Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles is the scene for this week’s Genesis Invitational, the third of the PGA Tour’s designated events which feature elevated prize funds and extremely strong fields.
It was prior to this event last year that Phil Mickelson’s comments about the Super Golf League – as it was then known – and the Saudi Arabian monarchy that were funding it, were published in an extract from Alan Shipnuck’s Mickelson biography, which prompted a troupe of PGA Tour stars including Dustin Johnson and Bryson DeChambeau to publicly distance themselves from the venture and declare allegiance to the PGA Tour.
McIlroy, speaking after the tournament last year, declared the startup that would go on to become LIV Golf “dead in the water” in his opinion, going on to quip that Greg Norman may have to tee it up himself to achieve their target of 48 players.
A lot has changed in the intervening year, and LIV’s success in enticing Johnson, DeChambeau, Cameron Smith and several other big names has perhaps indirectly led to the implementation of the designated events, where the field will this week compete for a $20 million purse, with the winner collecting $3.6 million.
Having been overtaken at the top of the world rankings by Scottie Scheffler following the Texan’s impressive victory at the Waste Management Phoenix Open last week, McIlroy can turn the tables again with a win, albeit at a venue where he’s had mixed experiences through the years. There are several permutations in which McIlroy can re-ascend to the summit, but all require a top-three finish at worst, and are dependent on Scheffler and Jon Rahm’s finishes. Only a win would guarantee McIlroy the number one ranking.
Making his first start on US soil in 2023, McIlroy was a little out of sorts in Phoenix, with inconsistency across all aspects of his game. In many ways, his performance was similar to that at the Dubai Desert Classic at the end of January, where, despite not having his ‘A’ game, he found a way to win, but the field in Phoenix was considerably stronger than that which he faced in Dubai.
Three top-10s in his last four starts at Riviera suggests that it’s a golf course that suits, but he’ll need to sharpen up his driving in particular and will be hoping for a little more luck with his putter.
Always a big crowd draw, McIlroy will play second fiddle in the group to tournament host Tiger Woods, with Justin Thomas rounding out the three-ball that are due to tee-off at 9.04pm Irish time.
Woods, making his first regular start on the PGA Tour since a near-fatal car crash following the staging of this event in 2021, provided a huge boost to both the tournament and the PGA Tour when he announced his intent to play last Friday.
Last seen at the PNC Championship – the annual family hit and giggle – alongside son Charlie, Tiger’s inclusion came as a surprise to most, including the likes of Jon Rahm and Jason Day who were notably surprised when informed of Woods’ entry after their rounds at TPC Scottsdale on Friday.
Without a win in 14 attempts – albeit one of those as a 16-year-old amateur – his home championship is one of very few to have escaped Tiger’s claws through the years, but the 15-time major champion is very much insistent that he’s not here on a ceremonial basis.
Speaking to the press on Tuesday, Woods was firm in his belief that he can still contend and still win at the top level, insisting that he wouldn’t be there otherwise. We haven’t seen Tiger walk 72 holes since The Masters last year, with a final-round withdrawal coming at the PGA Championship, and a missed 36-hole cut at St. Andrews.
Riviera is a relatively hilly course, particularly the regulation first and last holes, and if nothing else, will give a clear indication of where his post-crash rehabilitation is at. Regardless of performance, Tiger mania is guaranteed from the L.A. crowd.
Seamus Power arrives at Riviera in relatively good nick, coming off a T20 finish in Phoenix having made the cut on the number. The world number 28 hasn’t finished outside the top-25 on a tour event since the week prior to his Bermuda Championship victory in early November, and at 28 in the world, is now at an all-time high ranking.
A missed cut here last year, along with a 64th place finish in 2019 suggest that this may not be an ideal setup for the Waterford man, but his career is on an entirely different trajectory these days. Despite currently lying fourth in the Fed-Ex Cup rankings, Power is something of a forgotten man by tournament organisers, and he’s grouped with Chad Ramey and Lucas Glover, and they go off the tenth tee at 9:15pm, directly opposite Scottie Scheffler, Jordan Spieth and Collin Morikawa who’ll follow the McIlroy and Woods group off the first tee.
Shane Lowry completes the Irish lineup, and the 2019 Open champion will be happy to put the last few weeks behind him. After a disappointing Hero Cup performance – at least on paper – he let a good chance slip in Abu Dhabi, then missed the cut in Dubai before opting to part ways with caddie Brian ‘Bo’ Martin.
With Bray man Darren Reynolds on the bag, another missed cut followed in Phoenix, but Lowry will be hoping to turn things around on a golf course that, on paper, should suit the Offaly man. However, a WD in 2017 and a missed cut in 2018 are Lowry’s only previous outings at Riviera, but such is the bar that Lowry sets for himself, he’ll not be content with marginal improvement.
One thing that may put some pep in Lowry’s step is the group that’s he’s placed with; 2021 Masters Champion Hideki Matsuyama and recent Pebble Beach Pro-Am victor Justin Rose will accompany Lowry off the first tee at 9:26 pm in round one, directly behind the Scheffler grouping.
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