Genesis Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
RIVIERA Country Club hosts the Genesis Open, where defending champion Bubba Watson will be desperately trying to rediscover his form and get his career back on track. Since being overlooked by Davis Love III for the US Ryder Cup team at Hazeltine, Watson has barely played a round of golf worth the name and is starting to slip down the world rankings. He will hope that a return to Pacific Palisades in California can trigger something good in the memory bank.
It was interesting to note that after missing the cut at the Phoenix Open, Watson decided not to go home. Instead he remained at TPC Scottsdale and actually went out and watched some of the action from the last rounds. Indeed, he was seen inside the ropes during the playoff between Hideki Matsuyama and Webb Simpson.
Watson is a complex character. He has what could at best be described as an agricultural golf swing but he possesses incredible hands and a sublime sense of timing that enables him to batter the golf ball miles and shape it both ways. The problem with a swing such as his is that when it goes awry, it really goes awry. It is well known that Watson is prone to turn on the waterworks when he wins, and he has also been known to turn his ire on his caddie. Interestingly, he is a big crowd favourite but is not universally popular among his fellow tour professionals. But nobody enjoys watching a rival struggle, and there will be many rooting for Watson this week.
Watson won last year and also in 2014. The 2010 champion was Steve Stricker, in 2011 it was Aaron Baddeley, Bill Haas in 2012, John Merrick in 2013 and James Hahn in 2015. Clearly, Watson is a big hitter, but most recent champions have been shotmakers who possess terrific powers of recovery and putt well, which explains why Phil Mickelson has performed so well here in the past. Dustin Johnson also has a couple of runner-up finishes to his name at Riviera. It was here back in 2001 that Robert Allenby of Australia won an extraordinary six-man playoff. Other past winners of what used to be called the Los Angeles Open include Corey Pavin and Nick Faldo, who were both renowned for being able to put the ball in the right place.
This 7,340-yard course has seen plenty of drama over the years. It features wide, rolling fairways and there are plenty of trees to catch wayward drives. The man who wins is likely to be the player who hits the most fairways, and he will not have to be somebody who can drive the ball 320 yards.
Who fits the bill this time? How about Ryan Moore? The American is due a big win and this course suits his game. He played well here 12 months ago and, of course, capped 2016 with his wild-card pick for the Ryder Cup after going head to head with Rory McIlroy in the Tour Championship. Moore did everything but win that event but he proved to himself that he was good enough to compete with the best in the world. He doesn't hit the ball terribly far, but he does hit it straight and he is a brilliant iron and wedge player.
It is also time that Marc Leishman completed his return to the top echelons of professional golf with a victory against the best players. The Australian helped to nurse his wife back to health after she almost died and, like Moore, is one of the nicest men you could ever wish to meet. With the problems in his home life behind him, many people feel that golf owes Leishman something, and your correspondent just happens to be among them. Take a look at PGA Tour leaderboards over the past year or so and you will see Leishman's name figuring on a fairly regular basis. You get the sense that the next victory could be the first of many.
It is also extremely difficult to ignore the credentials of Johnson. Apart from twice finishing second here, he was fourth in 2016, just two shots behind Watson. If he has one of those weeks where he hits the ball straight and finds his best with his short irons then he will be the man to beat. Paul Casey has performed well here in the past too and after so many near misses he must make the breakthrough again before very much longer. The Englishman is a brilliant ball striker and when his putter gets hot he is capable of shotting some very low scores indeed.
Sergio Garcia will hope to take the form that saw him win the Dubai Desert Classic across the Atlantic with him. Many pundits believe that this could be a big years for the Spaniard, one where he finally breaks through and wins the major that has so far eluded him. There would be no more popular winner, but you have to wonder whether Garcia himself actually believes he can do it. But this is a run-of-the-mill tournament, and he has accumulated a fair number of them over the years.
If you are looking for a European who might just do well at Riviera, look no further than Thomas Pieters, the giant Belgian who made such an impression at the Ryder Cup last year. Pieters has the game to thrive on the PGA Tour and will enjoy this course. A top-10 finish is well within his capabilities.
The hottest men in golf, Justin Thomas and Hideki Matsuyama, are in the field, along with a back-to-form Jordan Spieth and Jason Day. With The Masters less than two months away, Spieth is fast approaching his best again and will be a hard man to beat.
As expected, Tiger Woods announced he would be withdrawing both from this tournament and the following week's Honda Classic. Right now, it is the saddest and sorriest story in golf, and a happy ending look increasingly unlikely.
To Win: Jordan Spieth. Good to see him smiling and winning again
Each Way: Hideki Matsuyama. His great form will surely end sometime
Each Way: Ryan Moore. Should find Riviera made to measure
Jordan Spieth. Looks like a winner again
Hideki Matsuyama. Just gets better and better
Ryan Moore. Takes it all in his stride
Paul Casey. Has played well here in the past
Marc Leishman. The game owes him
Jason Day. Finally free of injury
Branden Grace. It all depends on his putting
Tony Finau. A great sight when in full flow
Thomas Pieters. Will surely shine on the PGA Tour
Phil Mickelson. Keeps contending
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