There have already been a series of excellent PGA Tour events in the 2022 calendar year, with all the biggest names (sans Tiger) making at least one significant appearance so far. However, for the first time this year, they will all be at the same place: Riviera Country Club for The Genesis Invitational.
An event that has been held continuously for nearly 100 years boasts a field that includes the entire top-10 players, and 23 of the top 30, in the Official World Golf Ranking.
With tournament host Tiger Woods on hand, coupled with increased payouts, there is no shortage of motivation for the world’s best. Here are some of the many storylines to keep an eye on this week in Los Angeles:
1. Native Son Defends at Riviera
Last year’s Genesis Invitational was basically a fairy tale result for Max Homa. Riviera was always his course, he had fond memories of going frequently and watching big events; he said it was the place that made him fall in love with golf. The prospect of actually winning on his home course, with his idol Tiger Woods hosting… it was a dream.
And it nearly turned into a nightmare. Homa had played bogey-free golf through 17 Sunday holes, and stood on the 18th tee box tied for the lead with the more highly-regarded Tony Finau.
Homa did exactly what he needed to: phenomenal drive and then an immaculate approach to within three feet. He had what looked like a gimmie putt for a birdie and the Genesis title at the place he wanted it most. But then his putt lipped out. Homa admitted later on that his nerves got to him in that moment.
Now, Homa had to compose himself for a playoff against Finau, who was desperate for a win himself. Finau’s sole Tour win (at the time) was in an opposite field event in Puerto Rico four years earlier. Since then, he had compiled 10 runner-up finishes among a staggering 31 top-10s without a win since that victory.
It looked like Finau would prevail after Homa’s drive came to rest next to a tree, but Homa dug deep and survived the hole with a par while Finau missed a 7-footer for birdie. Homa then parred the second playoff hole while Finau failed to get up and down from a bunker to extend the playoff. Homa had won his second career title.
Could Homa be the first to go back-to-back at The Genesis since Mike Weir in 2003 and 2004? He captured his third career victory when he won the season-opening Fortinet Championship in September. He has not recorded a top 10 since, but is trending in the right direction, finishing T15 at the Sentry Tournament of Champions (granted, it was a 32-man field), and then was T14 at last week’s WM Phoenix Open, where he briefly got into the picture on Sunday before stalling on the back nine. Going back-to-back is extremely difficult on Tour, but it’s safe to say that nobody will want it more than Homa.
2. Scheffler’s Floodgates?
What seemed inevitable for more than two years finally came to fruition last week, when young star Scottie Scheffler won his first career PGA Tour title in a gutsy playoff performance over reigning Tour Player of the Year Patrick Cantlay. He had to dig deep after missing a five-foot birdie putt in regulation, which he more than made up for with a 25-foot bomb on the third playoff hole.
In the two-plus seasons leading up to 2022, Scheffler had finished in the top 10 17 times, with two runner-ups, and a number of major championship contentions. He also joined the 59 Club at the 2020 Northern Trust, and was a standout for the winning American team at the Ryder Cup, dominating a heavily-favored Jon Rahm in Sunday singles.
What happened at the WM Phoenix Open was no surprise; it was always going to be a matter of when.
So, where does Scheffler go from here? Back-to-back wins on the PGA Tour is very rare, although it could be argued that Scheffler is a rare talent. Typically, a player underwhelms in the first tournament coming off career victory No. 1, a product of an emotionally draining experience.
Perhaps the 25-year-old University of Texas product can be an exception. In addition to his win, he also has a T2 and a solo-fourth in the 2022 season. While he has yet to contend at Riviera, he was finished better at The Genesis each year, following a missed cut in 2019 with a T30 in 2020, and a T20 a year ago. His victory a week ago vaulted him into the top 10 of the world rankings for the first time. He now sits in ninth position.
3. Next First-Time Winner?
Scheffler’s triumph at TPC Scottsdale marked the third week in a row with a first time Tour winner. Three weeks ago, Luke List prevailed at the Farmers Insurance Open, and two weeks ago, Tom Hoge finished two clear of 12-time Tour winner Jordan Spieth.
Now that Scheffler has abdicated the label of “Best Player Without a PGA Tour Win,” who is most likely to be the Tour’s next first-time winner? There are some strong candidates this week:
Will Zalatoris: The 25-year-old San Francisco native looked to be taking a similar path as Scheffler: dominating the Korn Ferry Tour and contending on the PGA Tour well before he was expected to. Zalatoris has been incredible in his major career so far, being a rare debutante to finish runner-up at The Masters last year, one of three top-10s in just five major starts (four as a professional). It was very nearly Zalatoris instead of List who notched his first victory at Torrey Pines. He missed a makeable birdie putt on the 72nd hole and was ousted in a playoff. He is currently 29th in the OWGR.
