(CBS Los Angeles)- The final stop of the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing brings the players to Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California for the Genesis Invitational this weekend. After some took last week off, many of the world’s top players will be in action making for a strong field vying to unseat last year’s winner, Adam Scott.
30 of the Official World Golf Ranking’s Top 50 players will be on the course this weekend including eight of the Top 10. The players are taking on a course that Golf on CBS analyst Ian Baker-Finch calls ‘special’ in that it is one of the stops on tour that players take particular pride in being able to say they won.
“When you get perfect weather and no wind, the long hitters can shoot great scores, as we’ve seen,” said Baker-Finch. “But the tournament itself is special. It’s a special golf course, it means a lot to the players. To be able to say you won at Riviera, it just means something.”
Scott’s 11 under par round of 273 is a good example of the type of score we’ve seen at this tournament over the last several years. The course’s difficulties lie not in its length but in players’ shot-making and shaping abilities.
“People like Phil Mickelson, winning back-to-back, big hitter, shapes the ball well. Go back many years and look at someone like Corey Pavin, not a big hitter at all but someone that really shaped the ball well,” said Baker-Finch. “I look at players like that. Bubba Watson of course, he’s won here three times. That’s what I’m looking for.”
Among those in the field this year, Baker-Finch points to favorite Dustin Johnson (6-1 odds), “big hitter, drives it well, takes advantage of those 5s.” But, also says to watch out for players that enter the tournament in good recent form.
“It’s a course where you have to come in in good form. It’s like a major, where I’ve always said, you’re not going to win if you come in with your B game,” said Baker-Finch. “So the guys to look for are the ones in good form.”
Xander Schauffele (Top 5 in his last three events), Patrick Cantlay (Top 5 last two starts), Brooks Koepka (win at WM Phoenix Open) and Adam Scott (defending champion) are among the players that Baker-Finch has his eye on heading into the weekend. Also in the category of playing well is Jordan Spieth, rattling off a Top 5 finishes and holding 54 hole leads in each of the last two weeks. Spieth is in the field again this week and Baker-Finch says that he likes the way the 27-year-old is trending.
“It’s a simple answer in that, he’s building back the layers of confidence that have been chipped away over the last three years. He is gradually building them back. He’s had the lead for several rounds. He’s had two or three really, really good low scores,” said Baker-Finch. “Each time he does something special, each time he leads, he’s building back those layers of confidence. I like the way he’s trending.”
Spieth or any player looking to win at Riviera will have to find the balance between aggression and defensiveness. The course, though not overly long, is not one that players can simply overpower.
“You can’t be too defensive knowing that, ‘I just want to get this in the fairway to make sure I don’t make 5. That’s the tricky part. I can’t be aggressive and take the drive on and try and hit it 320 down there because if I hit it in the rough I’m going to make 5. They’re the things that you really lean on your caddy for and your game plan,” said Baker-Finch.
A perfect example is the 10th hole. A 315-yard par-4 is easily within range of most players, but bombing away at the green can leave you scrambling to get back in position for a solid birdie attempt.
“90 percent of the tour can reach it but at the same time you have to play defense a little bit that you at least give yourself a putt inside 10 feet to make a birdie. You can make 5 there by being too aggressive. There’s a lot of that at Riviera,” said Baker-Finch. “That’s why I think it suits the really good ball strikers but at the same time you have to have really good short game too that will get you out of trouble. It’s not just brute strength.”
“Usually, it means you’re a good ball-striker, a great player,” continued Baker-Finch. “That you’ve been able to withstand the pressure of winning in ‘Hogan’s Alley’, one of the great venues in PGA Tour golf.”
Dustin Johnson (6-1)
Johnson has only played in one tournament since the start of this year. But, on the season his results have gone T-6 at the U.S. Open, T-2 at the Houston Open, win at The Masters, and T-11 at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. So, the lack of recent play isn’t particularly concerning given that track record. And, Johnson has won here before back in 2017.
Rory McIlroy (12-1)
Since finishing T-5 at The Masters, Rory has recorded T-13 and T-16 finishes at the Farmers Insurance Open and the Waste Management Phoenix Open respectively. He’s second on the tour in driving distance this season (323.7 yards) but a concern has been the accuracy, 141st at 58.43%.
Jon Rahm (12-1)
Rahm’s been solidly in the Top 10 for much of the 2021 season thus far, with four Top-10 finishes in seven starts. In those seven outings, his worst finish was a T-23 at the U.S. Open back in September. Just outside of the Top 10 in the FedEx Cup standings at the moment, a would vault him up the leaderboard heading into the next stretch of events.
Watch the Genesis Invitational, Saturday, February 20, 3:00 – 6:00 p.m. ET and Sunday, February 21, 3:00 – 6:30 p.m. ET on CBS.