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5 Players to Watch at The Genesis Invitational

By: | Tue 15 Feb 2022 | Comments


After the magnificence of the WM Phoenix Open, Riviera Country Club is preparing for its annual week in the limelight as the world’s best contend for the lucrative Genesis Invitational.

You can expect a stellar field this week, as the Genesis is one of only five annual events that have been sanctioned ‘invitational’ status by the PGA Tour.

Typically, the field is reduced and includes only 120 players, but the sponsors and organisers of the event can be more choosey, in regard to who to include.

As a consequence of this - and a rather large cheque - the world’s best usually arrive at Riviera with one goal in mind: success.

History

The inaugural event of this iconic tournament took place in 1926 and it was held at Los Angeles Country Club.

This competition has been held at several golf clubs, including: El Caballero Country Club, Wilshire Country Club, Hillcrest Country Club, Fox Hills Country Club and Griffith Park.

Historically, the LA Open was the first tournament of the new season, played in early January originally but moved to late January before settling in the latter half of February from 1974 onwards.

In 1992, Riviera Country Club was the location for Tiger Woods’ first PGA Tour event as an amateur player, when a 16-year-old high-school sophomore.

You’ll also be interested to know that two of the greatest golfers of all time, Woods and Jack Nicklaus, have failed to win the event.

The 2001 edition matched history as a six-man playoff was required to determine the winner - only the second time that had taken place in the history of the PGA Tour.

Phil Mickelson won this title in 2008 and he successfully defended it the following year after a narrow, one-stroke victory.

Following The National’s redundancy - a tournament hosted by Tiger Woods, which benefitted the Woods Foundation - the Genesis Open received invitational status for the first time in 2020, with a smaller field and larger purse.

The Previous Edition

The 2021 Genesis produced several compelling storylines, with Sam Burns looking to establish his PGA Tour career with a win for the ages.

Two rounds of 64 and 66 set the pace for the field, as the American found himself 12-under-par after 36 holes, six shots ahead of second place Max Homa.

Burns - who would later record his first PGA Tour win at the Valspar Championship before triumphing at the Sanderson Farms Championship in October 2021 – succumbed to the pressure of this prestigious event and one birdie failed to cancel out an accumulation of four bogeys as he opened the door to his competitors.

He started the final day strongly, birdieing four holes on the front nine before an unwelcomed wobble saw him bogey the 12th, 14th and 15th.

The final birdie achieved on the par-5 17th, acted as no more than a consolation, as the battle for the title became about two players: Tony Finau and Homa.

Both players knew they needed a hefty rally if they were to strike their way to victory and Finau’s 64 was the lowest of the day.

Homa, who had a brilliant opening round before stagnating, produced a dazzling 66 to elongate the competition and force a playoff - although he missed a three-footer for the win on the 18th hole.

After two playoff holes, Homa emerged as victorious but both players had opportunities to close this one out.

Homa would only have to wait seven more months before picking up his second PGA Tour victory of the season and third in total, winning the Fortinet Championship.

Did you know: Max Homa played 24 holes on the final day (finishing off his third round and the extra playoff holes) and he did not card a single bogey during the entire day. Elite.

Five to Shine

The field was electrifying for the WM Phoenix Open and we can expect an even stronger field for this week in Los Angeles.

Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Patrick Cantlay, Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka, Tony Finau, Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy are all scheduled to tee it up in California.

Naturally, to choose just five from this supreme field will be difficult, but you must remember, we aren’t necessarily including them for glory alone, as these golfers also have something to prove with the meat of the season on the horizon.

Max Homa

As is usual, we start with the defending champion and after a slight wobble from November onwards, it’s great to see Max Homa playing great golf again - epitomised by his T14th finish at TPC Scottsdale. Last season was a fantastic campaign for Homa, who recorded two further PGA Tour titles and his first since the 2019 Wells Fargo Championship. His T14th finish at the Phoenix Open was actually his second highest of the season, which highlights slight troubles so far this term. Of course, starting in brilliant fashion and winning the Fortinet Championship certainly helped.

