Riviera Country Club is one of the PGA Tour’s premier stops on the schedule, and as such attracts a world-class field, year-on-year but this time it is a little different. Tiger Woods hosts the event this week and the event now has invitational status, limiting the field to just 120 players and making it one of the most stacked fields of the year.

One of those to get an invite this week is 31-year old, Joseph Bramlett who is the recipient of 2020 Charlie Sifford Memorial exemption, as chosen by Woods. Bramlett, who finished T18 at last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is the first player to get into this field twice on the same exemption – he missed the cut here in 2011.

Woods will not only be the host here but he’ll also be desperate to get into the Winners’ Circle for the second time this season. This was the site of his PGA Tour debut back in 1992 and although he finished runner-up here in both 1998 and 1999, the 82-time champion has never got over the line in this event, and I can’t imagine outside of the majors there being a sweeter spot for him to get the record-breaking 83rd victory. With 11 starts here, this remains the only event on Tour that Woods has played more than four times and not won, another astounding Tiger fact.

The Course

Riviera Country Club, 7,322 Yards, Par 71

Often likened to a major setup, and a course that correlates to Augusta National, Riviera is a complete test of a Golfers’ game. 

Riviera Country Club features Kikuya grass, which causes all sorts of problems in the rough, so the idea here is to either be incredibly accurate off the tee, or at least long enough that you only have a short distance into the green. 

The greens here generally rank among the hardest to hit on Tour due to being smaller than average in size, so if you’re not hitting accurate approaches, your short game must be razor-sharp here to contend. The field average for GIR at this event last year was just over 61%, which was better than it was in both 2017 (58%) and 2018 (53%), so whilst this wasn’t the case a year ago, most years this event has the toughest to hit greens. 

Within this brilliant setup is one of the most unique holes on the PGA Tour, the Par-3 6th hole, which features a bunker in the middle of the green. This causes some interesting approaches to this hole and certainly grabs the attention of those on the tee. 

Riviera also features one of, if not the best driveable Par-4 in golf, where both eagle and double bogey can come into play, with the latter more regular. Fortune can favour the brave at this one, but it may also be wise to play it as a traditional par-4 instead of getting greedy – it all depends on the situation the player is in.  

Key Stats and Trends

Of the 57 renewals played at Riviera, 33 have been won by players who have won, or who have gone onto win major championships in their career. 

11 Masters Champions have won here at Riviera and 8 of them have won this event more than once, including; Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Mike Weir. 

If you believe in fate, Bubba Watson won this event in 2014, 2016 and 2018, so is due to win here in 2020. Given he has finished T3 and 6th in his last two starts, it is hardly out of the realms of possibility that he goes well again.

Four of the last five winners have ranked inside the top-7 for Greens in Regulation, with James Hahn (T28) the outlier in 2015. Scoring was particularly tough in 2015, as Hahn and his fellow play-off protagonists ended the week at six-under-par, the highest winning total since Craig Stadler won with the same score in 1996.

Four of the last five winners have ranked inside the top-5 in SG: Tee-to-Green, with J.B. Holmes the exception last year, ranking 11th

Selections

Bubba Watson 22/1 (SkyBet 8 places 1/5 odds) 2pts e/w:

There’s no big explanation needed for this one. Back-to-back 6th place finishes, heading to an event that he’s won three times, Bubba Watson seems like a must-bet this week.

Some will tell you that the value is gone, maybe it has but I refuse to ignore the most obvious bet here.

Watson currently ranks 9th in SG: Off-the-Tee, 14th in SG: Putting, 17th in SG: Tee-to-Green and 21st in SG: Approach-the-Green. All of this is good for a ranking of 9th in SG: Total, so his all round game is in great shape.

Watson also ranks 3rd in Par-4 efficiency 450-500 yards which could be essential this week, at a course where there’s four par-4’s of this length. His distance off the tee is an obvious advantage on these holes and he knows how best to hit these tough greens.

