A thrilling 2019 West Coast Swing, which may have hit its apex on Monday with Phil Mickelson’s fifth AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am title, comes to a conclusion this week at famed Riviera Country Club in picturesque Pacific Palisades, California for the 93rd edition of the Genesis Open.
Last year’s event set a high bar as Bubba Watson’s two-stroke victory placed the long-hitting lefty in the company of legends Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer on the all-time victories list for the event (three wins apiece).
Watson will be back to defend his title, but will need to face down one of the best fields of the early season if he wants to become the tournament’s third back-to-back champion of the past 50 years.
Bubba, Phil, Rory McIlroy, and Tiger Woods headline the field, but those are just three among a plethora of the big names in attendance. Picking just 15 of them is seemingly impossible task, but without further ado:
15. Paul Casey
Sunday at Pebble Beach, which had begun with Casey holding a three-shot advantage over eventual winner Phil Mickelson, was yet another chapter in the 41-year-old’s lengthy book of poor closing efforts.
Still, there were a fair amount of positive to pull from his solo-2nd place, the foremost of those being that he bogeyed just four holes for the entire week.
If he is not too wounded mentally from blowing yet another final-round lead, he is probably a safe bet for at least a decent finish at Riviera, or at least a better one than he’s posted in any of his past three attempts (T49, T39, T39).
Had Casey not bogeyed the 72nd hole in the 2015 edition, which dropped him into a three-man playoff that he lost to James Hahn, he would have a Riviera title on his record.
World Rank: 19th
Field Rank: 13th
Last Six: 2, 2, MC, 16, 16, 18
14. Adam Scott
We are not sure who that man was who left Pebble Beach last week on Saturday with a MDF 61st place finish, but given Adam Scott’s hot play since last August, we are willing to overlook it.
If the 38-year-old Aussie has a short enough memory, he should contend at a Genesis Open where he has a sparkling record, having won the 2005 event and taking runner-up honors in 2006 and 2016.
World Rank: 33rd
Field Rank: 24th
Last Six: 61, 2, MC, 18, 10, 50
13. Tony Finau
One of Finau’s three runner-ups last season came at the Genesis, where he played admirably on Sunday, but could not quite catch Bubba Watson.
Following a missed cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open with a T39 at last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am has meant a surprisingly two-week slump for Finau, but the man who had 11 top-10s a year ago, second on Tour to Dustin Johnson, is too talented to stay down long.
In his current form, we just cannot see three consecutive starts outside the top 20.
World Rank: 12th
Field Rank: 7th
Last Six: 38, MC, 13, 2, 16, 36
12. Jordan Spieth
Through two rounds and 12 holes, it appeared that Pebble Beach might be the cure to Spieth’s extended slump, as he found himself in contention for the first time in what has felt like eons.
Then, it was again one step forward and two steps back for Jordan, as a bogey and two doubles over his final six holes plunged him down the Saturday leaderboard, and then a Sunday 75 meant a T45 finish.
In five events in the new season, Spieth has nothing better than a tie for 35th, but he showed just enough early on at Pebble to believe competitive results might be close again. A year ago, he had one of the better weekends in the field en route to a T9.
World Rank: 23rd
Field Rank: 16th
Last Six: 45, 35, MC, MC, 55, 55
11. Marc Leishman
After resting the past two weeks, Leishman is set to tee it up at Riviera this week, hoping to add another excellent result to a tremendous early season which includes a victory and two other top-4 finishes.
It is worth noting that Leishman has missed the cut in three of his last four starts at the Genesis Open, but that one start where he did make the weekend (2016), he shot four rounds in the 60s to post a career-best T5 finish.
The Aussie struggled at Torrey Pines three weeks ago, but still ranks in the top 10 on Tour this season in both birdie average and scoring average.
World Rank: 18th
Field Rank: 12th
Last Six: 43, 3, 4, 2, 18, 1
10. Matt Kuchar
The new leader in the FedExCup standings came back down to earth a little at Pebble Beach last week, following an excellent opening-round 67 with a disappointing 73-70-70 finish for a T22 result. But the 40-year-old should still be flying high in the midst of what early on has been a career season.
Kuchar does not have a stellar history in this event, posting just one career top-10 (T8, 2016), but he did play both of his weekend rounds under par last year, and this is still a man with two victories in his last five PGA Tour starts.
World Rank: 22nd
Field Rank: 15th
Last Six: 22, 4, 1, 19, 23, 1
9. Justin Thomas
The World No. 4, the second-best ranking of anyone in the field, has been surprisingly inconsistent within his rounds early in the new season, but the results are still mostly good, as he has two third-place finishes in his last three starts.
One of those third places occurred in his most recent start, two weeks ago at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where Thomas failed to take advantage of the opening Rickie Fowler left him, and needed to birdie the final two holes to escape with a 1-over 72.
JT has posted some high rounds in his Riviera career, but to his credit, none of those came last year when he finished T9, easily his best result in four attempts.
World Rank: 4th
Field Rank: 2nd
Last Six: 3, 16, 3, 12, 36, 5
8. Bubba Watson
Over the past year, the story on Watson has been that he plays spectacularly on courses where he has previously had success and is irrelevant everywhere else. Well, this might be Bubba’s best course on Tour.
The defending champion notched his third career Genesis victory 12 months ago, also winning the 2014 and 2016 editions. He arrives in L.A. in good form too, having finished T4 two weeks ago at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, breath of fresh air after a nightmare January where he finished 31st out of 33 attendees at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and missed the cut at the Sony Open.
