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The PGA TOUR is ready to put a lid on the West Coast swing as they prepare for this week’s Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club.
This event has elevated status and is run by the Tiger Woods Foundation. While the Big Cat is not ready to return to action yet, we should see plenty of him in the coverage this week.
As an event with invitational status, the field is limited to just 120 golfers. There is still a 36-hole cut that trims the field to the top 65 and ties after two days of play.
Let’s jump in and talk about the Riv.
Riviera Country Club is the host course this week. It’s hosted all but two editions since 1973 (1983 was held at Rancho Municipal GC and 1998 was played at Valencia CC).
Scrolling through the scorecard, we see a par 71 that plays to 7,322 yards.
There is a good blend of holes but six of the par 4s play over 455 yards and the par-3 fourth also plays over 230 yards. Golfers will see plenty of mid and long-irons during their time spent at the Riv.
One thing I find interesting is that big hitters have been heavily rewarded here in recent years but golf course architecture fans still seem to give the course a seal of approval. Those two don’t usually go hand-in-hand.
What’s interesting about the distance debate here is that it all seems to have flipped when Bubba Watson won his first title back in 2014. He would later add two more. Each of the last eight winners has been long off the tee but in the decade before that, we saw the winner’s list include Mike Weir, Rory Sabbatini, Steve Stricker, Aaron Baddeley, Bill Haas, and John Merrick. None of them is known for their distance.
Did Watson provide a new blueprint for how to attack Riviera? Did equipment in general just make it easier to attack the course with power? Was it a course renovation? Whatever the case, there is no denying the advantage that heavy hitters have at Riviera Country Club.
There is no water in play which explains why the rate of penalties at Riviera CC is almost zero. The course defends itself through hole design, well-positioned bunkers, tricky pin positioned, or heavy sloping. Despite the lack of penalties in play, the field average still typically sits over-par at the Genesis.
For turf this week golfers will see kikuyu from tee-to-green with poa annua putting surfaces. The kikuyu is familiar to many Aussies, South Africans, and Koreans in the field but is not seen much in the States outside of California.
The green speeds typically run between 12 and 12.6 feet on the stimp. That’s very fast when you consider the severity of the slopes on these classical greens. The poa annua is notorious for getting golfers to miss short and mid-range opportunities. There will be lots of three-putts if you are tracking your golfers closely this week.
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Quotes on the Course
Rory McIlroy: “If you get on the wrong side of the hole, even some putts that you feel like you’re on the right side of the hole you’re being somewhat defensive because late in the day you don’t want to be leaving yourself too many three- and four-footers out here. So yeah, tough to sort of do everything today, but especially hole putts because the greens are so tricky and so fast.”
Patrick Cantlay: “There’s a lot of holes out here that are just how far and how straight can you hit your driver and then hit your golf ball in the right spot, but you can hit any shape you want. I don’t think you necessarily have to shape the golf ball, but you definitely have to be cognizant of where you’re leaving the golf ball even off the tee.”
Tiger Woods: “There’s no faking it around this golf course, especially if the greens are up to speed like they are right now. It puts such a premium on putting the golf ball in play and hitting the ball high. You’ve got to hit the ball high into any of these greens and really control your spin and put the ball in the right spots because getting up and down here, as we’ve all seen, kikuyu grass is not easy to do.”
Adam Scott: “I think it’s no secret the least putts are made here on Tour all year. The greens are quite severe. It’s an old traditional style golf course with severe greens, and then you get them at speeds 12 and a half this morning, last year they were very, very quick and if they’re just — poa seems like if it’s just not the right consistency of water versus firmness and everything, they get very bumpy and this is where we start struggling.”
Dustin Johnson: “Sometimes even with a wedge, you just can’t attack flags. That’s the hard part about being here, especially when the greens are firm. You’ve got to play away from a lot of flags and try to use the slopes to get it close.”
Tricky is a word that gets tossed around frequently at the Riv. That often refers to the firm greens and speedy, poa annua surfaces.
Using historical data from this week’s venue, we can look for other courses across the PGA TOUR schedule with crossover success (or failure). Here are the courses that pop up frequently:
There are two stand-out courses in regards to crossover success and failure at Riviera Country Club. You would expect Tiger Woods to have a much better record at the Riv based on these two being the linked courses. However, it’s important to remember that a blanket correlation does not mean that it applies to every individual golfer. There will still be nuances of each venue that may or may not fit a golfer’s eye.
Thursday: Sunny with a high of 70 degrees. Winds at 5 to 10 MPH.
Friday:: Sunny with a high of 72 degrees. Winds at 5 to 10 MPH.
The weather looks beautiful again this week. Mid-to-upper 60s for the week with a very low chance of any notable precipitation.
Golfers to Watch
He didn’t have his best stuff last week in Phoenix but still managed a top 10 at week’s end. Now he heads to Riviera CC where he is 3-for-3 with finishes of T9, T17, and T5.
The big hitter is a past champ at the Riv (2017) but generally finds himself in contention year after year at this event. Johnson has posted top-10 finishes in all but four of his 14 starts at the Genesis Invitational. He’s opened the new year with a T25 at the Farmers and a T8 at the Saudi.
He continued to ride the best wave of form of his career. Cantlay didn’t close out in the playoff last week in Phoenix but he’s now positioned himself at T12 or better after 23 of his last 24 rounds played. Riviera CC has been a happy hunting ground for him in recent years, posting four straight top 20s after missing the cut in his first two appearances way back in 2012 and 2013.
Speaking of happy hunting ground, Finau has a pair of runner-up finishes on his Riviera resume, including a playoff loss last year to Max Homa. On the flip side, he’s finished outside of the top 50 in four of his seven starts so there are lots of range of outcomes here.
Aussies have a reputation for playing well at Riviera CC over the years. Smith had this to say about that back in 2018, “Looks very similar to home actually. I think the bunkering, I’ve grown up on kikuyu so love the grass. It’s probably just the same sort of mix and style of holes we get at home.” The top performing Aussie over the last year has been Smith and he also boasts top 10s in four of his last four trips to Riviera CC.
He took his talents to the Middle East after posting a T5 at Kapalua. The youngster settled for finishes of T62 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC and followed that up with a T18 at the Dubai Desert Classic. Nothing to write home about but he’ll surely be happy to be back home on the West Coast. The Cal product has posted finishes of T26 and T43 in two tries at the Genesis Invite.
The big-hitting lefty poked his head into contention last week in Phoenix, like he often does. Now he heads back to a course where he is a three-time champ. On the flip side, he’s missed the cut in three of his last five starts here. Just like every year at Augusta National, Watson brings a lot of fantasy upside potential to the table but sprinkled plenty of ho-hum finishes around those wins.
Ranking the Field
1. Jon Rahm
2. Patrick Cantlay
3. Justin Thomas
4. Rory McIlroy
5. Dustin Johnson
6. Cameron Smith
7. Xander Schauffele
8. Viktor Hovland
9. Hideki Matsuyama
10. Scottie Scheffler
11. Collin Morikawa
12. Sungjae Im
13. Matt Fitzpatrick
14. Sam Burns
15. Adam Scott
16. Thomas Pieters
17. Will Zalatoris
18. Tony Finau
19. Jordan Spieth
20. Brooks Koepka