The Genesis Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
THE most eagerly-waited comeback in golf reaches its next stage at Riviera Country Club when, all being well, Tiger Woods continues his rehabilitation from the back injury that threatened to end his career for good. The Genesis Open is hosted by the Tiger Woods Foundation, which has raised tens of millions of dollars. Proceeds from this tournament help the foundation’s college access programmes in southern California and it comes as no surprise to learn that Woods’ presence as a competitor has led to a huge spike in ticket sales, which means his foundation will raise even more money from this tournament.
You may be surprised to learn that this is an event Woods has never won. It was won in 2011 by Aaron Baddeley, in 2012 by Bill Haas, in 2013 by John Merrick, in 2014 and 2016 by Bubba Watson, in 2015 by James Hahn and by Dustin Johnson last year. Watson, Hahn and Johnson are all bombers, as is Phil Mickelson, who won in 2008 and 2009 and finished runner-up in 2012. Apart from his victory last year, Johnson also finished second in 2014 and 2015.
This is a huge season for Watson, who suffered the worst year of his career in 2017. The left-hander with the most idiosyncratic golf swing on the PGA Tour is a two-time former Masters champion. A nine-time winner on tour, Watson’s last victory came at the Northern Trust Open two years ago. Last season he missed the cut in three of the four majors and his world ranking is on the slide. In 2015, Watson was ranked second in the world – he is now struggling to remain in the top 100. The most alarming aspect of his decline has been its speed. In 2016 he played in 19 tournaments, missing just one cut. He won once, finished second once and had four top 10 finishes. He was controversially left out of the Ryder Cup by captain Davis Love III – and it hurt him to such an extent that he asked Love for a role as a non-playing assistant captain. At the time, he was ranked seventh in the world.
And then there was 2017, when he missed seven cuts and his best finish all year was a tie for fifth at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. He made the FedEx Cup playoffs by the skin of his teeth, but was unable to make it through to the Players Championship.
A player who swings the club the way that Watson does is always going to struggle to hit fairways. He has depended on his extraordinary length and strength to muscle his way out of poor lies in the rough, but the crucial thing is that when winning tournaments he possessed an magical touch on and around the greens, and that seems to have deserted him. Watson is a proud man and has worked hard during the winter. Only time will tell whether he can turn things around.
If it is a big year for Watson, the same applies to Mickelson. With 42 wins to his credit, the 47-year-old remains one of the biggest crowd favourites on the PGA Tour and he is desperate to play in the Ryder Cup for a 12th successive time, but his last win came at The Open Championship in 2013. His record in the majors is astonishing, with five wins, 11 runners-up and 54 top-25 finishes. On 14 occasions he has finished in the top in the money list and has earned a mind-boggling $84m in prize money.
That he remains competitive is beyond argument. Last year he only missed two cuts, although both of those came at majors, The Open and the US PGA Championship. He had five top 10s and 13 top-25 finishes but, crucially, he never looked like winning and it came as a surprise when he was chosen for the Presidents Cup, although he produced some fine form to help the USA win.
If you believe in horses for courses, it is difficult to see past Dustin Johnson making a successful defence of his title. His triumph here 12 months ago was the first of three on the trot – he followed it by winning the WGC Mexico Championship, where he saw off the challenge of Tommy Fleetwood, and the WGC Dell Technologies Matchplay. It was a run that cemented his position at the top of the world rankings and saw him head to Augusta as red-hot favourite to win The Masters before he fell down some stairs and suffered an injury that meant he was sidelined for several weeks. In truth, he never fully recovered that stellar early-season form, but the Dustinator is now back to his brilliant best.
What of Woods? Every time he tees it up there is a huge weight of expectation on his 42-year-old shoulders, but we have to be realistic and accept that it is highly unlikely that he will be challenging for victory in what is effectively only his second full comeback tournament.
Justin Thomas. Never knows when he is beaten
Rory McIlroy. Made a great start to 2018
Jordan Spieth. Looking for a win ahead of The Masters
Justin Thomas. Riviera is made for his game
Rory McIlroy. Can win anywhere
Jordan Spieth. Huge crowd favourite
Phil Mickelson. Still looking for that elusive victory
Dustin Johnson. Another course he loves
Brendan Steele. In a rich vein of form
Keegan Bradley. Will win again this season
Adam Scott. Needs to arrest rankings slide
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