World Rank: 16th
Field Rank: 10th
Last Six: 4, MC, 31, 12, 29, 16
7. Jon Rahm
The world No. 6 may have had an underwhelming 2018 PGA Tour season (post-January anyway), but the 24-year-old prodigy seems to have his best stuff back, having finished in the top 10 in each of his past four starts.
If you include the unofficial Hero World Challenge victory in December, and his T4 two weeks earlier at the European Tour’s DP World Tour Championship, that number even rises to six straight.
This week will be Rahm’s Riviera debut, but if there is one thing he has shown in a tremendous early career, it is that his game translates anywhere.
World Rank: 6th
Field Rank: 4th
Last Six: 10, 5, 6, 8, 1, 4
6. Tiger Woods
A T20 three weeks ago at Torrey Pines was a solid 2019 season debut for Tiger, who seemed to shake off the rust by Sunday with a final-round 5-under 67.
He missed the Genesis cut last year, but with how little he had played in the previous two years, it was as tenable a missed cut as there is.
When Tiger finished runner-up here in both 1998 and 1999, it seemed unfathomable that by week’s start in 2019, zero of his 80 career wins will have come in this event. Granted, last year was his first try at it since 2006.
After gaining nearly four strokes on the field with his irons on Sunday at Torrey Pines, we feel confident that this year will engender his best Riviera result in over a decade. He may even challenge to get within one of Sam Snead’s all-time PGA Tour wins record, a future accomplishment that seems inevitable.
World Rank: 13th
Field Rank: 8th
Last Six: 20, 17, 1, 6, 24, 40
5. Rory McIlroy
A T20 in last year’s Genesis Open – his second career start in the event, does not exactly stand out among Rory’s career accomplishments, but it should be acknowledged that he jumped 22 spots up the Sunday leaderboard with a 68 that showcased one of his best putting days of the season.
The world No. 9 is arriving at Riviera in excellent form, having finished in the top-5 in both of his January PGA Tour starts. At Torrey Pines (his last start), his five bogeys for the week was the second best total in the field. If he stays as hot off the tees as he has been lately, Rory contending this week feels like a foregone conclusion.
World Rank: 9th
Field Rank: 6th
Last Six: 5, 4, 20, 21, 54, 7
4. Phil Mickelson
Phil was absolutely brilliant on Sunday at Pebble Beach, where a field-low 65 catalyzed a fifth career victory at the Tour’s most popular pro-am event.
After his first victory on American soil in over five years, however, would it be unrealistic to expect the 48-year-old to keep his foot on the gas? It probably does not help his cause that last week required a Monday finish (two holes of a Monday finish where he had basically already won anyway), but given how streaky the now 44-time Tour winner has played over the past year, we think he is in for another quality finish this week, as he plays an event where he has notched two victories and two runner-ups in his career.
Last year, he chased a T2 at Pebble Beach with a T6 at Riviera where he played himself into Sunday contention with five birdies over the first 12 holes.
World Rank: 17th
Field Rank: 11th
Last Six: 1, MC, 2, 17, 30, 58
3. Xander Schauffele
Sitting out Pebble Beach last week may have cost the X-man his No. 1 spot in the current FedExCup standings, but he could very well snatch it back this week, as he sits just a touch behind new leader Matt Kuchar.
We like that to happen, as the two-time 2019 PGA Tour season champion rode a 68-68 weekend to a T9 in his Riviera debut a year ago. Problems off the tee on Friday in Phoenix largely precluded season victory No. 3, but he was mostly tremendous in his last start, finishing T10 and carding an over-par result on just three of 72 holes.
That level of bogey-avoidance is especially advantageous at a Genesis Open that has played surprisingly difficult a lot of years; only one player in last year’s field finished better than 10-under.
World Rank: 7th
Field Rank: 5th
Last Six: 10, 25, 1, 8, 16, 1
2. Bryson DeChambeau
After a breakthrough 2018 season where he won three times on Tour, and then added another in his first 2019 season start in November, DeChambeau has stayed red-hot, having finished in the top 10 of all five events he has started since the Ryder Cup.
The most recent two of those five starts came on the European Tour, where he obliterated the field en route to a seven-stroke romp at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, and then finished T6 two weeks ago in Saudi Arabia.
The 25-year-old California native posted an underwhelming T41 in his Riviera debut a year ago, but this is clearly not the same player from last February. It would be surprising if he is unable to stay hot this week.
World Rank: 5th
Field Rank: 3rd
Last Six: 6, 1, 10, 7, 12, 1
1. Dustin Johnson
We clearly underestimated the drag that the voyage from Saudi Arabia to Pebble Beach would have on DJ’s game when we had him ranked No. 1 in these rankings a week ago. He got off to a good start at Pebble, a course he has traditionally dominated, but a pair of 73s and a Sunday 71 led to a shocking T45 for the man who was coming off a victory in the Middle East.
If he has finally shaken off the jet-lag, he is a tempting bet again at Riviera, where he has arguably been even more dominant, winning the 2017 edition by five shots, finishing runner-up in 2014 and 2015, and a solo-fourth in 2016.
We lean to towards believing last week was a fluke that can be imputed to fatigue; even an elite-level athlete who travels in luxury is not completely immune to it.
World Rank: 3rd
Field Rank: 1st
Last Six: 45, 1, 16, 4, 7, 30
Next Five: Tommy Fleetwood, Patrick Cantlay, Tyrrell Hatton, Louis Oosthuizen, Rafa Cabrera Bello