2024 Genesis Invitational Preview, Picks & Analysis
After his miserable performance at Pebble Beach, Rory McIlroy will be looking for better things at the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club.
We get used to seeing the Northern Irishman contend almost every time he tees it up and after his victory at the Dubai Desert Classic he was widely expected to do well at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am but he proved that he is human after all.
This is yet another tournament that boasts a world-class field but the defending champion won’t be there. That’s because it was won 12 months ago by Jon Rahm. And the list of recent winners is pretty revealing - they include Joaquin Niemann, Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson, all of whom are now earning their living with LIV Golf.
There is always excitement when McIlroy tees it up anywhere in the world but this week he will be playing second fiddle to a certain Tiger Woods, who is the tournament host and has announced that he will also be using the tournament to return to action on the PGA Tour.
Woods announced in December that he hopes to make around 12 starts in 2024 and his return will be much anticipated. The 15-time major champion has battled back bravely from the leg injury that threatened to finally end his career. By his own admission, he will never again be able to come close to playing a full schedule because his body simply would not be able to withstand the stresses and strains.
But when Woods arrives at any event the interest is off the scale and this week will not be any different.
He played just three times in 2023, as his battle with injuries continued. After a seven-month layoff, he competed at last year's Genesis, before returning to the course for The Masters six weeks later. Incredibly, he made the cut but he was forced to withdraw before the third round as injury took its toll once again.
Another lengthy period away from competing followed, as the golfing great's recovery from an ankle issue took eight months. He finally made a second comeback of the season at the year-ending Hero World Challenge in December.
Having ended the campaign in the Bahamas, he will start his 2024 season at the Genesis.
“I think that the best scenario would be maybe a tournament a month," he said. "Again, we have it set up right now the biggest events are one per month. It sets itself up for that. Now, I need to get myself ready for all that.”
Riviera is a golf course that is close to his heart.
The 15-time major champion's PGA Tour debut came here when he teed it up as a 16-year-old at the Los Angeles Open back in 1992. A quarter of a century later, Woods was named tournament host under its new sponsor name Genesis, and has remained in the role ever since.
After his trip to California, it is expected that Woods' March appearance will come at the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. The following four months will then host golf's four majors, with The Masters in April, PGA Championship in May, US Open in June, before major season comes to an end with The Open in July. If he is to play in the US Open he will need special dispensation from the USGA as he is no longer exempt or, almost unthinkably, will have to play in pre-qualifying.
After that it remains to be seen what the five-time Masters champion's plans will be for the remainder of the year, with his fitness playing a big part.
While all eyes will be on Woods, I believe this could be the week when Justin Thomas confirms his full return to form by winning again. He had an awful time of it in 2023 and was extremely fortunate to be given a wild card by Zach Johnson for the US Ryder Cup team. For the first time in his career he missed out on the Tour Championship but that is only scratching the surface.
In 21 starts he missed six cuts, something that was previously unheard of. A man who has won 15 times on the PGA Tour did not manage a single top-three finish and ended the year in 78th place in the FedEx Cup standings. But in late September there were signs of a recovery as Thomas finished fifth at the Fortinet. He was also third at the Hero World Challenge.
And he began 2024 by finishing tied third at the American Express and tied sixth at the rain-shortened AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He is once again striking the ball magnificently and, crucially, has rediscovered his putting touch.
Ludvig Aberg will still be smarting from losing out on the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Wyndham Clark rightly grabbed the headlines after his amazing third round of 60, but Aberg was just a shot behind after 54 holes and would have seriously have fancied his chances of winning his second PGA Tour title. Unfortunately for him, a horrendous weather forecast meant that the tournament was reduced to 54 holes.
This is a tournament that is worth winning. The total purse is $20m with the winner collecting $3.6m.
It was won in 2016 and 2018 by Bubba Watson, in 2017 by Dustin Johnson, in 2019 by JB Holmes, in 2020 by Adam Scott, in 2021 by Max Homa, in 2022 by Jaoquin Niemann and last year by Jon Rahm.
Riviera Country Club is a par 71 measuring 7.321 yards. It was established almost 100 years ago and was designed by George Thomas and William Bell. The course record is 61. It has staged the US Open and the US PGA Championship on two occasions.
Justin Thomas has rediscovered something like his very best form and it can surely only be a matter of time before the American wins again. Ludvig Aberg continues his astonishing start to the paid ranks and is in sparkling form. He doesn’t know the course but that is unlikely to affect his progress this week.
Justin Thomas. Ready to win again
Rory McIlroy. Can’t play as badly again as he did at Pebble Beach
Ludvig Aberg. Simply world class
Five to Follow:
Justin Thomas. It is good to see him back
Rory McIlroy. If he drives well he wins. Period
Ludvig Aberg. Brilliant ball striker
Scottie Scheffler. Hard to overlook
Max Homa. Former winner here
Five Outsiders to Watch:
Tiger Woods. Who knows what to expect?
Charley Hoffman. Rolled back the years at the WM Phoenix Open
Will Zalatoris. Only an outsider because he is still feeling his way back
Adam Svensson. Has been there or thereabouts
Denny McCarthy. Could do with a decent week
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