Golf’s Best will Put Riviera to the Test This Week at Genesis Invitational
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson and defending champion Adam Scott will headline a stellar field for this year’s edition of the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club. One of the most populat stops on the PGA TOUR, the four-day event begins this morning and, weather permitting, will end Sunday afternoon.
Tournament host and 15-time major winner Tiger Woods will be in attendance but will not play because he is still recovering from a back procedure last month. Woods has yet to win at Riviera in 13 tries (twice as an amateur and 11 times as a pro), though he captained his team to a 12-9 triumph over Bubba Watson’s team in a four-ball match play-style Celebrity Cup on Riviera’s back nine last year.
There are several intriguing storylines leading into the 2021 tournament, starting with Scott’s pursuit of a third win at Riviera, although his first ‘W’ in 2005 was not “official” because rain shortened that year’s event to 36 holes. Only seven times in the 94-year history of the L.A.-based tournament has a defending champion repeated. The last player to do so was Phil Mickelson in 2008-09.
First played in 1926 and then called the Los Angeles Open, it is the TOUR’s fourth-oldest event outside of the majors. This is the second year the tournament has “invitational” status, making it one of the most prestigious and richest venues in the sport.
Riviera, which was given the moniker “Hogan’s Alley” after the legendary Ben Hogan won there three times in the 1940s, is hosting the event for the 59th time (all but twice since 1973) and, despite the fact that there will be no spectators lining the fairways due to the coronavirus pandemic, grounds crews have been hard at work preparing the lush greens for the wear and tear of championship-level golf.
After opting not to play the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Johnson, who won the Genesis in 2017, is back in action. Scott has not missed a cut this season. He tied for 10th in his last start at the Farmers Insurance Open.
Notables in the invitation-only field include major champions Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Collin Morikawa, and Francesco Molinari, plus world No. 2 Jon Rahm. Past winners at Riviera include J.B. Holmes, James Hahn, Charles Howell III, and Watson. Tae Hoon Kim won The Genesis Championship in Korea last fall to secure a spot in this year’s Genesis Invitational field.
Two-time FedExCup winner Rory McIlroy looks to finally lift the trophy at Riviera after holding a share of the lead on Sunday last year before tying for fifth. The U.S. Amateur champion always gets a spot in The Genesis Invitational, so Tyler Strafaci will tee it up along with the previous three U.S. Amateur winners—Andy Ogletree, Viktor Hovland, and Doc Redman, who won the 2017 U.S. Amateur here at Riviera.
In addition to reigning champ Johnson, FedExCup winners in the elite field in 2021 include Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Brandt Snedeker, and Jim Furyk. Whoever wins picks up 550 FedExCup points—50 more than last year—and pockets $1.67 million.
Designed by George C. Thomas Jr. and William P Bell, Riviera has no water hazards but is tough enough without them. The par 71, 7,322-yard course has been a PGA TOUR staple for going on six decades. Three times it has hosted a major championship (the U.S. Open Championship in 1948 and the PGA Championship in 1983 and 1985). The local club on Capri Drive off Sunset Blvd. is perennially ranked among the top 100 in the world with its compact design known for primary rough consisting of thick Kikuyu grass, a bunker in the middle of a green and its driveable 10th hole.
One of the game’s most famous holes, the Par 4, 475-yard 18th at Riviera spells doom for even the best players and it’s at that famous green nestled below the clubhouse where the championship is often won or lost on Sunday afternoon.
Willie Mack III joins the esteemed list of Charlie Sifford Memorial Exemption recipients to tee it up at Riviera. For Mack, it will be his second start on the PGA TOUR. The 11-time winner at Bethune-Cookman University made his PGA TOUR debut at Torrey Pines when an exemption intended for Kamaiu Johnson opened up due to Johnson testing positive for COVID-19. The Sifford Exemption has been awarded annually since 2009 and three past recipients—Jeremiah Wooding, Varner III and Joseph Bramlett—have made this year’s Genesis cut. The final spot in the field was decided in dramatic
fashion Monday when Angus Flanagan of the University of Minnesota birdied the third playoff hole to edge Tim Widing of the University of San Francisco to win the Collegiate Showcase. Flanagan will join past collegiate showcase champions Will Zalatoris (2015) and Scottie Scheffler (2018). Any player who moves into the top 10 of the FedExCup standings (and not otherwise in the field) after this week’s Genesis Invitational will earn a spot in next week’s World Golf Championships at The Concession, so there is a lot more than money on the line.
If this year’s final round is half as exciting as last year’s was, it is anyone’s guess who will top the leaderboard after 72 holes. Scott fired a 1-under 70 to hold off Sung Kang, Scott Brown and Matt Kuchar by two strokes last February. It was the Australian’s 14th TOUR win and 29th victory worldwide, yet it was anything but easy. Five players held a share of the lead at some point on Sunday, including McIlroy, whose 2 over dropped him into a group with Hideki Matsuyama, Bryson DeChambeau, Max Homa, and Joel Dahmen. Woods struggled the last two days and placed 68th, last among those who made the cut.
Lanny Wadkins set the Riviera scoring record 36 years ago when he shot a 20-under par 264 to win the 1985 event (then called the Los Angeles Open) by seven shots over Hal Sutton. The 35-year-old Wadkins earned his 14th TOUR win thanks to rounds of 63, 70, 67, and 64.
The record for lowest round in tournament history is 61, shared by George Archer (who did it in the third round in 1983 at Rancho Park) and Ted Tryba, who pulled it off in the third round at Riviera in 1999. Archer won the event in a playoff in 1972. Tryba never won, although his 10-under card in the third round led to a tie for second behind winner Ernie Els in 1999.
Watson won what was formerly called the Northern Trust Open in 2014 and 2016, then in 2018 he joined Hogan and Lloyd Mangrum as the only three-time winners at Riviera by posting a 2-under 69 in the final round of the Genesis Open.
The Tiger Woods Foundation became the host organization of the tournament in 2017.Woods grew up in Cypress and made his professional debut at Riviera back in 1996.
“This is where it all started for me,” Woods said. “It was my first PGA Tour event, I was 16 years old, I weighed about 105 pounds and it was a life-changing experience for me. This is a great opportunity for my Foundation and it means so much to contribute to a community that has supported me and my Foundation over the years. “I look forward to starting training and I’m focused on getting back out there and competing.”
Woods won his last major at The Masters in Augusta in 2019.
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