Pebble Beach has better scenery and the Players’ Championship more prize money, but when scanning the PGA Tour’s season-long schedule nothing catches the eye like the annual visit to Los Angeles, entertainment capital of the world and home to Riviera Country Club.
It is on that famous old course, a magical layout tucked just off Sunset Boulevard, that the field of the 2019 Genesis Open will tee it up on Thursday morning.
And what a field it is. The PGA Tour, which for years was reluctant to pair its most telegenic players together over the first two days, has no such inhibitions these days, a welcome change in attitude that will see Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy step onto the first tee at 12.22pm local time on Thursday.
It doesn’t get much more telegenic than that, although just to make sure, the tour has completed the three-ball with Justin Thomas, former World No. 1 and arguably the best of the younger crop of Yankee Doodle superstars.
Spectators should be advised to get there early. The galleries will be deeper than a Colm Toibin novel. As for bettors – a word of caution is advised.
While Woods and McIlroy offer plenty in the way of star power, there is less certainty about what they offer in value. Woods, especially, might be one to avoid. The great man made a respectable start to his 2019 campaign with a top-20 finish at the Farmers Insurance Open a couple of weeks ago.
But that was around Torrey Pines, a place where he has won eight times. He has history in this event too – Riviera was the site of his first PGA Tour appearance, as a 16-year-old amateur – but not the good kind.
Eleven subsequent appearances have yielded a handful of top-ten finishes but no wins. “But the course fits my eye,’’ the former World No. 1 has argued countless times. Maybe so, but has never fitted his game, even when he was at the peak of his powers. McIlroy’s history here is shorter but hardly any more illustrious.
Riviera is a tight property by the standards of a modern PGA Tour venue and is perhaps not best suited to his expansive brand of golf.
The poa annua greens are bumpy and never less than tricky to read, which won’t be much help as McIlroy continues to search for a reliable putting method. Yet the Irishman is nothing if not a mercurial genius. His absolute best is never far away, his sense of drama never knowingly undersold.
Write him off at your peril but just don’t bet the mortgage.
The upshot for those who cannot avert their gaze from the marquee threesome of the week is that Thomas might be the most attractive proposition. The young American is hardly a well-kept secret, he has won a Major championship after all, but what is slightly overlooked is the consistency of his brilliance.
He hasn’t won since last autumn’s Bridgestone Invitational but he is permanent presence on leaderboards these days, a tribute to his all-round game. Thomas drives the ball straight and long, he strikes his irons beautifully and holes more than his share on the green. Riviera places demands on every aspect of a player’s game. Thomas looks well equipped to meet such demands, if not all the way to Sunday then certainly over the opening two days, where he might shock a few punters and take Woods and McIlroy to the cleaners.
As for a winner? Thomas has a real chance, but can he outlast the real Riviera form horses, the likes of Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson, who between them have won the last three stagings of this tournament? Bubba, of course, blows hot and cold on a daily basis.
Johnson, on the other hand, is just hot. He won in Saudi Arabia a couple of weeks ago and comes to Los Angeles primed to add another PGA Tour win to that European Tour triumph.
With heavy rain forecast for the first two days, lengthening the course and dispiriting two-thirds of the field before a ball is struck, his odds of 9/1 should arguably be shorter than they already are. Expect him to see him around late on Sunday afternoon. Very late.
Three others to note:
Branden Grace (50/1): Is there a more underrated player in golf? The South African came close in Phoenix a couple of weeks ago and looks poised to have a big year on the PGA Tour. His experience of Riviera is limited, but when you plays as well as he who cares about experience?
Tony Finau (28/1): Not exactly one of golf’s noted closers, the amiable American giant is nevertheless a reliable candidate to give anyone a run for their money. A soggy Riviera Country Club track should be right up his street.
Adam Scott (30/1): Remember him? The Australian has hinted at a return to something like his best form, most recently with a second-place finish at Torrey Pines. He has won at Riviera before and has finished inside the top-10 four times. He loves the place. Don’t be surprised if this week, it loves him back.
*Odds correct at time of posting