Many consider Torrey Pines to be the time when golfers start their lead-up form to the major-championship season but this week's event, The Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club, is another big checkpoint.
This is when the heavy hitters from the Euro Tour start to arrive and ramp up their PGA TOUR schedule. The latest schedule iteration has made that even easier. The Euro Tour does not have another single-sanctioned event for the next two weeks. It really becomes a month off for a lot of the mid-tier golfers overseas but those lucky enough are able to come to the States and get their reps in.
This week's tournament may have a new name but it's still the same course we've seen for decades.
The biggest change this year is the field size. As an invitational, it's limited to just 120 golfers instead of 144 as we've seen in the past. Golfers sitting on the Korn Ferry Tour reshuffle don't have a shot to play this week unless they've been crushing it this season or receive a sponsor's invite. Unlike most events, the list of alternates actually pulls from this year's FedExCup standings so names like Tom Hoge, Harris English, and Mark Hubbard will be the first names called if the current field dips below 120 due to WDs.
A big part of the elevated tournament status was the fact that Tiger Woods and his foundation are the hosts here. It's a little ironic that Riviera is the course he's played the most on TOUR without a win (12 starts, 1 runner-up finish).
Getting back to a one-course event, Riviera Country Club will play the role of host for all four rounds this week.
The George C. Thomas design was first used at the LA Open back in 1929 and it's been the primary host since 1973 with a few exceptions (Rancho Municipal in 1983 and Valencia in 1998).
This classical design is a par 71 that plays to 7,322 yards on the tournament scorecard.
The raw yardage isn't overwhelming but when you dive deeper you see that six of the par 4s play over 455 yards. Driver becomes a key tool this week. That's easy to see when you look at the list of recent winners which includes J.B. Holmes, Bubba Watson, and Dustin Johnson winning a combined five times here over the last six years.
From there, golfers have to deal with kikuyu and rye on their way to approaching small greens (average just 5,000 square feet). The field has averaged just 57% of greens in regulation here since 2010. These small greens certainly reward good iron play.
Once golfers reach those small surfaces, they will be dealing with poa annua turf that typically runs on the fast side, 12 to 12.75 feet on the stimp.
From a scoring perspective, this track is tough. Since 2013, it ranks as the sixth toughest in terms of Bogey or Worse percentage of all courses on TOUR. It's only behind courses like Augusta National, Torrey Pines South, PGA National, Quail Hollow, and TPC San Antonio. On the bright side, it's in the top half of all courses in terms of Eagle Rate. We can thank the par-5 first hole for that as it sits right around just 500 yards and yields eagles to more than 5% of the golfers that stroll through. Last year it surrendered 29 eagles while the entire course gave away 45 for the week.
Weather-wise, this event typically sees temps in the mid-60s without much breeze. We'll check on this week's forecast in a little bit.
Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Tiger Woods: "There’s no faking it around this golf course, especially if the greens are up to speed like they are right now. It puts such a premium on putting the golf ball in play and hitting the ball high. You’ve got to hit the ball high into any of these greens and really control your spin and put the ball in the right spots because getting up and down here, as we’ve all seen, kikuyu grass is not easy to do."
Graeme McDowell: "I love the way this golf course sets up. There’s not a lot of rough, but because of how soft the fringes are and how firm the greens are, it makes fairways a premium because you can’t attack the greens from the rough. So I love the setup. It’s definitely a patience game, and when you get out of position you’ve got to be really smart about getting your ball back in the right side of the hole. "
Jordan Spieth: "I’m not quite patient enough to play this golf course. I really need to approach it a lot like I approach Augusta. It has a lot of similarities in the way you have to attack it, which center of the green is fantastic. "
Branden Grace: "this is similar to courses back home. We’ve got the same grass on the fairways, in the rough and on the greens as well, so pretty used to it but still have to grind it out. "
Adam Scott: "I think it’s no secret the least putts are made here on Tour all year. The greens are quite severe. It’s an old traditional style golf course with severe greens, and then you get them at speeds 12 and a half this morning, last year they were very, very quick and if they’re just — poa seems like if it’s just not the right consistency of water versus firmness and everything, they get very bumpy and this is where we start struggling. "
Overview: A word that keeps getting thrown out here is PATIENCE. There aren't a lot of scoring opportunities here so you just need to grind out some pars and then attack the scoreable holes which are really just 1, 10, 11, and 17.
Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:
Torrey Pines South (Farmers)
Augusta National (The Masters)
Silverado Resort and Spa (Safeway)
GC of Houston (Houston Open)
Muirfield Village (Memorial)
Pebble Beach Pro-Am Rota
The theme this week is West, Poa, and Fast Greens. All of the courses above are going to check at least one of those boxes. The scoring environment also plays a factor.
Thursday: Partly cloudy with a high of 69 degrees. Winds around 8 MPH.
Friday: Partly sunny with a hig of 68 degrees. Winds around 8 MPH.
This forecast looks pretty typical in the sense that golfers with see temperatures in the mid-60s and not much wind to worry about.