Matt Fitzpatrick: Ranked 23rd in the world, the 27-year-old Brit is the highest ranked without a Tour victory, but has an attractive combination of strong recent results (T6. T10 the past two weeks on Tour) and course history (T5 at last year’s Genesis). It would surprise many to know that Fitzpatrick actually leads the PGA Tour in strokes gained: total, largely the product of incredible ball striking. The closest he came was taking second to Francesco Molinari at the 2019 Arnold Palmer Invitational. While he has yet to take victory on Tour, he knows how to win: he has already done it seven times on the European Tour.
Thomas Pieters: The big hitting Belgian exploded onto the professional golf scene with a fourth place at the 2016 Olympic Games, which he followed up with a T4 at the 2017 Masters and a T6 at the 2018 U.S. Open, in addition to several high finishes in WGC events. The 30-year-old fell off the map a bit in 2019 and 2020, but has won two of his last five starts on the European Tour, most notably at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship three weeks ago. Now 31st in the OWGR, Pieters is in the field at Riviera, the site of his best finish on American soil: a T2 to Dustin Johnson in the 2017 edition.
Other Would-be First Timers To Watch: Cameron Tringale, Harold Varner III, Robert MacIntyre
4. Vets Who Love Riviera
Riviera is a relatively difficult course as far as PGA Tour venues go. Many have failed to ever get much of anything going there. However, there are three veteran Tour players who have absolutely feasted at this course:
Dustin Johnson: DJ has 24 career victories, including at least one in every season since 2008. Could Riviera be the place he continues that streak? He will be difficult to stop if he plays the way he did in 2017, when he won in a five-stroke romp; the biggest margin of victory at The Genesis since Doug Tewell won by seven in 1986.
The 37-year-old two-time major champion might have “only” one victory at Riviera, but he has found himself in the mix year after year after year. In 14 starts, he has compiled 10(!) top 10s, including two runner-ups and a third. He was just two strokes off the 54-hole lead a year ago, before an uncharacteristically poor round dropped him into a share of 8th.
DJ’s current status is difficult to tell. He has dropped from the perch he held atop the OWGR a year ago; he is currently 6th. In just two starts in the current season, he had a T45 at The CJ CUP @ Summit, and a T25 at the Farmers Insurance Open. Anyone who has followed the Tour the past two decades knows, however, that his dominance could return at any moment.
Bubba Watson: The 43-year-old lefty bomber has a small collection of courses that especially suit his eye and Riviera is one of them. A 12-time Tour winner, Watson has won The Genesis three times, tying him with two all-timers in Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer for the third most. One more victory will tie him at the top with MacDonald Smith, who snagged his fourth in 1934, and Lloyd Mangrum, who last took the Genesis in 1956. Watson has not won since taking three event in the 2017-18 season, but he looks close to form again. Two weeks ago, he finished runner-up at the Saudi International, and despite the absurdly long flight back to the U.S., he was T14 at last week’s WM Phoenix Open, shooting four rounds in the 60s.
Adam Scott: Two of the 41-year-old Aussies 14 career Tour victories have come at Riviera. The first occurred in 2005, when he knocked off Chad Campbell in a playoff. Then, just two years ago, Scott once again prevailed, taking the 2020 by two strokes over a trio of contenders. In addition, he finished runner-up in 2006 to Rory Sabbatini and then again in 2016 to Bubba Watson. In his last eight starts in this event, he has made every cut, with four top-10s, and two additional finishes inside the top 17. However, he has been quiet on Tour since his runner-up finish at the Wyndham Championship back in August.
5. Cantlay’s Hot Streak
Four victories and a FedExCup title was enough for UCLA product Patrick Cantlay to be named 2021 PGA Tour Player of the Year, controversially over Jon Rahm, who had fewer wins, but had 15 top 10s in just 22 starts and a major championship. Regardless, Cantlay was phenomenal over the course of the season.
It appears there will be no 2022 hangover. The 29-year-old six-time Tour winner has not slowed down at all, posting top-10 finishes in all four of his starts in the new season: a runner-up, a solo-fourth, a T4, and a T9. That runner-up came at last week’s WM Phoenix Open, where Cantlay became the man to beat down the stretch of a crowded leaderboard. He missed a 10-foot putt on the 18th that would have put him one clear, but instead he had to watch while Scottie Scheffler missed an even shorter putt on the same hole, leading to a two-man playoff.
Cantlay lost on the third playoff hole when he was unable to convert on a birdie putt after Scheffler sunk a birdie from 25 feet. He may have lost, but at no point did he seem anything other than intensely focused.
The Long Beach native will be riding a hot streak into Riviera, where he has placed well each of the past four years, finishing T4 in the 2019 edition, followed by a T15-T17-T15 stretch over the past three seasons. He is definitely among the top 3-5 players most likely to leave L.A. in the winner’s circle.