His seasonal statistics aren’t overly negative but there’s work to be done if he hopes to continue his fine form from the previous event. When you drive the ball comfortably over 300 yards, there will never be an issue off the tee in regard to distance. A trend that we have been witnessing recently is building muscle mass to help with speed - something that can throw other elements off your game. Homa hits 61.61% of fairways which isn’t incredible by any stretch, but a ranking of 86th on Tour also isn’t disastrous. His approach play is the most susceptible to critique, considering he is currently ranked 99th with a GIR percentage of just 70.14%. One glaring issue is his sand saves, getting up-and-down only 29.63% of the time from bunkers. However, if his approach play improves, he’ll seldom find himself in those traps, where he’s evidently losing a lot of strokes on the field.

Did you know: Max Homa finished with 8.814 Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green during the 2021 edition of the Genesis Open. The average SG T2G for the winner of this tournament over the last five years is 9.302. Dialled.

Charley Hoffman

First and foremost, do we expect Charley Hoffman to win amongst a field of this quality? Absolutely not. Although, this is golf and anything can literally happen but still, we don’t quite think that. One thing we do want to know, however, is how he bounces back from the negative media response from his reactionary comments made over the weekend. If you’re unaware, Charley Hoffman posted on Instagram about a ruling that he was evidently not pleased with. His response, you ask? Lightly threaten the PGA Tour by insinuating he may be heading to the Saudi Golf League. It did not bode too well with golf fans or journalists and he has since deleted the post but it could be a case of the damage is done.

Hoffman hasn’t won a PGA Tour event since 2016, after he captured the Valero Texas Open. Six years is a long time but he clearly still has the game to compete for prize money on the PGA Tour. What better way to respond to the negativity - and his questionable comments - than by picking up his fifth PGA Tour title? If we’re being honest, this would be one of the greatest triumphs of his career to date. For a 45-year-old man, he hits bombs off the tee and averages 311 yards with the big stick. That is immediately counteracted with a mere 46.79% driving accuracy, which will cause an array of problems.  Furthermore, his scoring average is above 71.50 (71.602, 153rd) and he locates just 68.72% of greens (134th). It might not be a peerless performance in Los Angeles for Hoffman but a decent outing could win back the fans - providing that’s something he wants.

Did you know: Charley Hoffman’s career-high world ranking was 20th, achieved in 2017.

Sungjae IM

Now that we have tackled the controversial topic, let’s start discussing the ever-pleasing Sungjae Im, who is an excellent golfer and his commitment to not only the PGA Tour but golf itself can never be questioned. Strangely, Im has not been present on the PGA Tour since the Farmers Insurance Open, the last to be held in January. Whilst it’s normal for golfers to take a few weeks between competitions, it’s typically not the case for Im - who broke the 21-year standing record for most birdies in a season last term. Evidently, you won’t get anywhere near that record unless you are playing relentlessly. Nevertheless, he is back and the much-needed hiatus should have him recharged and ready to go.

‘What’s to like about Im?’ we hear you say. Everything is our response. The man is an elite golfer whose tempo is nothing short of mesmerising. He has already achieved four top 10s this season, with the highlight being his Shriners Children’s Open victory. He finally supported his inaugural win at The Honda Classic, and it has long been overdue. Let us not forget that he also finished T2nd at the 2020 Masters and if it wasn’t for Dustin Johnson’s sublime masterclass, that excellent performance would have garnered more interest. If there’s one thing that amateurs and professionals have in common, it’s their desire to obtain consistency. Everyone wants consistency, which is something that Im has in abundance. He’s long off the tee (304.5, 58th) but he backs that up with magnificent accuracy (68.10%). His iron play is as silky as anyone’s - excluding the wizard that is Collin Morikawa - and he finds 76.30% of greens (8th). He averages an eagle every 60 holes (4th) and a birdie every 4.67 holes (24th). His scoring average is immense (69.807, 9th) and he’s also handy from bunkers, getting up-and-down 66.67% of the time (15th). If there’s one questionable element, it’s putting, where he ranks 70th for SG: Putting with a .215 rating. However, perusing the bulk of his stats, Im has absolutely everything that’s needed around Riviera and he should believe that this week can be his.

