Genesis Invitational insider’s guide: Best holes, players to watch, what we’re seeing and hearing

The PGA Tour returns this week to one of its most iconic venues, L.A’s Riviera Country Club, for the Genesis Invitational. Previously known as the Los Angeles Open and dating to 1926, the Genesis has been contested annually at a number of Los Angeles-area courses, with Riv being the most prominent and serving as annual host since 1999.

This marks the first year the Genesis holds “invitational” status, joining the Arnold Palmer, RBC Heritage, Colonial and Memorial Tournament as the only other Tour event with that distinction. These tournaments are able to be more selective in their entry criteria and host smaller fields. Macdonald Smith and Lloyd Mangrum hold the Genesis record with four wins apiece; three-time winner Bubba Watson is looking to join them this week.

Here’s everything else you need to know about the Genesis:

Five players to watch not named Tiger Woods

Rory McIlroy: It would be borderline criminal not to list the newly minted world No. 1 as a player to watch. McIlroy is a threat to win every week he’s in the field, and the form he’s shown over the past year exemplifies just that. Four wins, 15 top 10s and PGA Tour Player of the Year honors all in the last 12 months have the 30-year-old back on top of the golf world. A win this week should surprise no one.

Rory McIlroy enters the week as the newly crowned world No. 1.
Rory McIlroy enters the week as the newly crowned world No. 1.
Christian Hafer

Dustin Johnson: Johnson’s last decade at the Genesis looks like this: T3-CUT-T4-CUT-2-T2-4-Win-T16-T9. Not bad for the 20-time Tour winner. DJ hasn’t played much over the last several months, but for a guy with as much historical success at Riviera, it’s a safe bet he’ll be in the mix come Sunday.

Justin Thomas: Thomas has just one top-5 showing in five career starts at the Genesis, his runner-up finish a year ago. Still, the FedEx Cup leader has been on a tear in the 2019-20 season, with four top 10s and two wins. Thomas, 26, is coming off a T3 showing at the Waste Management two weeks ago and appears to have another big season in the works.

Jon Rahm: The Spaniard has exhibited outstanding form in 2020. He has three top 10s in three starts, including a runner-up at Torrey Pines, and dating back to last season has three W’s and 13 top 10s in his last 16 starts.

Bubba Watson: Watson’s game has been trending in his last two starts, posting T3 and T6 performances in Phoenix and San Diego, and he has three victories at the Genesis over the past six seasons. He hasn’t finished outside the top 15 at Riviera (excluding a WD in 2017) since 2013 and has finished in the top 20 every time he’s made the cut in his career. If he survives the cut, watch out, he certainly knows how to navigate the weekend nerves in southern California.

One player fans might not be watching but should

Sungjae Im: The South Korean sensation doesn’t have a PGA Tour win to his name just yet, but he’s been knocking on the door several times in his young career and it seems like only a matter of time before he breaks through. The 21-year-old hasn’t missed a cut since last July and has three top 10s this season, picking up right where he left off after his Rookie of the Year campaign. Im is a player who fans should familiarize themselves with. He’s here to stay.

Three holes at Riviera worth watching

No. 6, par 3, 169 yards

One of the truly unique holes in golf, No. 6 at Riviera is famous for its small bunker in the middle of the green. The bunker cuts the putting surface into four quadrants and can make for some interesting plays (read: chips!) you seldom see anywhere else. A hole location on the back-left portion is commonly believed to be the most difficult, but any location on this green can require some creativity to access.

No. 10, par 4, 315 yards

The 10th is one of the great short par-4s and leaves the players with a plethora of options from the tee box. The green is reachable for most players, but the penalty for a misplaced tee ball is severe. With a narrow and angled green and bunkers strategically placed along the perimeter, only a near-perfect drive will hold the tricky green.

From behind the green at the vexing 10th hole.
Joann Dost

No. 18, par 4, 451 yards

The finishing hole will test the nerve of players as they make their way back toward the iconic Riviera clubhouse. The hole gently dog-legs to the right with a massive slope guarding the left side and a fairway bunker cutting in from the right. From there, players hit into a green nestled in a natural amphitheater down the hill from the clubhouse.

Seen and heard this week

Kobe’s legacy is top of mind at Riv. The flagstick on the 8th hole is dedicated to the late Laker great (and will be all week) and you can’t walk far without hearing someone reminiscing about him. TaylorMade staff players are also honoring Kobe with their headcovers.

Tiger Woods, the tourney host, seems more approachable than ever, dedicating his entire Monday afternoon to the Celebrity Cup and spending more than an hour on Tuesday morning doing interviews. Hearing guys like Bubba take shots at him to his face, then hearing Tiger hit back with jabs of his own is fun to see. Tiger is also becoming increasingly more self-deprecating: When asked what body movement causes the most inconsistency in his swing, Woods said, “Bending, twisting, turning, moving. Other than that, I’m all good.”

Jonas Never, an artist-in-residence at Riv this week, is painting a mural that pairs “young Tiger” with “old Tiger.” Never, an L.A. local, also painted murals at the Genesis last year, but this year’s project underscores how meaningful it is to the tournament that Tiger played his first pro event at Riviera.

Tiger Woods writ large.
Christian Hafer

The Celebrity Cup is one of the cooler under-the-radar events in golf, in part because it comes hot on the heels of a slightly higher profile Pro-Am up the coast at Pebble Beach. The Cup may not have landed Bill Murray but it did attract the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Chris Pratt and Larry Fitzgerald. Tiger took his role as captain seriously, pulling together some A-listers for a fun-but-competitive round that was a hoot to watch. (Woods’ team prevailed over Bubba’s, 12-9.)

The stakes are higher than they’ve ever been. With the Genesis champ going home with a bigger paycheck than ever ($1.67 million), plus and an extra year of exempt status, there’s a lot on the line — and it won’t be easy to claim. With nine of the top 10 players in the world at Riv this week, the field is stacked. Game on.

To get you in the mood, here are 5 cool snaps from our staff photographer, Christian Hafer:

Rory McIlroy on Tuesday.

Riv's signature sharp edged bunkers.

A peek at Tiger Woods, tournament host.

Brooks Koepka, already locked in.

The home hole.

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