Genesis Open betting preview and tips: Dustin Johnson hard to beat

Ben Coley has selections ranging from 9/1 to 500/1 for this week's PGA Tour event, the Genesis Open, where Tiger Woods is among those in action.

Recommended bets

3pts win Dustin Johnson at 9/1

1.5pts e.w. Hideki Matsuyama at 30/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Charles Howell III at 66/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Jason Kokrak at 80/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

1pt e.w. Harold Varner III at 150/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

0.5pt e.w. Carlos Ortiz at 500/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)

Saving the best til last, the Genesis Open sees the PGA Tour bid farewell to the west coast and a suitably outstanding field will assemble at the iconic Riviera Country Club.

Such is the lure of this event that plenty were prepared to sacrifice last week's Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and while the top two in the world rankings are not here, just about everyone else is.

That includes Tiger Woods, back for a 10th crack at the course having yet to win this title, and he'll tee up with Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy for the first two rounds of the best tournament to have been staged anywhere so far this year.

While a closing 67 for 20th place at Torrey Pines represented a solid start to the year for Woods, it's hard to get excited about his prospects as tournament host and there would have to be a nagging concern around McIlroy's current strike-rate, particularly as he's played well without appearing to find this layout exactly to his liking in two visits so far.

Thomas, on the other hand, looks to have a solid chance. He's hitting the ball superbly at the moment and while playing in this noisy marquee three-ball for the second year running might be considered a negative, he's played really well the six times he's been grouped with Woods, beating his some-time mentor on each occasion.

With Bryson DeChambeau still learning these ropes and Jon Rahm making his debut at a course which undoubtedly favours experience, Thomas rates a threat to the favourite but Dustin Johnson looks worth backing to win this title for a second time.

Johnson has an exceptional course record, his power fade an ideal weapon at this long par 71. Having twice been second previously, including when beaten in a play-off by James Hahn, Johnson romped to victory in 2017 and there wasn't much wrong with his title defence, when for the second year running he shot a Saturday 64.

With a scoring average of 69.28 built over 40 rounds, it's clear that this is one of his favourite stops and this proven poa annua performer, who lived in California for a long time before moving out to Florida, has everything in his favour on a golf course which has been softened up by significant rain.

There might be some concern around his failure to justify skinny quotes last week, but a three-course pro-am at Pebble Beach can always be treated as a flimsy form guide - more so given the bad weather which forced a Monday finish, albeit for just two players.

It's also significant that Johnson had flown in having won in dominant fashion in Saudi Arabia one week earlier. Rewind to 2017, the year of his victory in this event which he followed up with a brace of WGCs before taking a tumble down the stairs at Augusta, and Johnson missed the cut at Torrey Pines having been in the mix in the Middle East the previous week. He was clearly in the form of his life yet still struggled with the transition.

Yes, he won the Canadian Open last summer after flying in from Scotland, but he'd missed the cut at Carnoustie, adding two days' recovery, not to mention the fact that the flight time is significantly shorter.

Had he taken last week off, I would think Johnson would be a couple of points shorter and with doubts around virtually everyone at the front of the market bar perhaps Thomas, he is backed to once again follow one win with another soon after.

With Riviera set to favour big-hitters even more than it ordinarily would, plenty will fancy Bubba Watson to win this title for a fourth time - but I have my doubts. It's surely telling that while Bubba has won this, the Travelers (an excellent correlation course) and the Masters more than once, but never as defending champion.

Xander Schauffele is more appealing and hard to dismiss but at 10 points bigger, it's Hideki Matsuyama who goes in as the chief back-up to Johnson.

Matsuyama finished 23rd on his course debut, fourth on his next visit and then 11th, before getting caught up in some nasty weather and spiralling to a missed cut in 2017.

Having missed the 2018 renewal through injury, he'll be itching to get back to a venue he says he "loves to play" and this supreme ball-striker looks to be coming to the boil just in time for a significant title bid.

It took the Japanese ace a long time to get his long-game back in shape following the wrist problem he suffered at around this time last year, but his approach play in particular was right back on point towards the end of 2018 and so far in 2019, it has improved with every start.

Only a putter, which was significantly cold even by his standards, cost him the chance to once again contend in Phoenix, before which he'd finished third at the Farmers, and the hope is a return to poa annua greens might spark a slight upturn in that department.

Certainly, from tee-to-green he looks ready to win again and he was superb here in 2016, leading the field in strokes-gained approach but failing to capitalise. Those ranked second, third, fourth and fifth were all in the top five, but Matsuyama's problems converting chances saw him finish a shot outside the top 10.

We are of course hostage to fortune to some extent, a repeat perfectly possible, but as one of the elite players in this field at his best, a level he looks sure to return to very soon, Matsuyama looks a big price.

Hideki Matsuyama
Hideki Matsuyama

Patrick Cantlay was in my staking plan last week only to withdraw citing illness, which can be translated as 'don't fancy a slog round Pebble Beach in bad weather, see you at Riviera'.

