10 Players to Watch: Genesis Open

  1. Jordan Spieth, United States — Coming off a four-stroke victory at Pebble Beach, Spieth has finished in the top 10 in all four events he has played this year and has broken par in each of the 16 rounds he has played. He also repeated as champion of the Australian Open in November and might be on the verge of a run like the one he made in 2015, when he won five times and rose to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Spieth will tee it up at Riviera for the fourth time, and even though he has bookend missed cuts, he showed he can play Hogan’s Alley when he tied for fourth in his big year of 2015, missing by one stroke the playoff in which James Hahn beat Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey. He had his chance on the 18th hole, nearly chipping in for a birdie that would have given him the victory, but Spieth missed the ensuing six-foot par putt and the playoff by closing with a 70.
  1. Hideki Matsuyama, Japan — Following a week off after his playoff victory over Webb Simpson in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, his fifth win around the world since October, Matsuyama is playing in the Los Angeles-area PGA Tour event for the fourth straight year. He has finished in the top 25 in all three of his starts at Riviera, tying for 23rd in 2014, tying four fourth the following year and tying for 11th last year. Matsuyama closed with a 4-under-par 67 two years ago, but missed by one shot the playoff in which James Hahn defeated Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey of England. Had he gotten into the playoff, Matsuyama certainly would have had a chance since he is 5-0 in extra holes as a pro, including in three of his four victories on the PGA Tour. He won the fourth, the WGC-HSBC Champions last October in China by seven strokes, one of four top-10 finishes which have put him atop the FedExCup point standings.
  1. Dustin Johnson, United States — DJ is playing in what is now the Genesis Open for the 10th consecutive year and he has done just about everything but win the tournament, with six top-10 finishes. He has finished in the top four each of the last three years, including two years ago, when he lost out when James Hahn sank a 25-foot birdie putt on the third playoff hole. Johnson had a chance to match the birdie, but he missed a 12-foot putt. He had a one-stroke lead until making a bogey on the 17th hole and missed a 10-foot birdie putt on the last hole to close with a 69. In 2014, DJ closed with a 66 and finished two shots behind winner Bubba Watson in solo second. So far this year, Johnson tied for sixth in the SBS Tournament of Champions, missed the cut in the Farmers Insurance Open and was solo third last week in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
  1. Bubba Watson, United States — Bubba comes to Riviera, where he is playing for the 10th straight time, looking for the game that took him to victory there in two of the last three years. In three events this season, he tied for 54th in the WGC-HSBC Champions, tied for 25th in the SBS Tournament of Champions and missed the cut in his last outing, the Waste Management Phoenix Open. In 10 rounds, he broke 70 only when he opened with a 69 in Phoenix. Watson won last year at Riviera despite suffering from a kidney stone early in the week, making birdies on two of his last three holes to cap a 3-under-par 68 to beat Adam Scott and Jason Kokrak by one stroke. Three years ago, he shot 64-64 on the weekend to win by two shots over Dustin Johnson. By winning twice at Hogan’s Alley, Watson has shown that he’s not just a bomber, but one of the best shot-makers in the game.
  1. Justin Thomas, United States — Having cooled off a bit by missing the cut in the Waste Management Phoenix Open two weeks ago, Thomas is back for his third appearance at Riviera. Some type of letdown was almost inevitable since the 23-year-old won three of his previous four starts, including the SBS Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open in Hawaii on the first two weeks of the new year. He also repeated as champion at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia in October and sits second in the FedExCup standings behind Hideki Matsuyama of Japan. The fields will be stronger from now on, but Thomas has shown he has the game to play with the best in the world. In his two previous starts in the Los Angeles-area event on the PGA Tour, he tied for 41st in 2015, starting with 68-69 but playing the weekend in 75-75, and tied for 54th last year, shooting 66 in round three.
