By James Dalthorp
BEAST DOME NATION.
The story for golf fans is almost too surreal this year at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. At his last start two weeks ago, Tiger Woods was forced to answer a question within minutes of hearing that Kobe Bryant passed away two weeks back. Now playing just a few dozen miles from his childhood home town, he’s making his first start since. As the tournament host this week due to his sponsorship, this event will be an invitational for the first time thanks to a new partnership – making this an elite Tour stop with the honor which give out perks like a two-year exemption to the winner. Woods also happens to be seeking a new PGA Tour record for all-time wins, his 83rd, to break away from his current tie with Sam Snead.
The stage has been set. Southern California has been the motherland of golf’s greats in the past three decades and all of them are here. Tiger, Phil, and a myriad of mega talents. Only one of the top 10 ranked players in the world is not in the field – WMO winner Webb Simpson – and the venue, Riviera, will be an ideal place for the biggest event in 2020 so far to claim a champion.
This course favors bombers and has the most pronounced type of grass for golf courses on the west coast – a mixture of poa and kikuyu grass that tends to be a challenge around the greens. This is an event that has recently hosted a US Amateur that young players like Collin Morikawa and Matt Wolff (in the field) played in three years ago – and past PGA Championships and majors. Dubbed Hogan’s alley, the greens here are not too big and demanding. However, the full gambit of shots will be held up to an L.A. standard.
The greens at Riviera are giant, but they’ve got a ton of slope to them. Shotmakers with the ability to curve the ball, like Bubba, will thrive here. But make no mistake – the strategist that thinks their way around this course like Ben Hogan will certainly win. It’s more important to have the right angles coming in.
I’ll give you my top 6 picks to watch and I’ll let you decide where your ownership lies – all I know is that I was raised in Los Angeles and these native players would love nothing more than to own the Genesis trophy via Tiger Woods within just weeks of the passing of Kobe, Gianna, and the rest of the victims just one hour north of Riviera – near my high school – in that helicopter crash that was so recent in our minds. There will surely be a sense of gratitude in the air.
- TIGER WOODS
I didn’t have Tiger in my top 6 at the ZOZO Championship in Japan and I won’t doubt him again. Being objective, there’s a few important stats that should tell the story for Tiger at Riviera. Even though he has historically been very poor for him at this event, we are looking at a very strategically evolved Woods (it’s scary). In his dominant years, Woods excelled on par fives. His length was almost unmatched and his game elevated the sport. Today, he is no longer the longest player in the game. However, his par 3 scoring has become his strongest statistic. That is incredible. Much like Fred Couples, who Woods now enjoys the company of his old caddie, Woods will have the advantage of playing 4 of the Tour’s best par 3 holes with his newfound sense of pin-seeking accuracy. Knowing the history of this week, I believe Tiger will be in full flight. This is one of the rare events he has not won.
2. NICK TAYLOR
Hogan liked to hit the fade and I think the Hawk would love Nick Taylor’s ball flight. I’ve become a huge fan of Taylor’s mechanics after watching the Pebble Beach event this past weekend. Wow! His backswing is a bit upright and his hands get high, which reminds me a bit of Justin Thomas – while his downswing has just enough head dip that he has to be flawless with his hip turn and his rotation. He is! The golf swing is phenomenal and he has the short game to match. I think Taylor will go down as Canada’s greatest player. I’d give him 10-1 odds to win. He is that good.
3. PATRICK REED
Reed plays well on long, difficult golf courses. A lot of experts say this event is quite similar in output to the Masters and Reed, being the Augusta man, will have no problem putting that theory to the test. I think “Captain America” will be propelled to silence his haters and he has developed quite a few. But Reed is not someone that I think will back down from that hate in any way. He’s a guy who beats to his own drum and I really think that beneath his issues, there’s a guy who is truly just a monster of a competitor. Someone who is judged as harshly as anyone but ultimately has the mamba mentality.
4. RORY MCILROY
Speaking of Augusta, Rory’s looking for that elusive grand slam soon. Last year, he captured the Players Championship and we all thought he was on his way. His long game has been just as dominant as it was at that event last year. The Farmers was incredible to me. His 3 woods and long irons from the fairway bunkers were outrageously good. If your shots from 220-230 yards are on point, it makes Riviera half as a difficult as it looks. With that being said, Rory should be a favorite.
5. JUSTIN ROSE
Surprised? Don’t be!! I’m sure tons of people will be fading Rose this week and they have zero reason to! Sure, his form wasn’t perfect at the Farmers. He missed the cut barely, he shot 75-70. And it was not a good defense of his title. But defending titles in golf at places like Torrey Pines is ridiculous. Rose putted like an absolute SAVAGE in Hong Kong where Kuchar won a few weeks ago. The field wasn’t great, but everyone said that Finau’s value went down after he finished t5. Look how that turned out for him. The WMO was his best result on Tour to date. Rose has not played this event in 2 years, but the course has not changed. His finishes in those last 2 starts here: tied for 4th in 2017 and tied for 16th in 2016. In 2014, he made the cut and past that he didn’t play full-time over here anyway. He has constantly improved at this tournament.
6. ABRAHAM ANCER
His last round on Tour was that wild finish at the Desert Amex classic where he was absolutely unconscious. We haven’t seen too many guys with less than crazy driving distance contend here, but Ancer will be looking for more than just a score to settle with Woods. He’s a very competitive guy and I think this native poa will be just the thing the doctor ordered. IT would be the ideal place for Ancer to get a win.
Notes: Left handed players tend to well here and that bodes well for Bubba.
Poa Annua: the grass here is the most native type of So Cal grass. A lot of the Korean, Asia, and Australasian Tour members will be comfortable here and the success has showed over the years with players like Elkington and Baddeley. Badds is in the field.
Spaniards: Sergio Garcia has looked extremely good since he switched his equipment to a more personal favorite with Ping, and Jon Rahm is playing like the #1 player in the world. This could be his week to really break through.