It's Time For Tiger's Tournament As The GOAT Tees It Up At Riviera For The Genesis Invitational

Chris Trotman. Getty Images.

WOO BABY do we have a treat on our hands this week. After another awesome tournament with a strong field in Scottsdale, the stars are out in droves for the Genesis Invitational. It's another elevated event, meaning anyone who's anyone on Tour is here and $20 Million is up for grabs.

This is the 96th edition of this tournament, making it one of the longest running on the PGA Tour. Originally (and most traditionally) known as the Los Angeles Open, this tournament has gone through numerous name iterations. It's gone from a variety of names from the LA Open to the Nissan Open to the Northern Trust Open to the Genesis Open to finally starting in 2020… its current name as the Genesis Invitational. 

Now what does "invitational" mean and how is it different than other tournaments? Glad you asked. Means a smaller field (129 this week) with more stringent predetermined qualifications and a bigger chunk of change and FedEx Cup points up for the grabs. Most tournaments on Tour have around an $8 Million purse and 500 FedEx cup points. This bad boy has been upped from $9.3M last year to $12M (!) last year, to the $20 MILLION this year that I mentioned before. Plus 550 FEC points to boot. Invitational status also means a few more sponsor exemptions from the tournament host. Arnie's got his tournament down in Bay Hill, Jack has the Memorial, and starting in 2020 this became Tiger's tournament. 

And better yet, the Big Cat is teeing it up. What a fucking treat. This tournament holds significance for Tiger as it's where he took his first shots on Tour as an amateur over 30 years ago.

Tiger also displayed unreal drip here as an amateur in '93. 

Last year's edition was won by Joaquin Niemann, who blitzed the field early and built a gigantic lead with back to back 63's to start the week. That featured a 6-shot lead after 20 holes and a -13 start in his first 27 holes. By early Friday morning, it felt a lot like the tournament was already over. Guy was playing out of his mind. Those 63's each actually tied what had been the lowest score at this event before Cam Young shot 62 on Friday to keep Niemann in his sights. From there, Niemann was able to fend off Young and a strong weekend from Collin Morikawa to earn the biggest win of his young career. 

It certainly felt Niemann had arrived. He's since joined LIV Golf, so he won't be defending his title here this week.

It's also worth noting Riv is where the Phil Mickelson "those Saudi's are scary motherfuckers" comments emerged, effectively burying his PGA Tour future (for now) and shaking up the golf world with it. Numerous players came out Sunday morning with statements (including DJ) pledging fealty to the PGA Tour. What a weird weekend.

Last year's leaderboard and recent winners.

2022 Leaderboard

Recent Winners

The Course

Riviera CC is a par 71 playing at just over 7,300 yards. That may not sound like a terribly long course for a par 71 relative to some other tracks on Tour, but that number is shortened considerably by the 1st and 10th holes. The 1st hole is the easiest par 5 on the entire Tour every single year. There's really no reason at this point for it not to be a par 4 with the way these guys hit it off the tee. The ravine that cuts off the fairway at about 320 yards keeps players from getting everything they can off the tee, but that hasn't stopped them from birdieing it more than half the time.

The rest of the course is challenging. You've got 6 par 4's in the 450-500 range that will bring the mid to long approaches into play, including the difficult iconic 18th hole with the blind tee shot up the hill. Miss left and you've got a nasty sidehill lie in the rough to contend with. Miss right and you've got tree limbs to contend with hanging over the right side of the fairway. With that said, overall length off the tee holds a bit more weight here than accuracy. The fairways are pretty narrow but the rough isn't all that punishing, so you can take your chances with a guy who gets it out there. 2019 Champion JB Holmes (who has fallen off the MAP btw) is a great example of that. Like Torrey Pines and Pebble the past few weeks, Riviera has poa annua greens, which are notorious for getting bumpier as the day goes on. 3-footers on Sunday can get real testy in a hurry on poa annua. Just ask Max Homa after he lipped out that putt on the 72nd hole two years ago.

This course is notorious for having a ton of leaderboard overlap with some place called Augusta National. Adam Scott's win in 2020 is a prime example of that. Riviera and Augusta both favor guys who can work the ball right to left, which is why drawers of the golf ball like Scott and lefties who cut it play well there. In fact, there are 3 lefties who have ever won The Masters - Mike Weir, Phil Mickelson, and Bubba Watson. All 3 of those guys have won MULTIPLE TIMES at this tournament. Pretty tough to ignore that type of pattern.

Best Hole - 10th Hole, Par 4 315 yards 

Stan Badz. Getty Images.

Ooooooweeeeeeee this is one of my favorite holes on Tour. It's one of the great risk-reward holes in all of golf and a source of great debate every year at this tournament. So much so that my associates Riggs and another coworker at the time had a back and forth on Barstool SPORTS dot com about it a couple years ago. The evidence appears pretty damning that the decision for these Pros to go for the green off the tee is the right one to the tune of 3/10 of a shot. But by no means does going for it and missing narrowly take a big number out of play. This green is so preposterously tight (especially back right) and slopes towards the bunkers both front and back of this green. If you blast your tee shot and find yourself on the downslope at the back of one of these bunkers, there's no virtually no shot of you keeping it on the green. Poor Scott Piercy will be our volunteer for the class. 

