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Genesis Invitational Preview, Picks & Analysis

By: | Mon 14 Feb 2022 | Comments


THE strongest field of the year will gather at Riviera Country Club as Max Homa defends his Genesis Invitational title. The tournament is hosted by Tiger Woods, so you can also be sure that there will be feverish speculation surrounding the 15-time major champion and his likely comeback date.

Rory McIlroy will make his first PGA Tour start of 2022 after two decent finishes in the Middle East, and he will be determined to claim a victory as soon as possible. He finished third at the Dubai Desert Classic and was tied 12th at the Abu Dhabi Championship and had chances to win both. He will still be smarting from failing to finish the job in Dubai, where he dumped his second shot in the water at the final hole with the title at his mercy. 

He told us at the beginning of the year that he was planning to leave his driver in the bag more often and reach for the three wood in order to find more fairways, but when it came down to it he found the temptation to reach for the big stick too much. And although he drove the ball pretty well in the Middle East, there were too many missed fairways. He also demonstrated his frailty on the greens once more. But he does appear to be playing with more freedom than we saw for much of 2021 when he was trying to bed in some swing changes under the watchful eye of coach Pete Cowen. The Northern Irishman has, of course, sincee parted company with Cowen and is beginning to look like the player we all know him to be.

McIlroy will always make mistakes - he is that type of golfer. But he has enough in his locker to overcome the errors and is predicting a big year for himself in 2022. We will find out a lot about where his game is this week.

Open champion Collin Morikawa also played in both the Abu Dhabi Championship and Dubai Desert Classic and had two weeks to forget. Given his remarkable consistency, it was a huge surprise to see him struggle. He admitted that he was battling with his swing and said that, for the first time in his professional career, he was having to iron out some kinks. You can be sure that he will arrive at Riviera in good shape.

There is a strong European representation this week, with Thomas Pieters, Robert MacIntyre, Matt Fitzpatrick, Seamus Power and Francesco Molinari all in the field. This is a course that should suit Fitzpatrick as it calls for a strategic approach and there is no more thoughtful golfer anywhere in the world than the Englishman. Pieters is also on a high after his recent victory in the Abu Dhabi Championship. Pieters should be made for American conditions and with his confidence sky-high he could well break his duck on American soil.

The tournament was won last year by Max Homa. He beat Tony Finau in a playoff to claim his second PGA Tour title. With Finau burning up the course ahead of him, Homa came to the par-five 17th hole needing a birdie to tie. But he lost his approach shot in a bunker on the right, leaving himself short sided. A clutch shot followed by a six-foot putt sent him to the 18th hole knowing one more birdie would secure victory.

He struck a glorious drive followed by a wedge to three feet but with Woods looking on, Homa missed the tiddler.

“Obviously wasn't a very good putt,” he said. "It broke a little more than I would have liked it to for a three-footer. I just was a little nervous, honestly. This tournament means a lot to me.”

Before the playoff, Homa received a message from his wife, Lacey.

“She called me after I missed that putt and told me to remember to forgive quickly and it was kind of perfect because I had played a pretty perfect round of golf, so what was there to be too mad about? I was about to be in a playoff at the place I first fell in love with golf.”

That resolve was further tested shortly after when his tee shot on the par-four 10th opening playoff hole rolled up against a tree. He produced an incredible recovery shot to the green that would ultimately help extend the playoff. 

“Sometimes when you get your creative brain working, you see it. I felt pretty good about putting it on the front right of the green,” said Homa. “Sometimes you have to trust your instincts and that's kind of the fun of golf. It's not always fairways and greens, you've got to be an artist at times and fortunately I did it when I needed to.”

After that escape a par on the second playoff hole was enough to give Homa the victory. He moved to 10th spot in the FedExCup and secured a berth in the World Golf Championships - Workday Championships at The Concession, not to mention a three-year exemption on Tour for winning the elevated status event.

“I don't know if I could ever do anything cooler in golf than this,” Homa beamed. “Just for me, for my caddie Joe, we were raised 25 miles north of here. Tiger Woods is handing us a trophy, that's a pretty crazy thought. We grew up idolizing him, idolizing Riviera Country Club, idolizing the golf tournament. To get it done, it's almost shocking, but it feels like it just can't be topped.”

Tournament Winners

The tournament was won in 2015 by James Hahn, in 2016 and 2018 by Bubba Watson, in 2017 by Dustin Johnson, in 2019 by JB Holmes, in 2020 by Adam Scott and last year by Max Homa.

The Course

Riviera is a par 71 measuring 7,322 yards. It was designed by William Bell and opened in 1926 and was redesigned by Ben Crenshaw in 1992. It has hosted the US Open and US PGA Championship. It is a course that calls for accuracy from the tee.

Form Guide

Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy has continued where he left off in 2021 and should have won the Dubai Desert Classic, where he finished third. Jordan Spieth will be looking to go one better than the second-place finish he achieved at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He says that he feels his game is exactly where he wants it to be. As ever, the key for Spieth is his form with the driver. If he can find plenty of fairways he will be there or thereabouts.

To Win:

Rory McIlroy. Could really do with a win

Each Way:

Jordan Spieth. Confidence is sky high

Players to Watch:

Rory McIlroy. Stick with the three wood Rory

Jordan Spieth. Must keep it on the short grass

Matthew Fitzpatrick. Riviera is made for him

Thomas Pieters. Full of self-belief

Five Outsiders to Follow:

Robert MacIntyre. Scot needs to start delivering

Adam Scott. A two-time winner

Christiaan Bezuidenhout. It’s only a matter of time for the South African

Joel Dahman. Has been knocking at the door

Bubba Watson. Loves this place


Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography


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