Wednesday, February 14, 2018

PGA Tour Preview: Genesis Open

By Kevin Krest

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Last Week

For the second week in a row, a 30-something outlasted a strong list of challengers to get a big victory. Ted Potter, Jr. held on to par his final 11 holes while paired with Dustin Johnson, who was out-driving Potter by an average of 30 or more yards every hole. Potter won the Greenbrier Classic in 2012, then went through four years in the golfing valley after breaking his foot and requiring a couple of surgeries.

The journeyman's final round was a thing of beauty, with Johnson, Jason Day, Phil Mickelson, Jon Rahm, and Jordan Spieth in pursuit and none of them could finish within 3 strokes of the winner. As promised, the weather was spectacular, as were the views of Stillwater Cove and resident wildlife in the water. I thought CBS did a better of job of focusing on the professionals rather than the celebrities, which resulted in an improved and more exciting broadcast.

This Week

Genesis Open
Pacific Palisades, California
Riviera Country Club - Par 71

The strongest field of the season to date descends on Riviera Country Club, a course that has been dubbed "Hogan's Alley" due to Ben Hogan's success there in the 1940s and 1950s. Tight fairways and difficult approach shots to greens guarded by long Kikuyu grass creates an equalizing effect for the golfers that are accustomed to bombing long drives and playing out of the rough with short irons. The fact that Dustin Johnson won last year's event was proof that he had made great strides in his overall game and course management. The club has been home to many of Hollywood's elite since being built in 1926 and has been the primary host of what started as the Los Angeles Open since 1973.

History

Probably one of the most notable facts about what is now the Genesis Open is that neither Jack Nicklaus nor Tiger Woods can count the tournament among their staggering number of combined wins. Without question the two best players in the history of the game, it's a testament to the toughness of Riviera Country Club and the depth of the fields that they're winless in this event.

Of course, Tiger Woods returns to the site of his PGA Tour debut as a 16-year-old amateur, when he missed the cut, giving the now 42-year-old another chance to get a win. Lloyd Mangrum and Macdonald Smith won a record 4 titles, followed by Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer with 3. Hogan also won the 1948 U.S. Open at Riviera Country Club.

Other multiple winners of the tournament include Billy Casper, Tom Watson, Lanny Wadkins, Fred Couples, Corey Pavin, and Mike Weir, all major champions. The final uphill shot to the 18th hole, which is situated below the magnificent clubhouse, offers one of the great views in tournament golf. The combination of the difficulty of the last hole and the usual tight finishes at this tournament make it a necessity to tune in as the players finish their rounds.

2018 Field

* Twenty-one of the top 27 finishers from last year's tournament are in the field

* Six of the top 10, 12 of the top 20, and 36 of the top 50 in FedEx Cup points

* Four of the top 10, 11 of the top 20, and 26 of the top 50 in the World Golf ranking

* Twenty-three countries represented

* Five colleges have four or more former players represented: Oklahoma State (5), Arizona State (4), Florida (4), Texas (4), UCLA (4)

Oldest Player

Vijay Singh (54)

Youngest Player

Zecheng Dou (21)

Major Champions (20)

Tiger Woods (14), Phil Mickelson (5), Ernie Els (4), Rory McIlroy (4), Jordan Spieth (3), Vijay Singh (3), Padraig Harrington (3), Bubba Watson (2), Retief Goosen (2), Jimmy Walker, Graeme McDowell, Adam Scott, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Keegan Bradley, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel, Lucas Glover, Geoff Ogilvy, Jim Furyk

Total Tour Victories

444 (Tiger Woods, 79)

Total Major Victories

51 (Tiger Woods, 14)

Past Champions

Phil Mickelson (2), Bubba Watson (2), Dustin Johnson, James Hahn, John Merrick, Bill Haas, Aaron Baddeley, Charles Howell III, Adam Scott, Ernie Els

Who's Hot

Chex Reavie, although he hasn't yet recorded a win this season, is coming off consecutive runner-ups and has yet to miss a cut in nine events. He currently stands at No. 6 in the FedEx Cup standings and has risen to No. 43 in the World Golf Rankings. The winner of the 2008 Canadian Open seems to be rounding into form and with the way he keeps the ball in fairway, the 36-year-old out of Arizona State should have a good chance to break through again at Riviera.

Who's Not

Former No. 1 in the world Luke Donald turned 40 late last year and hasn't been relevant in a couple of seasons. He's fallen to 177 in the World Golf Rankings and is struggling at number 183 in this season's FedEx Cup points race. Donald was always particularly steady at the height of his success, hitting fairways and greens while winning 5 PGA and 6 European Tour events. That consistency seems to have eluded him so far this season, as he comes into the Genesis having missed his last 3 cuts on the PGA Tour. He'll need to find something that's eluded him in 2018 to climb back into contention.

What to Look For

Given the Riviera layout, one would assume accuracy off the tee and precision into the small greens would be at a premium. However, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, and Bubba Watson have combined for five wins at Riviera, hardly a trio that's known for holding back. The beauty of Riviera is that there is a certain amount of risk and reward, but the trick is understanding how to balance them.

Tiger Woods was talking earlier this week about how it's time for him to start thinking about winning. That will be quite the challenge on a golf course where, at least by his standards, he's had very little success. Even though Mickelson and Dustin Johnson failed to run down Ted Potter, Jr. last week, they're both playing pretty well and have past wins at Riviera.

A player I always think is dangerous at these older courses is Matt Kuchar, who is accurate, long, and consistent. If someone doesn't go low, Kuchar and Reavie could be in the mix come Sunday afternoon. As for Tiger, success would be another made cut and a top-20 finish.

Kevin Krest is the author of the entertaining PK Frazier series of sports suspense novels and the co-host of the weekly "The Cold Hard Truth: On Sports" broadcast. His books can be found on Amazon.com.

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