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Saturday, 15 December, 2018

Cheerful Chappell looks ready to claim home-state glory

Dustin Johnson is formidable favourite in California

Successfully representing his country in the Presidents Cup has done wonders Kevin Chappell's self-belief
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Sky Sports Golf, 7pm Thursday 
Starts 3pm

World number one Dustin Johnson tops the US Tour betting for the second consecutive week, having finished tied second in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am on Sunday, upset by 500-1 outsider Ted Potter Junior.

Jon Rahm is skipping the Genesis Open, but Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are at Riviera Country Club to tackle 11-2 favourite Johnson, who destroyed the field last year.

Palmer's top tip
Kevin Chappell 50-1
Successfully representing his country in a Presidents Cup romp in the autumn appears to have done wonders for the self-belief of Kevin Chappell and the Californian can land the most prestigious title of his career at Riviera this week.

Chappell earned a place on a United States team for the first time last season, contributing to their 19-11 crushing of the Internationals in New Jersey, and the resulting confidence boost may be the reason for a much faster than usual start to a new year.

Sixth spot in the CareerBuilder Challenge at the end of last month, when he closed with rounds of 64, 67 and 67, was followed by eighth place in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am last week, and he again overcame a slow start with a fantastic finish.

Chappell revealed in a Twitter Q & A near the end of 2016 that his favourite course on the US Tour is Riviera. He thinks the faders' track sets up perfectly for him, even though his results there have not been great.

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The reason for Chappell underperforming at a layout he holds so dear is because he typically arrives at Riviera in terrible form. He has been a Genesis Open regular since 2012 and his form figures in the January and February tournaments prior are woeful. Before the 2012 edition, his form was 59-30-52-MC-69; 2013 it was 8-MC-24-MC; 2014 it was 58-47-MC-35; 2015 it was 30-MC-18; 2016 it was 66-MC-MC; and 2017 it was MC-75-48.

Chappell traditionally starts the year slowly, unable to do himself justice at Riviera, where his six-year form figures are 24-MC-23-MC-26-MC. This time his swing is in mint condition and he has arrived there for the first time as a US Tour champion, having made his breakthrough in the Texas Open in April.

Putting remains Chappell's weakness, particularly from short range, but Riviera levels the playing field in that respect. Short putting is more difficult at Riviera than any other venue on the US Tour, with more misses from three feet and in than anywhere else on the circuit.

History suggests everyone will be missing a few tiddlers thanks to uneven Poa annua greens, so Chappell's flat-stick frailty may not be as damaging as normal. His supreme ball-striking should prove more decisive.

Chappell's lone Tour triumph (2010 Fresh Express Classic) came in California, where he was born, bred, went to college, and still lives, and more home-state glory could be imminent.

Next best
Dustin Johnson 5-1

By far the biggest obstacle for Chappell and the rest of the Genesis field is defending champion Dustin Johnson, who fully deserves short-price favouritism. There should be an even bigger gap between Johnson and the rest of the market principals, all of whom have many more chinks in their armour on recent evidence.

Sure, Johnson was disappointing over the weekend at Pebble Beach, some sloppy approaches meaning he had to settle for a share of second place. But he is 52 under par for his 12 rounds this year, having opened with an eight-shot Sentry Tournament of Champions success.

And Johnson's course credentials are immense. He led by nine shots during the final round at Riviera last year, before taking his foot off the gas, cruising home by five.

Since switching from a stock-draw drive to a more controlled and consistent fade, Riviera has become a perfect playground for DJ to show off, and his four-year form figures of 2-2-4-1 underline how at ease this layout makes him.

Fuelled by the irritation of letting the Pebble Beach title slip through his fingers at the weekend, Johnson seems an almost certain contender.

Other selections
Patrick Rodgers 125-1
Patrick Cantlay 50-1

Complete your staking plan with a pair of Patricks – Rodgers and Cantlay. Both impressed in the 2012 NCAA Championship at Riviera as amateurs – Rodgers was ninth in the individual competition and Cantlay was fourth – and both are supremely comfortable performing in California.

