By Dave Shedloski
The final stop on the West Coast for the PGA TOUR is one of the most popular on the entire schedule. The Genesis Open, the 15th event of the season, annually draws a tremendous field, and this year is no exception. Heading to revered Riviera Country Club are three of the world’s top four players — defending champion Dustin Johnson, No. 3 Jordan Spieth and No. 4 Justin Thomas — and six of the top 10 in the FedExCup standings: Johnson, Thomas, Brendan Steele, Chez Reavie, Pat Perez and Austin Cook.
Also in the field is No. 10 Rory McIlroy, an array of past champions including the likes of Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Ernie Els and Bubba Watson. And Tiger Woods, who grew up in nearby Cypress, California, and played in his first TOUR event at Riviera in 1992 as an amateur, is making his second start of the season, as he continues his comeback from a back injury. It’s his first appearance in the tournament since 2006.
The Genesis Open, which began in 1926 as the Los Angeles Open, is the seventh-oldest tournament on the PGA TOUR. Riviera opened in 1927 and first hosted the tournament in 1929. It also has welcomed the U.S. Open, PGA Championship and U.S. Amateur. The par-71 George C. Thomas design is a pure shot-making challenge measuring 7,322 yards because of its tight winding fairways and small greens.
CBS Sports on-course reporter and swing analyst Peter Kostis breaks down some of the key storylines this week.
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Tiger Woods, who has never won at Riviera, is back for his 11th start there and 12th in the tournament. Given what we’ve seen so far, how do you think he’ll do?
The first thing that comes to mind is that Riviera is a significantly less forgiving golf course than when he played at Torrey Pines. We don’t know if he’s fixed the driver problems we saw in San Diego or if he’s going to go mostly with 3-woods off the tee. We don’t know what his course of action will be. But this is going to be a sterner examination of his comeback, the sternest to date. And he never really has had good vibes at Riviera. So if he plays well there, that will really mean something. It’s going to be very interesting.
The guy who is probably the most dangerous is defending champion, Dustin Johnson, who is coming off a disappointing tie for second at Pebble Beach. He has two wins and seven top-10s at Riviera.
He’s healthy, and he’s motivated, and he clearly loves Riviera. He looks like he’s still a little rusty at the start of the year, because he hasn’t played a lot of competitive golf. But he has a lot of confidence, and he’s clearly the guy to beat wherever he plays. We know how well he drives it, but his wedges are now really good, and he’s putting it well.
Other than his putting, Rory McIlroy looked good at Pebble Beach. Assess his progress in the new year.
He is going to be in for a really good year. His putting has looked markedly better. He’s working hard at it. That said, I don’t think it’s instinctive yet. He’s still a bit too mechanical. He wants to release the putter, but it looks like he’s trying to release it instead of just letting it happen. That’s only going to be cured with more play. He’s got to stay patient, because he’s still playing his way into shape.
How special is Riviera on the PGA TOUR schedule? The place is cool. What makes it such a great test?
It’s an iconic golf course, and I don’t use that word lightly. I’m a huge fan of what it is, a great test of golf with small greens. Golf courses, like Pebble Beach or Spyglass last week or Riviera this week, that aren’t 7,500 yards long are genius golf course designs. They are brilliant in their architecture, and the examination they present to players is complete. They withstand the battle against equipment and the golf ball. You don’t need overly long golf courses to test today’s players. When you simply answer how far guys are hitting it by making courses longer, the more they’re going to figure out how to hit it farther. So look at Riviera for its brilliance. You have to think and strategize your way around as well as hit good golf shots. And that’s enough.
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Give us a favorite and a dark horse for this week.
Well, you’re looking at a ball-striker’s place, so you have to like DJ (Dustin Johnson). Paul Casey is a solid ball striker, and he finished second there three years ago. My dark horse in Chez Reavie, who has been close lately. And what is his game? He is very much about ball-striking, playing to positions. That is exactly what you need at Riviera.
Journalist and author David Shedloski of Columbus, Ohio, has been covering golf since 1986, first as a daily newspaper reporter and later as a freelance writer for various magazines and Internet outlets. A winner of 23 national writing awards, including 20 for golf coverage, Shedloski is currently a contributing writer for Golf World and GolfDigest.com and serves as editorial director for The Memorial, the official magazine of the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. He is the author of five books and has contributed to three others, including the second edition of “Golf For Dummies,” with Gary McCord. His last book was a collaboration with Arnold Palmer for his final autobiography, “A Life Well Played,” published in 2016. He’s a fan of all Cleveland professional sports teams, the poor fellow.