  1. Sergio Garcia, Spain — Garcia makes his first start of the year on the PGA Tour this week, fresh off a three-stroke victory over Henrik Stenson in the Dubai Desert Classic. His first victory on the European Tour since 2014 lifted him to No. 9 in the world. That came after he got the wrap-around season on the U.S. tour off to a solid start by tying for 17th in the CIMB Classic and tying for ninth in the WGC-HSBC Champions. Garcia will tee it up at Riviera for the 11th time, having missed the cut last year for only the second time with a score of 74-72 — 146. His best results were ties for fourth in 2012 and 2015. Five years ago, he closed with a 64 to finish two shots out of the playoff in which Bill Haas beat Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley. Two years ago, his closing 71 left him one shy of the playoff in which James Hahn beat Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey.
  1. Adam Scott, Australia — Scott played well late last year by tying for 10th in the CIMB Classic, tying for 14th in the WGC-HSBC Champions, tying for 14th in the Australian Open and finishing third in the Australian PGA Championship. He is making his first start of 2017 on the PGA Tour after starting this year with a tie for ninth in the Singapore Open last month, closing with a 74 after taking a one-stroke lead into the final round. This will be his ninth start at Riviera, and he won the tournament in 2005 when it was shortened to 36 holes because of rain, beating Chad Campbell with a par on the first playoff hole. Scott finished second the following year after a closing 64 to wind up a stroke behind Rory Sabbatini, and nearly won the tournament again last year. He played the weekend in 67-67, making a birdie on the 17th hole and chipping in for another birdie at No. 18, but tied for second, one shot behind Watson.
  1. Jason Day, Australia — The top-ranked player in the world, easing his way into the new year after taking three months off since back spasms forced him to withdraw from the BMW Championship and Tour Championship in September, played his best golf so far last week in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He was right in the thick of the chase after opening with 69-64 in the rainy and windy weather in the first two rounds, but struggled to a 75 in round three. However, Day finished strong with a 67 and tied for fifth, his first top-10 result since he tied for fourth in The Barclays to open the FedExCup Playoffs last August. Surprisingly, he will tee it up at Riviera for only the fourth time and after missing the cut in 2010 and 2011, he finished in a tie for 62nd in 2012 and hasn’t been back since. His best score at Hogan’s Alley was a 71 in round two five years ago.
  1. Brandt Snedeker, United States — Having played well throughout his career on the West Coast Swing, with two victories at Torrey Pines and two more at Pebble Beach among his eight on the PGA Tour, Snedeker will once again try to figure out the mystery of Riviera. This will be his seventh start at Hogan’s Alley and he has missed the cut three times, with his best result a tie for 17th in 2012. He shot 79-75 on the weekend two years ago to finish 75th and dead last among the players who made the cut, and skipped the Los Angeles-area event last year. Snedeker has again played well in California, tying for ninth in his title defense at the Farmers Insurance Open after being in the hunt most of the way before closing with a 73, and finishing solo fourth last week in the AT&T Pebble Beach, two years after winning there for the second time. Snedeker started 2017 with a tie for 14th in the SBS Tournament of Champions at Kapalua.
  1. Phil Mickelson, United States — Playing for the fourth consecutive week, the 46-year-old Mickelson seemed to run out of steam in a closing 77 to finish 77th and last among players who made the cut at Pebble Beach, where he has won four times. He has shown flashes of his best stuff on the West Coast Swing, also tying for 21st in the CareerBuilder Challenge, tying for 14th in the Farmers Insurance Open and tying for 16th in the Waste Management Phoenix Open. But Lefty, who missed three months because of two hernia surgeries, expects more in California and Arizona, where he has won 19 times. Included in that number are two victories at Hogan’s Alley. In 2008, he beat Jeff Quinney by two strokes, and repeated the following year, when he shot 63 in the first round and 62 in the third before holding off Steve Stricker by one shot with a 72. Lefty lost in playoffs at Riviera to Charles Howell III in 2007 and to Bill Haas in 2012.

–Courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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