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Riviera is starting line for big-time events on the road to the Masters

February 16, 2021
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PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Not a single top-10 player teed it up in last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, but rest assured it was nothing personal. Everyone loves Pebble Beach, and in a vacuum, everyone would have the old Crosby Clambake circled on their calendar.

The problem—aside from there being no amateurs in the field, a rather inconvenient development for a tournament with Pro-Am on its signage—is that no PGA Tour event happens in a vacuum. Every tournament falls after one tournament and before another, and Pebble had the misfortunate of coming just before the most hectic stretch on the Tour’s front-loaded schedule.

This week’s Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club marks the beginning of a seven-week stretch that runs from California, through Florida, and finally to Augusta. And five of those seven weeks feature an event with “elevated” status, which offer bigger purses, more FedEx Cup points and hyper-elite fields.

First comes the Genesis, which joined the Memorial Tournament and the Arnold Palmer Invitational when it received the bump to “Invitational” status prior to last year’s event. With a player-favorite venue in Riviera and the involvement of Tiger Woods, who has hosted this event since 2017, the Gensis has drawn world-class fields to Southern California in recent years. Woods will not be in the field this week as he continues to recover from another back operation, but seven of the top-10 in the world will be.

Next comes the WGC-Workday Championship, which was moved from Mexico City to the Concession Club in Bradenton, Fla., for one-year only due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With no-cuts, guaranteed paydays and massive world ranking points at stake, World Golf Championships have become something of a no-brainer for Tour players fortunate enough to qualify. That event being played in Florida, where so many players live and directly preceding three more events in the Sunshine State, will result in a star-studded tee sheet as well.

Then it’s the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, which has the same status as the Genesis. After that it’s the Players Championship—which is not quite a major, but the next best thing. It typically draws the strongest field of any golf tournament in the world, and it’s virtually unheard of for a healthy and qualified player to skip it.

After that four-in-four sprint comes the Honda Classic—which, like the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, has had some difficulty drawing stars given its spot on the calendar. Then it’s the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, which gives players three guaranteed rounds two weeks ahead of the Masters. For most with the luxury of hand-choosing their schedules, this will serve as their tune-up for Augusta.

Collin Morikawa plays a shot during the pro-am for the 2020 Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club.

FELIPE TRUEBA

Tired yet?

The task for the players is to avoid fatigue, especially in an age when more and more emphasis is being placed on rest and recovery. Gone are the days of guys packing the truck and playing week after week after week.

“I think three (in a row) is kind of the max for me,” said Collin Morikawa, who is playing the Genesis, the WGC-Workday and the Players, but not Bay Hill. “It’s just about being really smart about how you go through Monday through Wednesdays.

“I’m not out there from sunrise to sunset Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday just grinding, grinding, grinding. It might be okay for one week; third week, it’s not going to be okay. I’ve learned that about myself. I’ve been able to be efficient with how much time I spend out here, how much rest I’m getting. It’s just huge, being able to rest. We take sleep for granted, but it’s really important for what we do.”

Rory McIlroy hits a shot on th fifth hole during the final round of the 2020 Genesis Invitational.

Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire

Patrick Cantlay, who finished T-3 last week at Pebble and is in the field at Riviera, also said he tries to avoid four straight. He’ll also play next week’s WGC, but he too will sit out Bay Hill.

“I don’t usually like to play anything more than three in a row, and so depending on what golf courses I like and where I feel comfortable, usually places I’ve played before, I’ll go to those places and then try and figure out the schedule around not playing more than three in a row.”

Whereas Morikawa won’t be at the golf course from sunrise to sunset grinding on Monday, Matthew Fitzpatrick won’t be out there at all.

“I’ll take all Mondays off for the next four weeks,” says the world No. 20, who will play each event from the Genesis through the Players. “And then the few weeks off that I will get between now and Augusta, just making sure I get some time away from the game. Have to rest, have to stay fresh.”

Rest seems to be the in-vogue term on Tour these days. It’s what Dustin Johnson cited as his reason for pulling out of the AT&T. Justin Thomas routinely posts his Whoop “recovery scores” to social media. Rory McIlroy used to as well, at least until his wife gave birth to their first child in September. Now sleep is a rare treat reserved for the road.

The good news: He’ll be on the road quite a bit over these next two months. Because while the PGA Tour season may have officially began last September, the grind begins right now.