The PGA Tour heads to the premier event of the West Coast Swing, the LA Open at famed Riviera Country Club. The iconic event attracts a stout field thanks to the city and stellar golf course. Fourteen of the top 25 players in the world will be there, headlined by world number one and defending champion Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and the world's 550th ranked player, Tiger Woods. Field and tee times
DJ blew out the field, winning by five shots over Belgian bomber Thomas Pieters and Scott Brown. Johnson finally triumphed at Riviera, a tournament where he has finished in the top 10 in all ten of his appearances and in the top 4 seven out of ten times. Needless to say after a win and a t2nd in his two stateside starts, Johnson is the heavy favorite at Riviera.
Riviera is the gold standard of PGA Tour venues and has been the longstanding host of the LA Open. Designed by George Thomas and built by Billy Bell, Riv offers a rare strategic test for the world's best players. When conditions are firm and fast, players have to play to specific places on holes to set up angles to attack flags. The course favors players with a balanced golf game and experience. Charles Howell III ('07) and Bill Haas ('12) are the only players to win the event as 20-somethings in the past 12 years. Both did so at age 29.
The star of Riviera is the short par-4 10th, which has taken hold as the PGA Tour's most famed short par four in recent years. Zac Blair wrote a piece for the PGA Tour last year breaking down the different options it presents players. I also put together a detailed hole-by-hole review of Riviera with the help of photos from photographer Jon Cavalier.
How has Riviera changed?
While Riviera is the PGA Tour's best 72-hole stop, it is a microcosm of a few trends that plague American golf. Through time, Riviera has had some of its original design compromised by poor renovation work. The botched work along with the narrowing of its fairways has nullified some of the course’s strategy. It's a great course in its current form, but it is hard not to think of what it could be. More to come on the evolution of Riviera in Friday's newsletter.
Tiger's return to Riv
For the first time since 2006, Tiger is teeing it up at Riviera, the site of his PGA Tour debut in 1992. Tiger will look to improve on his t23rd finish in his first start of 2018 at Torrey Pines. He will look improve on the worst driving performance of his career by gaming a new shaft, the same one he used at the 2015 Wyndham.
I sat in on Tiger's press conference yesterday. Typically I don't buy hype, but I found his swagger and confidence impressive. This return feels different, and while I don't think he will win this week, I forsee him contending soon.
TW will be teeing it up with Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy in the first two rounds. The high-profile pairing will go off at 11:22 AM (EST) on Thursday and 3:02 PM (EST) on Friday. Coverage of Tiger's Thursday round will be available on PGA Tour Live and Friday's on Golf Channel.
If all goes well at Riviera this week, Tiger hinted at a possible start at next week's Honda Classic.
The Euros are coming
As always, the LA Open features a strong contingent of European Tour stars. Headlining the crew from across the pond is Tommy Fleetwood, last year's runner-up Thomas Pieters, Alex Noren, Rafa Cabrera-Bello and Martin Kaymer. Expect to see even more in next week's field with the upcoming WGC events and Masters.
Lefty comes in hot after a runner-up finish at Pebble Beach and a t5th at the Waste Management. In his career, Mickelson has recorded two wins and two runner-ups at Riviera. With his newfound distance and hot putter, Phil will look for his first win since the 2013 Open Championship.
Golf's sleeping giant
Headlining the sponsors exemptions is 22-year-old Chinese star Haotong Li. At 33rd in the world rankings, Li is the highest ranked Chinese player ever. He has won twice on the European Tour and finished third in last year's Open Championship. Li is a part of the growing Chinese contingent in professional golf. Joining Li at Riviera are rookies Xinjun Zhang and Marty Dou. Dou, a 20-year-old, earned his spot via Monday’s qualifier. Thanks to promising young players like Li and Dou the world's most populous country is gaining a foothold in professional golf.
It's election season for the PGA Tour's Player Advisory Council. Billy Hurley III is running against Jordan Spieth for the Chairman position. To combat Spieth's starpower, Hurley put together the first-ever smear campaign in PGA Tour history. This is a must watch.
University of Texas star Scottie Scheffler earned his way into the field via the annual Collegiate Showcase. Scheffler's 69 on Monday topped the meager six-man field to gain a spot in the field. I love this event, but it’s been sad to see the field shrink in the last two years. This year, three of the six players were from Texas.
The Yolk with Doak: Episode 5 - Renaissance Golf, George Thomas and Bel-Air C.C. - Part I
In the latest episode of our ongoing podcast series with Tom Doak, we are joined by Renaissance Golf Associates Eric Iverson and Brian Schneider and shapers Kye Goalby and Blake Conant. In Part I of a three-part episode, we talk about each of their backgrounds and how Renaissance golf works. Listen to part one of the podcast on the website, iTunes or Stitcher and look for part two to hit your feeds later today.
Around the rest of the golf world
The European Tour heads to Oman for this year's Oman Champions.
Former women's top-ranked player Lydia Ko is making another coach and caddie switch. Ko made wholesale changes in equipment (Callaway to PXG), instructor and caddie before the 2017 season and went winless for the first time since she was 15 in 2012. Before making the switch, Ko was the undisputed top women’s golfer and appeared headed to a spot among the all-time greats. It will be interesting to watch if the latest change puts her back on that trajectory. The LPGA's season kicks off this week at the ISPS Women's Australian Open.