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Genesis Invitational: Thunderous Rors Expected in Hogan’s Alley

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy

Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

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It has been quite some time since the city of Los Angeles has hosted a sporting event with the magnitude, pageantry, and reverence of the Genesis Invitational. While there will be no concerts or beer showers at Riviera Country Club, there will be the top-10 players in the world all teeing it up.

The strongest field we have seen in 2022, players are coming from far and wide to cater to tournament host, Tiger Woods. One of three “player run” events to receive elevated status – the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Memorial being the other two – over the last half decade, I have considered the Genesis Invitational the best non-major of the year.

In what was a memorable 2021 edition of this tournament, last year featured everything from an unforgettable playoff to a wind delay in Round 3. While for most of the week it appeared Sam Burns (+3500) would go wire-to-wire, a poor weekend left the door open for the hometown kid himself, Max Homa who is listed at +4000 at PointsBet Sportsbook.

Defeating Tony Finau (+5000) in a two-hole playoff, Homa overcame plenty of obstacles – namely a tree on the drivable par-4 10th – en route to his second victory on the PGA Tour at the time. Steadily climbing to this peak, Homa not only arrived in fantastic form, but had prior success at Riviera as he finished in a tie for fifth in 2020.

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He is hardly, and I mean hardly, the only player to take a liking to this par-71 as Masters Champions Bubba Watson (+4000) and Adam Scott (+4000) are both multiple-time winners at Riviera. In fact, since 2012, a man who had or would go onto don the green jacket has finished first or second nine-times (five winners, four runners-up).

While I am not rushing to proclaim Riviera the Augusta National of the west coast, the clear correlation in leaderboards is nevertheless interesting. This should bode well for Dustin Johnson (+1800) and Hideki Matsuyama (+2200) backers, and while I had every intention of being one myself, a man from Northern Ireland eventually won me over.

Hopefully avoiding another Scottie Scheffler (+2500) debacle, the way in which Rory McIlroy (+2500) has played since the end of the summer is seriously flying under the radar. Likely due to some of his results coming overseas, the four-time major champion is hard for me to ignore at this price.

Dating back to the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, McIlroy has entered the final round of a tournament within four-strokes of the lead on 5-of-10 occurrences. With a chance to win on the back-nine on Sunday at the Olympics, DP World Tour Championship, CJ CUP @ SUMMIT, and most recently the Dubai Desert Classic, the 32-year-old has inexplicably captured only one victory.

Between a bad break in the DP World Tour season finale and a poor finish in Dubai which left some speechless, one could argue McIlroy was mere inches away from collecting two additional titles in the desert of the Middle East.

With an all-around game required for the test Riviera presents, the uptick in prowess from on and around-the-green is more than a welcomed sight. Admittingly struggling with this part of his game last summer, McIlroy has now gained strokes on the field with his short-game in his last seven measured starts.

One of the best drivers of the golf ball to ever step foot on planet Earth, the world No. 5 is well aware of the drop-off with his irons. Discussing his priorities for 2022 back in January, he began with, “I’d love to get my iron play back to a level that it was at maybe a few years ago. You know, gaining at least half a shot to a full shot on the field with approach play. I’ve done that before I feel like I can do that again.”

Adequate in Dubai, simply put, if able to repeat such a performance this week at the Genesis Invitational, McIlroy’s name will be on the first page of the leaderboard Sunday afternoon just as it was in 2019 and 2020. Yet to come through at “Hogan’s Alley,” a victory this week would go a long with for the man with aspirations of entering the winner’s circle six-times in 2022.

Buying up for McIlroy, we are afforded a shorter card than usual and as such, Viktor Hovland (+2500), Will Zalatoris (+2800), and Sungjae Im (+3500) will reluctantly be passed on. While there are numerous exits we could take on our way farther down the odds board, there is little enticement until we get to Marc Leishman (+6000).

Last coming through on the PGA Tour two hours south in the state of California, Leishman’s return to form since the COVID-19 layoff has been well-documented. Finding his stride in Napa to begin the 2021-22 season, the Australian collected top-5 finishes at the Fortinet Championship and the Shriners Children’s Open before a top-10 result at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Becoming more well-rounded by the week, Leishman’s games is beginning to resemble that of 2019 when he finished inside the top-5 at a rate of 32% and won the CIMB Classic. Gaining strokes on the field in all seven starts this season, the inconsistency which riddled his 2021 is now nowhere to be found. Posting positive strokes-gained approach and short-game figures in 7-of-7 starts, the Australian is knocking on the door of his seventh victory on the PGA Tour.

