The PGA Tour concludes its west coast swing this week with the Genesis Open at historic Riviera.
A strong field with the likes of Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, defending champion Dustin Johnson prepare to take on the venerable track. .
Riviera provides a classic design and is one of the most historic courses on the PGA Tour schedule. The course also boasts one of the best closing nines in all of golf, which always makes for an exciting conclusion.
This week’s event also brings a merciless end to CBS’ coverage for awhile. NBC will broadcast the next batch of events before CBS takes over again at The Masters.
As mentioned above, Riviera is one of the most well-respected courses on the PGA Tour. Despite the tournament changing names numerous times, the event has been played every year since 1926. The event travelled throughout a number of great courses in the greater Los Angeles area before finding a permanent home at Riviera in 1972.
Known as “Hogan’s Alley,” because of the success Ben Hogan had there, Riviera has hosted three majors – the 1948 U.S. Open (won by Ben Hogan), 1983 PGA Championship (won by Ben Crenshaw), and 1995 PGA Championship (won by Steve Elkington). The track also held the 1998 U.S. Senior Open and the 2017 U.S. Amateur will be contested there.
Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Johnny Miller, Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw, Phil Mickelson, and Ernie Els are some of the Hall of Famers who have conquered Riviera.
Tiger made his PGA Tour debut at this event at the age of 16 in 1992. However, Tiger and Jack Nicklaus were never victorious at the course – unusual for such a premiere event.
There is no shortage of scenic holes and Riviera, but the two that stand out are 10 and 18.
No. 10 is the most famous short par-4 in the world. On the card, the hole measures only 315 yards, but the architecture of the green handcuffs players from the tee.
Even if a player lays-up, they still could have a brutally difficult 100 yard shot if they are not positioned correctly. The approach shot requires incredible precision, and if you are off by just a yard or two, the awkwardness of the green can cause impossible up-and-downs and have a player staring at a bogey or worse.
If a player goes for the green, they need an equal amount of precision. If the drive ends up in the wrong spot, a player could be 20 yards for the green and unable to hit the green on the next shot.
The 18th is one of the most iconic closing holes in golf. The uphill tee shot forces players to hit to a blind landing area that slopes severely from left-to-right.
The approach shot is uphill and a player rarely has a even lie in the fairway. The shot plays to a deep and narrow green surrounded by an amphitheater of fans.
Riviera is also a strong indicator of success at The Masters. The abundance of dogleg-lefts requires a player to be in control of their right-to-left ball flight – a skill that is also necessary for success at Augusta National.
One more note about Riviera – the greens are poa annua, but almost every other grass strain on the course is kikuyu. Kikuyus is a stickier grass that often gives players fits, especially with delicate shots around the green. Just something to keep an eye on as you watch this weekend.
Last Year’s Event:
Dustin Johnson overpowered the rain-soaked Riviera Country Club en route to a five stroke win over Thomas Pieters and Scott Brown and his 13th career victory. With his win and Jason Day’s T-64 finish, Johnson now moves to No. 1 in the world for the first time in his career.
Because of record-breaking rains in the Los Angeles area on Friday, the timeline of the tournament was pushed back and many of the leaders had to play the third and fourth rounds on Sunday.
Johnson was the 36-hole leader and his third round 64 earned him a five-shot lead and removed any doubt of who was walking away with the title as the final 18 was a formality.
After two rounds, a strong leaderboard was setting the stage for a potential showdown between some of the biggest names in the game. Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth were lurking, bot only Johnson was able to catch fire over the final two rounds.
Because of the delays, the outcome was a foregone conclusion by the time CBS came on the air on Sunday. Even though there was no drama, Johnson’s power off the tee and improved putting game were on full display as his lead grew as large as nine before he made a few careless mistakes on the back nine.
Most Memorable Moment:
I’m going to put two here. The first one coming in 2001 in a six-man playoff – the largest playoff in PGA Tour history. That kind of playoff would seemingly go on forever, but not so fast.
On a wet cold day in Los Angeles, six men made their way to the par-4 18th tee to commence the playoff. After putting his tee ball in the fairway, Robert Allenby then smoked a four-wood approach (which should show how long the course was playing), to six feet of the back-right hole location and made the ensuing putt to clinch the tournament.
The next moment came at the 2012 event. Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley were in the final group of the day and came to the 18th trailing clubhouse leader Bill Haas by one stroke.
Both players hit their approach shots about 20-25 feet away and the ensuing putts caused an unprecedented decibel level at Riviera.
As David Feherty, who was following the group for CBS, said “Wow! That was loud!”
However, after those dramatics, Bill Haas drained a 35-footer on the second playoff hole (No. 10) to earn the title.
Chez Reavie: The way Reavie has played the past two weeks makes this less of a dark horse pick, but he is still outside of the top-40 in the World Golf Rankings (#43), which is the criteria for this category. He lost in a playoff in Phoenix and tallied a T-2 last week at Pebble. Next to Dustin Johnson, Reavie is playing as well as anyone on tour and look for him to contend again this week.
Otter Room Pick:
Dustin Johnson (-14): This pick is hardly going out on a limb, but no one is playing better than Johnson right now and Riviera fits his eye. Last week was clearly a missed opportunity and look for Johnson to use that runner-up finish at Pebble as motivation this week.
Stay tuned to The Otter Room for a complete recap to the Genesis Open Sunday