Sobel’s Genesis Open Preview: Thomas Tops Our List of Ball-Strikers for Riviera

Feb 12, 2019 05:07 PM EST

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: (From left) Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy.

  • Dustin Johnson (+800) and Justin Thomas (+1200) are the favorites to win the 2019 Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club.
  • Jason Sobel breaks down the field for the tournament and makes a case for his favorite bet for the weekend.

I’ve been watching a lot of “Deal or No Deal” lately. That’s an admission, not some kind of strange humblebrag.

Don’t get too jealous of my glamorous life, but NBC brought the show back recently and it’s been re-airing late at night, so I’ve watched a bunch of ‘em.

First things first: It’s not a great show. I’m sure there are people out there who are still binging The Wire or Mad Men and enjoying a much better viewing experience than me.

But … I also can’t look away.

Every single episode starts with an overenthusiastic contestant, their overenthusiastic family standing nearby, telling host Howie Mandel some semblance of the following: “I came here to win the million and I’m not going home without it!”

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Of course, this is idiotic. If the contestants were actually being truthful about it, that would mean they’d never take a deal and each show would last about three minutes as they open every case, finally seeing what’s in their own and simply hoping for the seven-figure payday.

That never happens, though. Instead, some guy who started the game by so adamantly insisting he was going to win a million dollars suddenly realizes that walking away with $67,000 is a pretty good deal.

A simple Google search shows multiple internet sites devoted to game theory and risk assessment within the show, which makes sense; the entire concept is like one constantly changing math equation.

What doesn’t make sense is how the show consistently finds contestants who have no understanding of these basic principles and wind up winging it in front of audience hooked on the adrenaline of pushing forward.

Anyway, the entire concept makes me think of betting every time — and more specifically, golf betting.

Too often, many golf bettors — you know who you are — are simply looking for the big hit, putting all of their allocated cash into an individual player to win. Essentially, they’re hoping that guy opens his suitcase and shows ‘em the million.

That’s not how the game is supposed to be played, though. Over the long-term, it can be smarter to hedge, or simply find lower-risk bets despite the lower potential reward.

Anyway, let’s move on to the Genesis Open, which can’t start soon enough, so I can stop watching these overenthusiastic contestants on this damn game show.

In my picks below, you won’t find Tiger Woods, who has curiously never won at Riviera, nor will you find Phil Mickelson, fresh off a Monday victory at Pebble Beach.

You will find a bunch of ball-strikers, players whose games should fit the course nicely this week.


Justin Thomas (+1200)

The second-favorite in the field was also my favorite entering the week, fresh off third-place finishes in two of his last three starts. And it felt like he figured out Riviera last year, his first top-10 in four tries. So, why do I write “was” instead of “is”?

When the PGA Tour announced its featured groups, they offered up a sequel to last year’s opening 36-hole trio of Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods.

That didn’t go so well, prompting JT to say of the experience afterward, “The hardest is definitely the crowds and just getting everyone to turn their phones on silent and stop taking pictures and moving.”

It should come as little surprise that he was three strokes better during the final two rounds than the first two, and I expect a similar result this week.

I still think he can win and like him in all formats, but that Tiger grouping could hurt –if not in the rowdiness itself, then in a potentially negative attitude about right from the start.