The Genesis Open tees off this week no longer with Tiger Woods, but 13 of the world’s top 20 make up a very strong field in California.
More specifically, eight of the world’s top 10 will be on the fairways at Riviera Country Club including world-number-one Jason Day, number three Dustin Johnson and last week’s winner at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am Jordan Spieth.
Spieth, 23, now boasts the record of being the second youngest player in PGA Tour history to reach nine victories, behind none other than 14-time major champion, Woods. He’s done so in just 100 events and only Rory McIlroy (82) can join Woods (61) in being ahead of Spieth in that regard.
Ongoing back issues, causing a missed cut and Friday withdrawal in his last two events, led to Woods’ withdrawal from both this event and the Honda Classic in the midst of, what was supposed to be, a run of four starts in five events. The 41-year-old would have been returning to the event at which he made his first PGA Tour start aged just 16 in 1992; although he is still yet to win it.
Bubba Watson defends his title this year after a one shot victory over Adam Scott and Jason Kokrok last time out. The former has won here himself, though, in 2005, in a shortened two round format due to rain, winning the first hole of a Monday play-off.
Watson is a two-time winner along with veteran Phil Mickelson, 2008 and 2009, and the pair are joined as returning champions by Bill Haas, John Merrick, James Hahn, Charles Howell III and Aaron Baddeley.
No player has racked up more second place finishes without a win here than the previously mentioned Johnson; the American enters here with seven top 10 finishes in his last nine starts, most recently coming third at last week’s Pebble Beach event.
Riviera Country Club has hosted this event since 1973 with exceptions in 1983 and 1998 when the course prepared to host major championships. It sits at a lengthy 7349 yards at only a par 71 meaning that distance will pay dividends to longer hitters. That said, the players open to a relatively easy, short par five but that’s about as easy as it will get with a big test on the second hole, stroke index one. Big challenges lie ahead on the fourth, described by Ben Hogan as the “best par three in America,” ninth, 15th and 18th.
The $7 million prize-fund is the highest it’s ever been with the winner receiving just over $1.25 million as Hyundai Motor Group takes sponsorship of the event for the first year, hence the name change.
In a season of so many young winners, with Spieth becoming the seventh straight PGA Tour event winner in his 20s alongside the likes of Justin Thomas and Hideki Matsuyama, and so many youngsters making up the top 13 entrants, perhaps the expected should be expected this week.