Bubba is 22/1, more than double the price of the likes of Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas and whilst on first look that may look fair, I don’t think it’s entirely indicative of each players’ respective chances.

Tony Finau 25/1 (SkyBet 8 places 1/5 odds) 1.5pts e/w:

Tony Finau has to win again soon and when he does I imagine it will be at a decent price, something I consider the 25/1 this week to be.

Whether I think he should have got over the line in Phoenix is one thing, but I do know that Webb Simpson had to come in clutch to get the better of his buddy, and Finau looks as ready as he ever has to get over the line for the second time in his career.

I still believe Finau is just as likely to win a major as he is a regular season event, because eventually his game will be too good one week but given the level of this field, this could be the week he breaks out and gives himself the confidence to take that next step.

Not many are hitting the ball better than Finau, as his effortless power and superb iron play sees him rank; 2nd in SG: Tee-to-Green and 10th in SG: Approach, whilst he also ranks 7th in SG: Around-the-Green, all of which are figures that cannot be ignored.

After a slow start to life at this event (56-MC-MC), Finau has since shot two rounds of 66 and two rounds of 68 over his last eight rounds, which have helped towards finishes of T2 in 2018 and T15 in 2019.

He is in much better form coming into the week than he has been in either of his past two starts here and that may well be the difference this week.

Two rounds of 72 over the weekend last year cost him another top-10 here, but it’s difficult to imagine he’ll do the same this week. An over-par round is staring any player in the face on this course, should your game be even slightly off, but he’s playing some great golf right now and like Torrey Pines and TPC Scottsdale, this course plays to his strengths perfectly.

25/1 may seem a tad short given the company, but he’s proved time and time again he’s every bit as good as some of the world’s best, he just needs to put it together for four rounds to get the better of all of them on the same week.

Kevin Na 80/1 (Betfred 7 places 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:

Kevin Na certainly seems to have turned a corner in his career over the past couple of years, and is now a four-time PGA Tour winner, after being stuck for years on just one career win. Na won the Shriners Open in 2011, an event he won again this season but it was a 7-year gap before he tasted victory for the second time. 

Often the bridesmaid, Na had finished 2nd a number of times in his career between his first and second win, including here two years ago, and with his new-found winning mentality he could well make it five PGA Tour victories this week. 

Many were expecting Na to completely melt down and withdraw last week, following a horror 9 holes on Day One. After making the turn at -3 in Round 1 of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Na played his next seven holes in 6-over-par, including back-to-back double bogeys to shoot an opening 75. Rounds of 67-68-71 followed and he ended the week in a very respectable tie for 14th, a far cry from withdrawing. Whether Na has become resilient mentally over the last two years or he’s just fulfilling his potential, either way as he approaches 40, Na looks to be playing his way into his prime later than many. It is not unusual nowadays for players to find a way to win more regularly later in their careers, and should he keep up his current pace, his 40’s may well be his best decade on Tour.

Neither long nor particularly accurate off the tee, Na will have to rely on some stellar approaches and his typically solid scrambling, which sees him rank 10th in that category this season. Although he’s way down the list on approaches over the course of the season, he ranked 6th in SG: Approach last week at Pebble, finding some excellent iron play just in time for this event. 

With the whole field guaranteed to miss fairways and greens regularly, it may well be those that can get up and down the most who prosper, and Na is a likely candidate. Alongside his solid scrambling statisitics, Na also ranks 4th on Tour in SG: Putting this season and ranked 3rd in the field last week. Add to that course form of 33-2-4 in his last three starts here and four top-10’s in total, including three top-4’s since 2010, his experience can only be a benefit.

Another bonus stat for me, is the way Na is playing Par 4’s that are 450-500 yards. There are four holes of this kind on the Riviera CC scorecard, and Na ranks 12th on Tour in this statistic.