Missing long and left can also set up a bad angle where your margin of error on a flop shot is razor thin too. You're going to see a lot of guys try to fade 3 woods and long irons to the front left edge depending on where the pin is. The further back right that pin is, the more cautious they'll be. Regardless, it's going to be a lot of fun for all of us to watch. 

The Weather

Liiittle bit chilly out there in the mornings. Tiger's got an early tee time Friday (7:24 AM local time) so hopefully that won't slow him down too much. Hope we can avoid a frost delay like last week too.

TV Coverage

Appointment television at 3:04 PM ET on Thursday and 10:24 AM ET on Friday. I'm so excited I might expire. Speaking of…

Let's Talk About Tiger

Cliff Hawkins. Getty Images.

First off, our resident big J wrote an awesome piece on Tiger yesterday touching on his mental state that you should read.

He's also on the grounds giving updates as Tiger plays through a chilly pro-am this Wednesday.

My thoughts on this week in particular? Goddang am I just over the moon that he's playing. This tournament has never served him well - it's the one he's played most without a victory. I appreciate and love Tiger for his "I'm here to win" mentality - it's one of the many reasons that have made him so great. And it's super encouraging to see reports that he's walking better and see videos of him taking hellacious hacks.

But I think it would be healthy to temper our expectations for this week. He said himself that he still hasn't walked 72 holes in 4 days this year. Riv is not terribly hilly besides the 1st and 18th, but that's still a big task to ask for a 47 year-old who's gone through what he has. He's 150/1 to win this week and +160 to make the cut. That feels about right. 

Of course, when he comes out on a warm Thursday afternoon and makes a stress-free birdie on the easiest par 5 on Tour to start the week, we're gonna lose our minds. It's gonna be great and I can't wait. But we should also acknowledge that if there's a week for Tiger to conjure up some magic and earn that record 83rd PGA Tour win, this week probably ain't that week. 

I'm looking forward to seeing him hit some specials shots and give us some juice, but I'm more excited to learn where he's at in relation to the weeks to come. Indications from everything we've heard and seen so far this week makes me think Sawgrass is a growing likelihood, which opens the door to seeing Tiger a couple more times this year at non-majors. A healthy week where he makes the cut and finishes the tournament without looking too belabored feels like a nice ambitious goal for us all to root for.

The Trophy

Sean M. Haffey. Getty Images.

This is a little too modern for my taste. It's got that College Football Playoff meets F1 racing trophy vibe. I suppose that's the idea given that the tournament is sponsored by a foreign luxury car brand, but I like my trophies to look a lot less corporate. It's sleek, it's got shine, but it also looks like you could be eating two scoops of Rocky Road out of it. It's the epitome of a 4/10, but gets a bonus point because you get it from the GOAT. 5/10.

Give me the 2005 edition of the trophy instead, compliments of a young Adam Scott.

Scott Halleran. Getty Images.

The Board

Jon Rahm is your tournament favorite at +600 at the Barstool Sportsbook, a healthy gap ahead of Rory at +900 and reclaimed world #1 Scottie Scheffler at +1000. Is it safe to say now that these 3 are golf's Big 3?

Results for each of them at Riv in their career, starting with their most recent results:

Jon Rahm: T-21, T-5, T-17, T-9

Rory McIlroy: T-10, CUT, T-5, T-4, T-20, T-20

Scottie Scheffler: T-7, T-20, T-30, CUT

So while each of these 3 have had some decent results here, none can really claim a ton of success at Riv.

I'm gonna go with a pair of guys that played this course at the 2017 US Amateur and have had some early success at Riv.

It's Collin Morikawa +1800 and Viktor Hovland +2500

Morikawa took a run at Niemann last year with a Sunday 65 and is the only guy in this field who went sub 70 in all 4 rounds last year. He's got a little bit more value after he flamed out at Scottsdale with a MC, but his other starts this year are a solo 2nd at Kapalua and a solo 3rd at Torrey. Big time courses against some very solid fields there.

The Hov has played here twice, finishing T-4 and T-5. He's had some solid finishes this year but hasn't quite gotten himself into contention because of a shaky putter. Otherwise he's been striking it well. Putters run hot and cold and I'm hoping the poa annua at Riv can level the playing field a bit. It has in the past.

Other Plays

Morikawa Top 10 +210/Hovland Top 10 +250 - At least one of these two will shake out. 

Cameron Young To Win +3300/Top 10 +300 - He's my FOMO guy but this is also the tournament I've had circled for him going back weeks. His length plays here, which we all saw last year in his coming out party.

Tyrell Hatton To Win +5000/Top 20 +200 - Felt like he had a quiet year last year but he's been showing some good form recently. This is more about his talent level not warranting that price than it is course fit.

Keegan Bradley To Win +6600/Top 20 +225 - The new, lean Keegan keeps showing up on weekends. Great length and another hot/cold putter guy (and improved overall recently I might add) who I'm now convinced will win at some point this year.

Will Zalatoris 1st round over Cam Champ and JB Holmes (-186 under Round Props) - Holy hell do I keep finding Champ and Holmes at the bottom of every leaderboard they're on these days. Kind of an insulting grouping to Will Z tbh.

Tiger Woods Round 1 Score - U70.5 +138 - How could I not.

Tiger Woods To Make The Cut +160 - How could I not.

That's what I got. Gonna be an awesome tournament.

Enjoy Riviera.