Though the 2019-20 PGA Tour season technically started five months ago, though the Sentry Tournament of Champions kicked off the 2020 calendar year, and though the Farmers Insurance Open is always the de facto opening day for golf, it is far to say that the Genesis Invitational provides a bit of jazz that we have not experienced in quite some time.
With its small field of 120, Riviera Country Club kicks into gear on Thursday under a slightly altered name but with the same great swings. Maybe it’s Tiger Woods, maybe it’s Riviera itself, maybe it’s simply that we’re one day closer to the 2020 Masters, but I’m giddy for four rounds of great golf at an elite track as we start to descend into the major championship portion of the season.
Here are five reasons I’m pumped about the golf this weekend.
1. War for No. 1: Rory McIlroy has assumed the No. 1 spot in the world. However, he might not keep it longer than one week. With a field that includes nine of the top 10 players in the world — really, this is like a major championship field — McIlroy could potentially be overtaken by Jon Rahm or Brooks Koepka. I personally don’t think he will be (big shocker that you’re getting pro-Rory takes here) because I think he’s in the midst of a multi-year heater that will largely define how we view his career (in a good way). So maybe he gives it back for a week or three weeks or whatever, but in the long term, McIlroy is the best player on the planet, and I think he goes out and proves it this week (reminder: he has 15 top-six finishes since the start of 2019).
Also, I’ve been thinking about the sound of this shot all day.
2. Masters champions stirring: Three former Masters winners who have all contended at this course (Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson have two wins each) — and all started the calendar year in the doldrums — have all been stirring in the last few weeks. Bubba Watson cranked it up at the Phoenix Open, Jordan Spieth shot the best round of the day on Sunday at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am and Phil Mickelson has back-to-back top-three finishes on separate tours. The Masters starts in less than 60 days, and all three are moving toward Magnolia Lane with some momentum. I hope it holds this week because golf is better when this trio is thriving.
3. Kobe Bryant will be honored: It won’t be the party we saw in Phoenix, but this tribute by the tournament will spill over into the event and the weekend. This is the first L.A.-specific golf event since Bryant died three weeks ago, and I would imagine we’ll hear a lot more Kobe stories (especially on NBA All-Star weekend!) from players and personalities throughout the week.
4. Cat is back: Tournaments just feel different when Woods is playing. We can talk about the elevated status of tournaments and why the placement of this event on the calendar makes it great, but let’s all be honest for a second. This tournament is particularly great because of who shows up, and when Tiger is in attendance — leaning for No. 83 at a puzzle of an arena like Riviera — there’s definitely some extra juice that’s not normally thee.
5. Riviera rocks: There aren’t a boatload of architecturally pure golf courses on the PGA Tour circuit, but we’re seeing two of the best in back-to-back weeks. You can holler about how the short 10th hole at Riviera is overrated, but I’m going to be over here trying to figure out how Spieth made an 8 on it in his final-round 81 last year when it was playing 315 yards. From the first tee shot from that elevated perch to the famous 10th to that nasty second into No. 18, Riviera is as memorable as non-major championship stops get, and with this loaded field taking it on, we should get a great show.