The first full-field designated event was a big success last week and they’ll go right back to well this week at Tiger’s event. It’s the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club, hosted by Tiger Woods and his foundation.
Speaking of the man, Woods blessed us with a surprise announcement last week that he plans to play this week, in addition to his hosting duties.
He won’t be the only star in attendance as 23 of the top 25 in the world were part of the early commit list to this week’s event.
Similar to last week, we have an overfilled field list with 130 slated to play, at press time. The intended field size is just 120 golfers but they allow everyone in the Top 125 FedEx bucket to play. That means 11 more golfers would have to WD before they even consider the list of alternates. The low 65 and ties will make it through the 36-hole cut to play the weekend.
The Riviera Country Club returns to host another edition of this event. It’s played that host role since 1973 with a few exceptions along the way (1983 was held at Rancho Municipal GC and 1998 was played at Valencia CC).
This George Thomas design was laid out in the 1920s and is generally well-received by the golf architecture community.
Off the tee, golfers find themselves attacking without much fear of missing the fairway. Not that they won’t miss fairways, because the fairways-hit rate is one of the lowest on TOUR here, but the penalty for missing the fairway is relatively small here compared to the average venue.
What do we attribute that to? One thing that likely plays a factor is not much water in play and very few OB concerns. That puts the big numbers out of the picture for the most part. There are always exceptions (usually bunker related) but overall this is a bogey-heavy course but not a double-bogey course. So, golfers who miss the fairway are often able to poke it up to the green, or close to it, and find themselves with a par-saving putt.
The importance of approach play gets amplified due to the trickiness of the greens. With bumpy poa annua greens in the equation you want to limit the times you short-side yourself and also limit the amount of knee-knocking five-footers for par. Even the best of putters can’t rely on those to fall consistently at Riv. Last year was a bit of an outlier in that regard and golfers talked about the greens being smoother than usual due to the weather patterns leading up to last year’s event.
Last year’s winning tally of 19-under (Joaquin Niemann) was the lowest we had seen at Riv since the 1985 Genesis. Ten of the last 12 winners have failed to eclipse the 15-under mark at week’s end. I think it’s a little early to say the course is easier now and instead we should probably just consider 2021 to be a weather-based outlier.
Sifting through some past quotes, let’s try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Adam Scott in 2022: “I think the greens are challenging and they do reward a shot justly, let’s say. If you hit a really good 6-iron in, you get a good result. If you hit an average one in, you’re going to be working to potentially two putt or chip and putt. I think the balance is very good on this golf course all the way around.”
Max Homa in 2022: “There’s not any tricks to it, there’s no water, there’s even very little out of bounds and it points you where you need to go and you’ve just got to figure out if you can be ready for that test. I think people really appreciate that. I don’t think that you have to be long to win here, I don’t think you need to be anything in particular to win here, I think you can just go out and win if you play a great week of golf. I think that’s why guys really love it.”
Patrick Cantlay in 2022: “I think it defends par without getting tricked up better than any golf course I’ve ever been to. They rarely grow any rough, there’s basically no rough out there, there’s no water, you only can really hit it out of bounds on the 12th hole and yet 13 to 16 under wins pretty much every time. They could make it a lot harder if they wanted to, and they give you the first hole as a par-5 with a 3-wood and a 7-iron. I think it’s an amazing test of golf.”
Golfers tend to like having no hazards on their way to the green, allowing them a miracle save from time to time without dropping shots in bundles. Don’t mistake that for ease, though, as we see plenty of bogey trains at Riv.
Using historical data we can look at overperformance and underperformance at this week’s host course and compare that to all of the courses played out on TOUR. Here are the ones that shared a lot of overlap:
Muirfield Village GC
Crush driver and be smart with your approach shots, that is the main theme of these courses.
Thursday: Sunny with a high of 62 degrees. Winds at 6 to 16 MPH.
Friday: Sunny with a high of 61 degrees. Winds at 8 to 12 MPH.
It’s still early but it looks like we’ll see calmer conditions after a windy week in Phoenix.