Riv not LIV is the mantra this week at the Genesis Invitational.
LIV Golf is the upstart circuit led by Greg Norman and financially supported by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. Its first tournament of 2023 will be at the El Camaleón Golf Course in Mayakoba, Mexico, next week and its golfers include last year’s Genesis winner, Joaquin Niemann.
Riv is a favored diminutive for Riviera Country Club, the venerable Pacific Palisades par-71 layout playing host to this week’s PGA Tour event that will include every golfer in the top 25 except Niemann and Cameron Smith, another LIV defector.
It also will include Tiger Woods, a surprise entry. Woods is a staunch PGA Tour supporter who has worked with Rory McIlroy and others for a year to combat LIV.
“It’s been very turbulent. … It’s been difficult, there’s no lie,” Woods said. “We never would have expected the game of golf to be in this situation, but it is, that’s the reality.
“Obviously, [LIV] is a competitive organization trying to create their best product they possibly can, and we’re trying to create the best product that we think is the future of golf, how it should be played. How do we do that? We’re still working on that.”
The threat of LIV seems to thread nearly every conversation. Here is a deeper dive into that battle as well as other front-burner topics this week at Riviera.
How does the Genesis fit into PGA strategy to combat LIV?
The new PGA Tour schedule has elevated tournaments with bigger purses, creating incentive for the best golfers to resist defecting to cash-flush LIV. The purse at the Genesis Invitational — one of 13 elevated events in 2023 — has increased from $12 million to $20 million and the combined purse for the elevated events is $315 million, up nearly 50% from last year’s $214.7 million.
Some of the designated events could change next year. The WM Phoenix Open, RBC Heritage, Wells Fargo Championship and Travelers Championship are not guaranteed to be designated in 2024, although the Genesis Invitational seems on solid footing.
LIV Golf was a hot topic at last year’s Genesis Invitational because comments Phil Mickelson made criticizing the PGA Tour and professing his devotion to the upstart organization became public. Many PGA players slammed Mickelson.
Scottie Scheffler, the No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Rankings and winner of last week’s WM Phoenix Open, hopes this week’s conversations center around Riv, not LIV.
“I felt like last year there was so much talk surrounding LIV at this event,” he said. “This year I feel like we’re kind of more settled into the ecosystem of golf. I think our tour’s doing a good job of improving and continuing to benefit the top players and all across the board.
“Last year it was a lot of drama, it was like who’s going to go, I’m not going, now this guy’s going, and it’s like all this stuff is going on around us and was kind of hard to focus on the tournament. Now I feel like we’ve settled in a bit but it’s still weird that certain guys aren’t here.”
Riviera, the course Tiger hasn’t tamed
Woods grew up in Cypress, roughly an hour’s drive from Riviera. His dad took him to tournaments at the course when he was a child. He made his PGA Tour debut as a 16-year-old amateur at the 1992 L.A. Open at Riviera and missed the cut by six strokes.
He’s made 13 tour starts at the course since. He was runner-up in 1999, one of three top-10 finishes, and 22 of his 42 rounds have been under par. But he’s never won.
The last time he played the course, he tied for 68th in 2020, finishing last among those who made the cut.
Cold and windy for Southern California
Winds of about 15 mph made temperatures during Wednesday morning practice rounds feel like 40 degrees. Adam Scott said conditions “were brutal.” But it doesn’t appear that a repeat of the miserable third round at the 2021 Genesis Invitational is in store.
Officials were forced to suspend play that day after marked balls rolled off most of the greens because of high winds that reached 35 mph.
The forecast for the next four days calls for winds under 10 mph. Morning rounds will remain chilly, with temperatures in the high 40s and 50s.
“Conditions were pretty tough out there this morning and it looks like the weather forecast is going to improve as the week goes on,” McIlroy said of his practice round. “Hopefully that’s the last of the wind that we have to deal with.”
One golfer with no complaints is Tom Kim, the 20-year-old South Korean rising star who already has two tour victories. Kim attended the Genesis Invitational in 2020 as a fan and played Riviera for the first time last week.
“I actually first took a look at this course last week,” Kim said. “I came over for a trip and I played 18 holes and I played nine [Tuesday]. I think thisplace is very magical. The course is in great shape and I think it’s a very special place.”
Favorites, sleepers and local favorites
The hot hands so far in 2023 are present and oozing confidence, including Scheffler, McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Jason Day, Tony Finau and Sam Burns. Adam Scott is the Genesis Invitational all-time earnings leader.
Sleepers? How about Keegan Bradley for his ability with short irons and improving putting. Or streaky Taylor Moore, who has finished in the top 15 in his last three tournaments. Or maybe Wyndham Clark.
Woods — who naturally is a sentimental pick to at least make the cut — likes Viktor Hovland, a Norwegian who has finished tied for fourth and fifth in two starts on the American mainland.
“The sky’s the limit for Viktor, the way he drives it, he doesn’t really have any weaknesses in the game,” Woods said. “And then his fitness, he works very hard at getting explosiveness and endurance.”
Southern California players and potential gallery favorites include Max Homa, who won the Genesis in 2021, Collin Morikawa, an excellent irons player on a course that rewards that strength, and Sahith Theegala, a Pepperdine product with four top-10 finishes in the last year.
Man with a motor
Less than 18 hours after Scheffler defended his Waste Management Phoenix Open championship on Sunday afternoon, he played a morning round at Riviera Country Club in the Genesis Invitational Collegiate Showcase.
Scheffler, a University of Texas graduate who won the showcase in 2018, played with Longhorn graduate student Brian Stark. Texas Tech senior Jack Wall defeated Alex Goff of Kentucky on the second playoff hole to earn the final exemption into Thursday’s field.
Scheffler will walk to the first tee Thursday as the No. 1 player in the world rankings. He notched four wins and four runner-up finishes in 2022, including his first major win at the Master’s.
Winning at Riviera five years ago as a college student is the memory he’s attempting to conjure as he prepares for the Genesis.
“I think good golf translates well on this course,” he said. “When you’re hitting it really well and you’re playing good golf, this is a place that you can score on. And the opposite is said, when you’re not hitting it well, this golf course will punish you. It’s one of the best tests of the year.”
In the back of his mind is deciding the Masters Champions Dinner menu when all Green Jacket winners convene Tuesday night ahead of the tournament at Augusta, Ga.
“It’s fun kind of planning it out,” Scheffler said. “My wife, Meredith, she’s very creative. She’s been helping me kind of think my way through it because I’m not really good at that.”
Most conversations circle back to the LIV, and the prospect of the Champions Dinner including several golfers who bolted for the Saudi-backed tour can’t be ignored.
“The Champions Dinner is going to be obviously something that’s talked about,” Woods said. “Making sure that Scottie gets honored correctly but also realizing the nature of what has transpired and the people that have left, just where our situations are either legally, emotionally, there’s a lot there.”