Much was made about the strength of the field (or lackthereof) last week at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. There were no such complaints in the lead-up to this week’s Genesis Invitational, where eight of the top 10 players in the World Ranking are in the field.
Unfortunately, two of them (and perhaps a few more) could be making a short stay in L.A. Riviera doesn’t care what number is next to you in the OWGR. If you’re game isn’t sharp from shot one on Thursday, you won’t last too long.
Here are five takeaways from Day 1 at the Genesis.
Riviera bullies Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas, among others
As we saw at Winged Foot, Bryson DeChambeau’s new wail-away-with-the-driver strategy can yield incredible results. As we saw at Augusta National, it can also yield frustrating ones.
On Thursday at Riviera, another iconic venue on the PGA Tour schedule, it resulted in one of the latter for DeChambeau. As he came to find out, your misses can’t be so large at a course like Riv, which requires critical thinking and precision off the tee and around the greens. Those two areas of his game were seriously lacking in his opening round (94th in SG/off-the-tee; 113th in SG/around-the-green), and it led to a four-over 75. To his credit, DeChambeau birdied two of his final three holes, giving him an outside chance of making the weekend with a much-improved round on Friday. He’ll likely need something in the five- to six-under range, which is certainly possible provided he has one of his “keep the lights on for me, I’m going to fix this tonight” range sessions Thursday night.
As for Justin Thomas, he’s in need of a miracle to reach the weekend. The World No. 3 finished with a six-over 77, which has him near the very bottom of the leader board. Like DeChambeau, he also birdied two of his last three, but sandwiched between was a double bogey at the par-5 17th, one of his three doubles of the round. He just didn’t have it on Thursday, and you will get exposed at Riviera if that’s the case. DeChambeau and Thomas aren’t alone in fighting for the weekend, too. Rory McIlroy (two-over 73) and Collin Morikawa (73), another pair of top-10 players, have work to do as well.
Let’s will a Brooks vs. DJ weekend into existence
We could potentially lose Rory, JT and Bryson for the Saturday and Sunday, but it would all be OK if we get a mano-a-mano showdown between Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson.
There is nothing more foolish than attempting to predict golf tournaments after one round (could have just stopped that sentence after “attempting to predict golf tournaments”), but with Koepka and Johnson both off to a solid, three-under 68 starts, why not dream? Ever since Koepka’s comments on Saturday night at the PGA Championship last August, DJ has been Koepka’s daddy, but Koepka finally got some swagger back with his Waste Management Phoenix Open victory. You know DJ’s Masters win and entire late summer/early fall reign of terror just ate away at Koepka, whose own struggles during that span continued to fuel the fire within (just ask his poor golf clubs). He’d love nothing more than to take back that alpha crown from DJ this weekend. OK, it’s only Thursday. Deep breaths. Deep breaths (but yeah, it’s happening).
Did Sam Burns pick the wrong week to have the week?
Considering the conditions of the golf course Thursday, and the way Sam Burns finished (birdie-birdie-birdie on 16, 17 and 18), his opening-round 64 was one of the better rounds of the year on the PGA Tour. It’s not all that surprising, though. The former LSU golfer has flashed some elite ball-striking ability and off-the-tee game for quite some time now, particularly these last six months. He began the 2020-21 season by contending at the Safeway last September, ultimately finishing T-7, then adding another T-7 finish at the Houston Open in November. He was one good putting week away from seriously threatening to win, and he got that week at the Waste Management, where he gained an astounding 10.9 strokes on the greens. But, the tee-to-green play wasn’t there, and he could only manage a T-22 at Scottsdale.
Burns’ put-it-all-together week has been brewing for a while, and, again, it’s only Thursday, but we can’t help but wonder if this week is the week for the 24-year-old. Through one round he’s first in SG/approach, first in total strokes gained, third in SG/putting and sixth in SG/tee-to-green. What we also can’t help but wonder: Did he pick the wrong week to do it? Burns could very well become a top player on tour with his game, but as of now he’s still an up-and-comer who is currently ranked 149th in the world. Could you imagine if he has his best week on the same week that DJ, Brooks, Patrick Cantlay (four-under 67) and Jordan Spieth (three-under 68) all have great weeks, too? Couldn’t he have had this week against a weaker field? Would be brutal. There we go, trying to predict what’s going to happen after one round again.
A relieved Joaquin Niemann keeps it rolling
As we wrote Thursday, Joaquin Niemann confirmed that his 1-year-old cousin Rafita had gotten the life-saving medicine needed to fight a childhood illness and was home with his father in Chile and “feeling good.” The medicine cost $2 million with Niemann raising the money beginning last November at the RSM Classic. Thanks to his fine play (he donated over $200,000 of his earnings) and donations to the GoFundMe account he started. “Now that we’ve got it done, it feels relief, and it feels great,” Niemann said on Thursday. “We’ve got to keep fighting for Rafita. He’s got to keep fighting, and I think he’s going to be all right because we’re fighting to support him.”
In his first start since a second straight runner-up finish at Sony, Niemann opened with a four-under 67 at Riviera. It was amazing how well he played during this tough time, but it goes to show what can happen when you play for something bigger than yourself. Niemann has done about as good a job of that as anyone.
Tae Hoon Kim = instant legend
Because of his Genesis Championship victory on the Korean Tour last year, Tae Hoon Kim earned an exemption into this year’s Genesis Invitational on the PGA Tour. Why is that a big deal? Kim, 35, had never struck a shot in a PGA Tour event before, spending his entire career in Asia. After Thursday, Kim might want to make his first PGA Tour round his last, because it’s all downhill from here.
Kim’s day began at the par-4 10th, which gave some of the world’s best absolute fits, as it often does. He made birdie. At the par-5 11th, he holed out for eagle from a greenside bunker. Three pars and a bogey later, he stepped to the tee at the par-3 16th. You already know what happens next:
Incredible. And yes, he did win a car, a Genesis G80 to be exact. Genesis Championship winner makes ace at Genesis Invitational to win Genesis G80. You can’t make it up, folks:
Kim struggled a bit on the way home, but a late birdie at the par-4 eighth saved the day, and he wound up finishing with a two-under 69. An eagle, an ace and a car. Not the worst way to kick off your PGA Tour career.