With a win and four more top-20 finishes on the season already, Na looks superb value and we know full well he’s not afraid of going well in this event and among this company. At 80/1 I am happy to chance that Na wins twice in the same season, for the first time in his career. 

Alex Noren 100/1 (SkyBet 8 places 1/5 odds) 0.5pt e/w:

I like Alex Noren for all the same reasons I liked him last week, except this time he has course form to boot.

Noren fitted the statistical mould perfectly last week, and does so again this week. A horrible 74-74 weekend saw Noren fall into a tie for 32nd at Pebble Beach and I think a little bit of course inexperience caught him out there.

This week though, Noren is returning to a course he has already played, admittedly only the once but he performed admirably on debut. He shot four rounds of par or better in 2018, finishing the week on 4-under-par and with some experience now under his belt, he can fire one of the lower rounds required to contend here.

Noren ranks 3rd in Scrambling, as well as sitting inside the top-24 in; SG: Around-the-Green, SG: Tee-to-Green (12th) and SG: Approach-the-Green (24th), all good enough for a ranking of 13th in SG: Total. He’s not putting well (108th in SG: Putting) but like many others on Tour, he’s streaky with the flat stick and can catch a heater when he gets going.

Considering he was in the top-10 after 36 holes last week, it’s clear the game is there in flashes, he just needs to put four rounds together and he can return his best finish of the season.

With 8 places on offer and three-figure odds, I found it difficult to leave out a player who was half the price last week, and one who is clearly capable of forcing his way into the top-10, even in such a stacked field.

Carlos Ortiz 175/1 (PaddyPower 8 places 1/5 odds) 0.5pt e/w:

Last year Ortiz rolled into this event a 500/1 shot and was just a shot away from a top-7 finish as he finished T9. The question is then, why is he worth betting at 175/1 only a year later?

A year is a long time in golf, ask Brendan Todd or Jordan Spieth, polar opposites of what can happen in just 12 months in golf.

Now whilst Ortiz’s story isn’t quite as extreme as these two, it is very difficult to ignore Ortiz’s marked improvement as a golf over the past year, and he that can translate to a top finish on a golf course he clearly enjoys.

His T9 finish last year didn’t exactly come out of nowhere, he had already finished 20th on debut in 2015 and 26th a year later. That 20th place finish in 2015 could have been a whole lot better, were it not for a final-round 75 that cost him a chance of at the very least, a top-10 finish. Scoring was very different that year, than what we will expect this week, but his T9 last year is further evidence of his suitability to this course, and he can put his improved play to good use this week.

Since his top-10 here last year, Ortiz has five top-12 finishes, and four of those have come on this new season alone and all of which feature in his top-15 best finishes world ranking-wise to date.

A three-time winner on the Web.com Tour in 2014, Ortiz earned automatic promotion to the main Tour and he’s now ready to win at this level. So far this season he has three top-4 finishes, including his best career finish at this level, a T2 in his home event, the Mayakoba Classic.

Ortiz was just one shot shy of Brendan Todd in Mexico, two shots behind Sebastian Munoz at the Sandersons and only three shots shy of Lanto Griffin in Houston, so he’s had some close shaves already.

At none of those courses had he shown the clear pedigree he’s shown at this event, so whilst he may well be a lot shorter than he was for this event 12 months ago, he’s a far cry from the same player and although the competition is stronger this week than it was earlier in the season, I think he has what it takes to win.

Statistically Ortiz looks a decent prospect this week, ranking 21st in SG: Around-the-Green, 26th Tee-to-Green, 25th in Bogey Avoidance and 34th in Par 4 efficiency 450-500 yards.

His efforts in 2020 have been average considering his strong end to 2019, but he finished just two shots outside the top-10 in Phoenix last time out and he is now returning to a golf course he has a clear affinity with. 175/1 looks generous to me, for a player who has made huge strides this season.

Total Points Staked this week: 11

Profit/Loss for 2020: -10

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