Published:February 16, 2017 8:53 am
Gone are the days when some of golf’s best players felt the PGA Tour season didn’t really begin until it reached Florida. There is no shortage of star power in LA.
And it wasn’t that much different across the West Coast Swing, which started in Kapalua and ends this week at Riviera at the Genesis Open with a field that features eight of the top 10 in the world. And it would have been nine of the top 10 if Rory McIlroy were not recovering from a rib injury. Riviera has a lot do with that.
“It’s my favorite golf course on the PGA Tour, so I’m very excited to start my season here like I have a few times in the past, and hopefully kind of pick up where I left off here last year,” said Adam Scott, who makes his American debut this week.
Scott finished one shot behind last year, then went to Florida and won the next two events.
He also was the wrong guy to ask about the importance of getting off to a good start in a week where the forecast is ominous. Rain is expected to be heavy and steady Friday, with traces still lingering on the weekend.
Scott’s only “victory” at Riviera still doesn’t count. That was in 2005, when it rained so hard that the field managed only 36 holes, and Scott won in a playoff on Monday. He received the money and got his name on the trophy, though the tour requires at least 54 holes to be completed to count it as official.
“I’m determined to get an official win here, and hopefully, it’s this week,” he said.
It won’t be easy.
Jordan Spieth is coming off a four-shot victory at Pebble Beach in which he found the right recipe for putting on poa greens. Spieth is concerned only with the speed of the putt, not whether it goes in. He took only 23 putts in the third round when he built a big lead, and played the final 28 holes without a bogey.
So when he was practicing at Riviera on Tuesday and was on the putting green, he couldn’t help but notice the number of players watching him. Spieth is regarded among the best putters on tour, anyway, but there was special attention paid because of the poa greens.
“Putting on poa annua greens, you see guys get so frustrated and they start second-guessing themselves,” Spieth said. “You see more putter changes in the West Coast Swing, probably double than you see the rest of the year. So just experience of recognizing that you’re going to hit good putts that don’t necessarily go in because the type of grass is a little stickier and the footprints are more significant and it can kind of shoot balls offline easier.”
For all the stars at Riviera – British Open champion Henrik Stenson is the only other player from the top 10 not at the Genesis Open – the tournament lost a little buzz from Tiger Woods withdrawing with recurring back problems.
Woods was supposed to play his hometown event for the first time since 2006, a product of his foundation taking over as the host organization under.
Even before that, Riviera typically had the strongest field of an increasingly strong West Coast because of the fabled golf course. But the entire West Coast has shown more signs of a youth movement. The last seven PGA Tour events have been won by players in their 20s.
And unlike a few generations ago, when the likes of Greg Norman, Nick Price and even Curtis Strange never really got going until Florida, there have been pockets of great players competing the last six weeks.
Justin Thomas swept Hawaii. Hideki Matsuyama won again in Phoenix. Sergio Garcia, who also makes his American debut this week, won two weeks ago in Dubai.
And now they have congregated off Sunset Boulevard.
“It speaks about the quality of the golf course, the quality of the event, and it’s as simple as that,” Garcia said. “For the top players, at the end of the day your try to look for tournaments that fit your schedule, but at the same time, tournaments that you think the course is a good, solid test. Riviera is definitely one of those.”
Jason Day, the No. 1 player in the world, is at Riviera for the first time since 2012. He could lose the No. 1 ranking this week if Matsuyama or Dustin Johnson were to win. Spieth can only go as high as No. 2 without another victory, and he’s as confident as anyone in the field.
Spieth has only won back-to-back weeks once in his career. That was at the end of 2014, when he won the Australian Open and then flew halfway around the world to Florida and won the Hero World Challenge. This was only a short flight down the coast.