Course knowledge essential for success at Genesis Open

Defending champion Bubba Watson is one of the headliners in the field for this week’s Genesis Open, which begins play Thursday at venerable Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif., set in the Santa Monica Canyon outside Los Angeles.

There are plenty of other sizzling golfers to focus on as well, including three players who won the most recent tournament in which they competed. And plenty of attention will be on one player who withdrew from the event last week because of injury but will still be around the course all weekend.

The three recent winners — Jordan Spieth, who captured the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am last week, and Hideki Matsuyama of Japan and Sergio Garcia of Spain, winners of the Waste Management Phoenix Open in Scottsdale, Ariz., and the Dubai Desert Classic, respectively, on Feb. 5 — are undoubtedly in top form.

The 144-player field includes eight of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking: Jason Day of Australia (1), Dustin Johnson (3), Matsuyama (5), Spieth (6), Australia’s Adam Scott (7), Justin Thomas (8), Garcia (9) and Patrick Reed (10). The event carries a $7 million purse, $1.26 million of which will go to the winner.

The field also features eight of the top 10 golfers in the current FedExCup standings, including Matsuyama (1), Justin Thomas (2), Spieth (3), Pat Perez (4), Brendan Steele (5), Canada’s Mackenzie Hughes (7), Hudson Swafford (8) and Charles Howell III (9).

Matsuyama has won five times since the start of the 2016-17 PGA Tour season, twice on the Japan Golf Tour, twice on the PGA Tour (WGC-HSBC Champions and Phoenix Open) and one unofficial PGA Tour event (Hero World Challenge).

Spieth comes into the Genesis Open having collected his ninth PGA Tour victory at last week in his 108th start (100th as a professional) at the age of 23 years, 6 months and 16 days. He is the second-youngest player since World War II to win nine times on the tour, trailing only Tiger Woods (23 years, 5 months, 7 days).

“This is my sixth event at Riviera — I played in once in college (when the University of Texas won the national championship in 2012) and once as an amateur as well as the past three years, and it’s a course where it’s nice to have some course knowledge,” Spieth said. “I feel very comfortable about where my game is at, and I love coming back to this track. I would call in one of the top five tracks in the whole world, and it’s in phenomenal shape.”

Watson finished birdie-birdie-par over the final three holes at the 2016 Northern Trust Open, as the event was then known, to post a one-stroke victory over Scott and Jason Kokrak. The victory was his second at Riviera (2014) and ninth overall on the PGA Tour.

Watson is seeking to become the first back-to-back winner of the event since Phil Mickelson (2008-09), but Watson’s recent form shows little indication that he is is the man to beat this week. In three tournaments in the 2016-17 PGA Tour season, he tied for 54th at the WGC-HSBC Champions, tied for 25th at the Tournament of Champions and missed the cut in Phoenix.

Woods announced last week that back spasms will force him to miss the Genesis Open as well as next week’s Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

“This is not what I was hoping for or expecting,” Woods posted on his website. “I am extremely disappointed to miss the Genesis Open, a tournament that benefits my foundation, and The Honda Classic, my hometown event.”

Woods withdrew from the Dubai Desert Classic after just one round with the same injury. His first official tournament back on the PGA Tour since August 2015 was at the Farmers Insurance Open in late January; he missed the cut.

Riviera Country Club, designed by George C. Thomas, opened for play in 1927. Riviera has hosted many of golf’s greatest events, including the U.S. Open, PGA Championship and U.S. Senior Open. In addition, it will host the U.S. Amateur Championship later this year (Aug. 14-20).

The roster of past champions at Riviera Country Club includes Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Tom Watson, Ernie Els, Fred Couples and Mickelson.