Did you know: Im was issued the 2019 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year. Dominant.

Carlos Ortiz

Do you ever find when you’re playing in a tournament and you’re destined to lose, that you lose your mindset a little? It’s easily done and although it’s prominent throughout the amateur game, professionals themselves are susceptible to allowing a negative thought or two creep past the usual stern mental defence. When Carlos Ortiz made the turn on the final day of the Phoenix Open, he was comfortably back from the leaders and ultimately, was playing for prize money and FedEx Cup points. He had played the back nine of TPC Scottsdale one-under-par during his previous three outings and was probably looking to finish respectfully. A birdie on the 10th was handy and that was swiftly followed by another on 11. A run of four pars threatened to dampen his rejuvenation until he reached the 16th tee. For the second successive day, a hole-in-one was carded on the 16th and Ortiz allowed himself to get lost in the moment. The driveable par-4 followed and he eagled that hole too before finishing with a downbeat bogey - although he is forgiven for that slight lapse in focus.

When victory was out of the question, Ortiz continued to have his foot on the gas pedal. Remember, he was out early on Sunday and did not stand a chance of winning, even if he shot 60. Despite this well-documented fact, Ortiz let the fighter in him come out and he produced a splendid finish that will certainly influence his performance for this coming week. The Mexican has won once on the PGA Tour and that was at the Houston Open in 2020. His seasonal statistics are fine without being excellent, and you’d argue he’s middle of the pack so far. Sometimes, however, a moment of magic can spark a spell of magic. If Ortiz can start how he finished his Phoenix Open, we might see the type of performance that earned him his inaugural PGA Tour title.

Did you know: Carlos Ortiz’s ace and then successive eagle on the par 4 17th resulted in him becoming the first player to record back-to-back eagles this season. Prowess.

Sahith Theegala

There was simply no chance that we were not going to talk about Sahith Theegala, who may be at the very start of his career but displayed all the signs of a great champion at the Phoenix Open. Bravery would be just one word to describe Theegala, who never feared being chased by the world’s best and always took the best approach to scoring; his nightmarish finish will only propel him to do better. To take that shot on with everything riding on the line is the definition of bravery, especially knowing that even a minor mistake would cost him his first PGA Tour title. Yes, he was unfortunate with the unexpected bounce but the flight was lower and it was always coming in hot. He backed himself though, and if a golfer can continue to back themselves, it shows just how much confidence they have in their game.

You may be unaware of Theegala and if so, allow us to explore his limited background. He came through the college system and represented Pepperdine University in California. His collegiate career came to a sudden finish due to the COVID-19 pandemic but when the season was cut short, his college were ranked number one throughout the nation. In 2020, he was issued the Ben Hogan Award (best college golfer of the year), the Haskins Award (honours the standout collegiate golfer of the year) and the Jack Nicklaus Award - he became only the fifth person to ever win all three awards in the same year. Having come through the Korn Ferry Tour, he was issued his PGA Tour card for the 2021-22 season after he finished in the top 10 in consecutive tournaments during the Korn Ferry Tour finals. To add another element of intrigue, Theegala actually played at the Genesis Open in 2017, where he finished T49th. So, we know he knows the course but it’s a completely different game when your name is known.

Did you know: Sahith Theegala has featured at two major championships, both of which were at the U.S. Open and he failed to make the cut on either occasion (2017, 2021). Familiarising.


The Genesis Open attracts the absolute best of golfers on an annual basis, so the field will mirror that of a major championship.

Of course, we won’t see the exact strength of participation but with many household names committed, we can expect a stellar event.

As always, the five golfers discussed have not featured solely through this week’s success but a more in-depth look at their game and where they currently are.

Are you expecting a big gun like Rory McIlroy or Dustin Johnson to secure the title, or can Sungjae Im or even Sahith Theegala cause an upset?


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