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Sam Eaton brings us his predictions for First Round Leader at this week's PGA Tour event at Riviera.
  • First Round Leader specialist Sam Eaton has five selections for this week's Genesis Invitational at Riviera.
  • All of Sam's tips are based on statistics and models built on the course requirements.

Outside of the majors this will be one of the strongest events of the whole season, with the top of the betting market flooded with the world’s best. For that reason, there’s certainly some value in the winner market, with the likes of Collin Morikawa at +3800 and it’s especially surprising to see Bryson at longer odds than both Schauffele and Cantlay.

We’ve hit nine places and a winner since the new year, which has led to a negative return. However, it would have only taken one of those nine places to win to make things look a whole lot brighter.

Riviera CC is a tough course, and we’ve seen plenty of the world’s best blow up in the past to miss the cut. To succeed at this event, you have to take advantage of the drivable par 4 and scorable par 5, as there’s not many other birdie opportunities.

Length of the tee will be a bonus at Riviera, but probably not as crucial as long irons as eight of the 11 par fours play over 430 yards. These greens are often some of the hardest to find on the PGA Tour.

Driving Distance, Par 4 scoring 450-500, ball striking and long irons are just some of the statistics that will be factored in this week.

Jon Rahm @ +2200

Most courses stack up well for Jon Rahm, but this really does. If you’re looking for a man to compete on these greens, on a difficult course in California, then Jon Rahm is your guy.

The Spaniard will always gain shots off the tee, and approach play has been hot despite not finishing in the top five on the previous two starts. It’s normally putting which lets Rahm down, but this is his favourite surface by a distance.

Only a handful in this field can better Rham when it comes to ball striking and shots gained on P4’s (350-400) in the past six months.

Admittedly Rahm can be a slow starter with only four top five finishes after the first round in 2020. However, he did shoot 67 on the opening day here in 2019.

Joaquin Niemann @ +5500

With the likes of Morikawa, Wolff and Hovland, Niemann goes slightly under the radar, but he’s a serious player who will compete at Majors for years to come.

Niemann is surprisingly long off the tee, which people tend to overlook given his slender shape. The Chilean, has been in great form in 2021, registering two second place finishes from two starts. The secret to his success on both occasions was shots gained T2G and in approach.

Niemann’s putting is a concern, but on a course which demands you to excel with the driver and long irons he’s well worth chancing. He’s also finished in the top 12 after day one of the last three occasions, which included a first at the Sony Open.

Rory McIlroy @ +2500

Not often I’ll back a couple of the big guns, but with such a strong field you can afford to do so with the prices on offer. I’ve mentioned before how, despite Rory not getting over the line on a Sunday as much as he should, he’s normally good value on the opening day of an event.

This course should suit Rory, and has done in the past with two top five finishes from four starts. McIlroy is averaging 4.5 shots gained on the field in the last five PGA Tour events, and has appears to have found some form back with the irons following a dismal display in the CJ Cup.

It’s not his ideal putting surface, but also not his worst.

Luke List @ +10000

It’s was a toss-up between Luke List, Cameron Davis and Cameron Tringale for the last couple of picks. Davis has every chance of performing well at this event, but he’s been a fairly slow starter of late, and his all or nothing game in approach and putting worries me a little. Therefore, I’ve decided to opt for two longshots, the first being Luke List.

List has had four top thirty finishes from five starts at this event, and has shown on many occasions he can turn it on when scoring is tricky.

The American actually gained shots with the putter two weeks ago which is rare, but he still loses 2.3 shots on average in his last 20 events. Even though he will still likely stink with the flat stick, this is his more preferred surface.

He’s been hot off the tee, and in terms of shots gained T2G. He lost shots in approach a couple of weeks ago, but that came off the back of two decent outings with the irons.

Cameron Tringale @ +7000

Tringale is hot right now, with all of his numbers heading in the right directions. He doesn’t gain massive off the tee, but has gained over 1.5 shots in three of his last five events.

He’s gained over 3 shots in approach in three of his last five events, and his putter has been on fire. This is by far his best surface, and he could putt himself into contention on Sunday even with this star studded field.

Tringale has three top 15 finishes after the first round in his last five events. He’s also shot 64 at this course back in the 16/17 season, and also has two round of 67 to his name.


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