While conventional wisdom suggests to wait two weeks’ time for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, I believe the Virginia Beach resident is just as likely to come through at the Genesis Invitational. Seemingly getting more comfortable at Riviera in recent years, this is not only the type of event, but a field in which Leishman has found previous success.

Leishman would add to Australia’s success at Riviera, a feat Englishmen Matthew Fitzpatrick (+3500) and Paul Casey (+6000) will attempt to do for their home country as well. Both tasting contention in this tournament in the past, there was some thought put into each of them, however, ultimately, I decided to forgo the pair.

Instead, a misleading history in this event has once again drawn me to the young Chilean, Joaquin Niemann (+7000). Investing in Niemann not only in this event last season, but also at the Farmers Insurance Open two weeks ago, I was impressed with how the world No. 32 looked in his 2022 debut.

Coming off a two-month layoff, Niemann gained strokes in every aspect of the game and finished two-strokes out of the eventual playoff in a tie for sixth. While some may suggest his short-game is not up to par for a course such as Riviera, the numbers tell a different story.

Gaining strokes around-the-green in every measured start of the 2021-22 season, the higher rate of missed greens in regulation at Riviera presented no issues for the 23-year-old last year. Gaining nearly three-strokes on the field and finishing the week 10th in SG: Around-the-Green, it marked Niemann’s finest effort of 2021 and the second-best of his career. And while poa annuna is not necessarily his putting surface of choice, posting +1.6 SG: Putting in three rounds at Torrey Pines South is certainly a step in the right direction.

Fantastic from 150 to 175 yards and underrated when it comes to avoiding three-putts, a quick glance at his past results is puzzling. Finishing 44-MC-43 in his three appearances, I vividly remember watching my outright wager unravel in 2021 when the third-round wind mentioned above blew my Niemann ticket straight into the trash.

While some braved the conditions, the Chilean retreated. With rounds of 67-68 under his belt, Niemann’s name was on the first page of the leaderboard before a Saturday 78 was his eventual undoing. Willing to forgive past transgressions and a day which saw many fail to break 75, I am high on Niemann’s chances of righting the wrongs of last year.

Niemann is not alone when it comes to interest in this area of the odds board, as there are many attractive prices. Jason Kokrak (+6000), Thomas Pieters (+6600), Tom Hoge (+7000), and Luke List (+8000) make up a crop of recent winners who have flashed some form at Riviera before.

Listed among the likes of Abraham Ancer (+7000), Patrick Reed (+7000), and Si Woo Kim (+7000), there are plenty of darts, so to speak, to throw in this range. When discussing such a sport, precision, accuracy, and unruly celebrations begin to creep into the back of the mind.

Few and far between in the game of golf, Kevin Na (+8000) may in fact be the perfect bridge betwixt the two. When not walking in putts or getting into Twitter spouts – which everyone on Tour thinks is hilarious, you just have to trust Kevin on that – the American is busy sticking his approach shots close and exceeding his God-given abilities.

Not quite in the same breath as the new wave of athletes infiltrating golf, there are only a select number of stops each season where the 38-year-old can truly contend. Las Vegas, Honolulu, and for one reason or another, Los Angeles.

Measuring roughly 7,300 yards we have continued to see an upswing in the importance of Driving Distance compared to Driving Accuracy at Riviera. However, Na has been the exception to this trend, having been unable to gain strokes off-the-tee in this event since 2009 due to his lack of pop with the big stick.

What he lacks in distance, he does make up for with his short-game as during this same time frame, he has thrived around-the-green. Not necessarily surprising, this is the way in which Na will have to win. Finishing T-4 and T-2 in 2017 and 2018, Na did just that, posting +7.8 and +5.6 SG: Putting in back-to-back years.

Pleasantly surprised with some of his other numbers, our NBC Sports EDGE Driver Tool has Na inside the top-30 in the field in SG: Approach, Par-4 Scoring from 450 to 500 yards, and proximity from 150 to 175 yards over the last 24 rounds. Not the first person you think of when discussing players who flourish on long Par-4s, I will trust not only the numbers, but the course history on this one.

Outright Selections:

Rory McIlroy +2500 at Caesars Sportsbook (1.32 units)

Marc Leishman +6000 at DraftKings Sportsbook (0.55 units)

Joaquin Niemann +7000 at DraftKings Sportsbook (0.47 units)

Kevin Na +8000 at PointsBet (0.41 units)

Outrights YTD: +51.19 units, +311.27%

Total YTD: +41.13 units, +85.49%

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