looking to add another win this year at Riviera; a course that definitely fits his eye.
Cash Games – The pricing is tighter this week. Staring out with Dustin Johnson ($11,900) only leaves you with an average salary of just over $7,600. Targeting a multitude of mid-tier golfers might be a better choice, as strong plays like Branden Grace, Tommy Fleetwood, Alex Noren and Marc Leishman can all be had for less than $10,000. Other strong targets for this format include Paul Casey, Branden Steele, Ollie Schniederjans, Martin Kaymer, Charles Howell III, Martin Laird and Brandon Harkins.
Tournaments – It feels like a week where Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth could easily go under-owned due to poor recent form or poor course history. As such, starting a lineup with one or both likely would be somewhat contrarian in big tournaments. Of the two, I prefer McIlroy, who was a solid T20 on his first start here and has strong off-the-tee stats that fit the style of past winners. Other potential tournament targets include Alex Noren, Bubba Watson, Jason Kokrak, Sam Saunders and James Hahn.
Top Strokes Gained: Tee to Green from Last Week
1. Paul Casey
2. Brandon Harkins
3. Rafa Cabrera-Bello
Top Strokes Gained: Putting from Last Week
1. Jason Day
2. Rob Oppenheim
3. Chez Reavie
Top Recent Form
1. Chez Reavie has two runner-up finishes over his last two starts. He’s 4/4 in cuts made to start the year and playing as good as anyone in the field coming in.
2. Tommy Fleetwood hasn’t finished worse than T6 over his last four starts. Fleetwood has won already in 2018, besting a good field over in the Middle East on the European Tour.
3. Phil Mickelson has now gone T5-T2 over his last two starts and has great form coming into an event he has won twice.
MY PICK: Paul Casey ($10,200)
Casey likely is going to be somewhat of a polarizing pick this week, as he comes in off a strong week in Pebble — where he led the field in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green — but has seen his price rise to more than $10K (and fifth-most expensive in the field). Partnering Casey with another elite play will be tough due to price, so most DFS players are likely to take a stand on him one way or the other this week. The Englishman is making his third start in 2018 and is coming off a week where he was first in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green and second in Strokes Gained: Approaches. He also has some positive putting splits on Poa Annua greens over his career (+0.301 vs. all other surfaces) that suggest he can improve on last week’s poor performances on the Pebble Beach greens.
Casey has played Riviera five times and is 5/5 in cuts made with his best finish being a playoff loss in 2015 to James Hahn. While he’ll need a big week to pay off his salary, I think he’s in a great spot to produce at a course that has proven to be suitable in the past.
MY SLEEPER: Martin Laird ($6,900)
With pricing tighter at the top this week, targeting a few sub-$7K plays will be crucial, and Laird is someone you should consider. He’s coming in off his best finish of 2018 (a T9 in Phoenix), where he was inside the top 25 for the field in almost every major stat and was 10th overall in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green. Laird traditionally has been quite strong on the West Coast over his career, and this stop has been good to him the past couple of seasons, as he’s placed T8 and T11 the last two years. The Scotsman still is long off the tee (averaged 312 per drive in Phoenix) and has positive putting splits on Poa/Bent greens with the putter over his career (+0.14 strokes vs. other surfaces in 258 tracked starts). I like him as a value play this week.
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