As the calendar turns to the second week of February, and with the California swing in full-bloom, it feels like we are finally getting into the thick of the PGA Tour season, and this week brings us to another venerable Tour staple, the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, CA. Riviera is one of the longest-serving courses that has welcomed events on the PGA TOUR, having hosted this tournament (formerly known as the Los Angeles Open and the Northern Trust Open) since 1973.
Designed by George Thomas in 1926, and given a “facelift” by Tom Fabio in 2008, Riviera has long been called a “thinking man’s” course, as each and every hole provides a different and unique challenge as it winds its way through the Pacific Palisades neighborhood just west of Beverly Hills. Its location has provided an allure of sorts to celebrities over the years, as notables such as Humphrey Bogart, Glen Campbell, Mark Wahlberg, Dean Martin, Walt Disney and many more have carried memberships at Riviera.
The field this week is stacked as well, with the likes of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Cantlay, Justin Rose, Jason Day, Hideki Matsuyama, Bubba Watson, and many more all teeing it up – making it by far the most loaded field we’ve seen all season.
Playing at 7,322 yards for its Par 71, Riviera plays long, with just three Par 5s – two of which are in excess of 575 yards – and eleven Par 4s; half-a-dozen of those weigh in at a lengthy 450 yards or more.
Tight driving lines and narrow fairways suggest that plenty of players will spend a good amount of time looking for their balls in the primary rough – although knowing where to miss might be key, as JB Holmes triumphed here last year despite missing a third of all fairways.
There are doglegging holes that require shot shaping either way, with undulating fairways and strategic bunkering ensuring that there’s plenty of jeopardy off the tee and on approach. The Poa Annua greens are smaller than usual too, and run at a fairly speedy pace of near 12.5 on the stimpmeter.
It has often been referred to as a bomber’s paradise, but in actuality, while length off the tee will certainly be a notable skill in the bag to have, it is mid-to-long iron play and prowess on and around the Poa Annua greens that will most likely lead to a profitable weekend at the 2020 Genesis Invitational.
Must-Have #1: Tony Finau
In looking at the recipe for success at Riviera, not many in the field check as many boxes as this tall, talented bomber from Utah. Over his past 12 rounds, Finau ranks 1st in the field in SG: Ball Striking, 2nd in SG: Around the Green, 9th in SG: Approach, 1st in Approach from 150-175, and 8th in Scrambling.
That steady play has allowed this former Big Break contestant to post a run of solid finishes in his last four starts on the PGA Tour. In a sure sign that he’s trending upward, Finau finished 10th at the Hero World Challenge, 14th at The American Express, 6th at the Farmers Insurance, and then 2nd place his last time out at the Waste Management Open (a tournament he really should have won).
Perhaps that close finish will leave him motivated to come to Riveria hungry to seal the deal, and the fact that he is coming to a place that he has had success at in the past is certain to help. He had a runner-up finish in 2018 here, and just last year finished T15, so we hope for another lofty finish this week.
Must-Have #2: Collin Morikawa
There is a great new crop of young, talented golfers that have emerged on the PGA Tour in recent years, but perhaps none more so than this ultra-talented young man and former Cal Golden Bear.
Already a winner on the PGA Tour in his first season, taking home the Barracuda Championship trophy last year, this 23-year old has the goods to be stacking his trophy case for years to come.
His all-around game is always on display, and he has ranked 2nd in the field in SG: Approach, 5th in Ball Striking, 5th in Scrambling, 7th in Approach 150-175, and 26th in SG: Around the Green over his last 24 rounds.
An impressive form line to start the season so far, he has made every cut while compiling a 25-21-21-7-22-36-42-10 string of finishes.
While he has never played this tournament before, his skill set seems very in tune with what will be required to challenge and conquer Riviera this week.
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