This UCLA product is a player I love and he was fourth here last year, but I think he's the right price and no more. He'd played poorly on two previous Riviera visits but more to the point we're being asked to take the same odds as last Monday, with JT, Rory, Rahm, DeChambeau and Tiger added to the top end.

That makes him an unappealing betting proposition and the only other I really considered in this section was Adam Scott, a former champion here - albeit that success carries an asterisk having been unofficial due to the fact only 36 holes were played.

Scott tends to putt well at Riviera and that makes this awesome ball-striker a threat, but ultimately I'm happy to expand the search to Charles Howell and Jason Kokrak.

Howell once held a fabulous record here, losing a play-off before going on to win what was his second PGA Tour title when getting the better of Phil Mickelson in extra holes some 12 years ago. Having then struggled, he appears to be ready to contend again having been very good from tee-to-green on his last two visits.

He drove the ball exceptionally at Torrey Pines last time, where for the second event running he led the field in greens in regulation. That's significant for two reasons: firstly, last November's RSM Classic win was driven by similar statistics; secondly, Riviera's greens are among the hardest to find on the PGA Tour.

Charles Howell III
Charles Howell III after winning the RSM Classic

Howell can approach the challenge with confidence, then, and he's held his form really well since finally earning a Masters return with that play-off victory over Patrick Rodgers towards the end of last year.

While victory took care of that important business for a man who was born in Augusta, I do like the fact that he has another target in his sights: a return to the world's top 50.

Remarkably, it's 11 years since Howell last sat the right side of that cut-off line for many of the sport's biggest events and you can be sure he'll see this as a chance to end that stretch, in the process taking a big step towards a spot in the US Open and the Open Championship.

Howell has always loved this course and the event in general, even more so as he has family in Beverley Hills, and at 66/1 he looks a knocking each-way bet back at the scene of his finest hour.

Kokrak, meanwhile, should not surprise those who have been paying attention. Like Cantlay, he was among my selections for Pebble Beach only to withdraw, but truth be told this is an even more suitable test and I'm glad he's freshened up for it.

The Canada-born, Ontario-raised and now North Carolina-residing pro has, for some reason, always been excellent in California, and the best performance of his career so far came in this event three years ago when runner-up to Watson.

While Kokrak made a couple of mistakes down the stretch, he basically did very little wrong in a renewal which was dominated by bigger hitters, as I firmly expect this one to be. And, while it's frustrating that he remains a maiden, a run of cuts made dating back to last summer gives him a wonderful platform to put that to bed.

The only way to describe Kokrak's ball-striking over the last six months is world-class and he can take down a world-class field if the putter fires.

I'm loathe to put forward six selections given that the favourite is among them, but I have to make room for both Harold Varner III and Carlos Ortiz.

Varner, it's fair to say, was the most eye-catching player in the field as I looked through the numbers from past renewals. For someone yet to contend here, I was amazed to see that he's struck the ball superbly on three of his four visits and that suggests he could step up a good deal on his return.

Last year, Varner led the field off the tee and ranked 25th on approach; for the fan of more traditional stats, he ranked first in total driving and ball-striking and only one player in the field, fourth-placed Cantlay, hit more greens.

In his rookie season, Varner was seventh for greens hit and 22nd from tee-to-green, while on his debut - in the field on a Charlie Sifford exemption, handed out to a golfer representing a minority background - he was 12th in ball-striking. It was his PGA Tour debut, in fact, and he did remarkably well to make the cut.

These numbers only carry a certain weight - ultimately, he hasn't looked like winning the event or even hitting the frame - but the key factor is that Varner is, for my money, playing the best golf of his life right now. It means he's in a great place to capitalise.

Seven of his last nine starts have resulted in top-25 finishes and having excelled with everything but the putter in Phoenix, he's well worth backing at around the 150/1 mark.

Ortiz is harder to justify as his results since third place at the Sanderson Farms have been poor, but he did shoot 62 at the Desert Classic in January while in Phoenix, his latest start, the Mexican led the field in greens hit.

Again, that's a key pointer here and we already know that Ortiz likes the course, as he's been 20th and 26th in two visits, a level of quality and consistency you wouldn't ordinarily associate with a 500/1 rag.

Explaining why he likes the Riv, he said: "Yeah, (Guadalajara Country Club) actually a pretty similar golf course, tree-lined, and there's a lot of holes that look kind of the same, same grass, same green, so it's similar. It's easy for me to shape some shots off the tees, and that's important out here."

Combine that with the fact he's among the top 25 poa annua performers (versus expected strokes gained) according to the excellent futureoffantasy, and that he's been 17th at the Travelers, and you'll see why I had to extend the staking plan.

Ortiz is 500/1 with five places, 400/1 with seven and 300/1 with eight, all of which are acceptable for a small bet. Alternatively, he's 14/1 for a top-20 finish - something he's come close to on both previous starts in this event. One way or another he's worth keeping an eye on.

Posted at 1230 GMT on 12/02/19

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