Rodgers was a star at Stanford University, matching the victory record of Tiger Woods, while Cantlay has lived in California all his life and became world number one amateur there.

 Rodgers is yet to win on the US Tour, but has been knocking on the door, twice finishing runner-up and twice finishing third, and he was in the mix in the Genesis Open last year before fading to 22nd spot over the weekend.

He was handicapped by flu at the start of this year but eighth place at Pebble Beach on Sunday, where he purred about the state of his game, was hugely encouraging, and this assignment looks ideal. The power-fade he switched back to last year sets him up perfectly on most holes at Riviera.

Cantlay is the same age as Rodgers (25), but has got off the mark on the US Tour, bravely winning a playoff for the Shriners Open in November. Cantlay oozes ball-striking class and Riviera is an excellent track for him to underline his status as one of the most promising youngsters in the game.

Others to note
James Hahn
The 2015 Riviera champion has found some tidy form this year, losing a Sony Open playoff last month.

Daniel Berger
The Presidents Cup star likes to fade his ball and is well suited to Riviera. Has started the year strongly.

Branden Grace
The South African is another natural fader who enjoys the shape of this layout. Tied for 22nd on his debut last year.

Charley Hoffman
The Californian also has the right shot-shape for Riviera and he finished fourth there last year. Withdrew from Pebble Beach last week, though, citing a back injury.

Marc Leishman
The Australian is another top-class player who hits a fade as his stock drive. More than capable of contending for this title.

Thomas Pieters
The Belgian bomber won the NCAA Championship at this track in 2012 and was second in the Genesis Open last year.

Staking plan
K Chappell
2pts each-way 50-1 Coral, Sky Bet
D Johnson
4pts 5-1 general
P Rodgers
1pt each-way 125-1 Sky Bet
P Cantlay
1pt each-way 50-1 Betfair, Coral, Power, Sky Bet

Tournament lowdown

Course Riviera Country Club, Pacific Palisades, California

Prize money $7.2m ($1.26m to the winner)
Length 7,322 yards Par 71 Field 144

Course records – 72 holes 264 Lanny Wadkins (1985) 18 holes 61 Ted Tryba (1991)

Course winners taking part Ernie Els, Adam Scott, Charles Howell, Phil Mickelson (twice), Aaron Baddeley, Bill Haas, John Merrick, Bubba Watson (twice), James Hahn, Dustin Johnson

When to bet By 3pm Thursday
Where to watch Live on Sky Sports Golf from 7pm Thursday
Time difference California is eight hours behind UK and Ireland

Last week – Pebble Beach Pro-Am 1 T Potter (500-1), T2 P Mickelson (33-1), C Reavie (60-1), J Day (11-1), D Johnson (6-1)

Course overview Riviera Country Club has been used for this event (formerly the Los Angeles Open, Nissan Open and Northern Trust Open) every year since 1973 apart from 1983 and 1998. The only recent Major it has staged is the 1995 USPGA (won by Steve Elkington).

It has always been known as a faders’ paradise. The left-to-right shot-shape of Fred Couples guided him to victory twice in the early 1990s, and all-time greats like Nick Faldo, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson have prospered there since Boom Boom’s success.

Tom Fazio gently redesigned the track in 2008, lengthening the layout to combat technological advances. The lush kikuyu grass rough can be penal, the creeping bentgrass, Poa annua greens require plenty of getting to know, and there are lots of doglegs.

The tenth hole is a classic risk-reward driveable par four, which yields any score from a two to a seven, while the uphill 578-yard par-five is a serious test of muscle. The first is the easiest hole, the 12th is the most difficult

Story of last year Dustin Johnson rose to the top of the world rankings with a dominant Riviera display, leading by nine at one stage before cruising to a five-shot victory

Weather forecast Sunny with moderate breezes throughout

Type of player suited to challenge Quality ball-strikers with sharp strategies typically prevail at Riviera, and punters should concentrate on players who have plenty of course experience in their locker, preferably faders. It has become a long course since the redesign, with more powerful players starting to dominate the honours board.

Key attribute Accuracy

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Chappell traditionally starts the year slowly, unable to do himself justice at Riviera
E.W. Terms
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