By BILL BRUNS
Circling the News Advisor
The Genesis Invitational, featuring eight of the world’s top 10-ranked players, got underway in beautiful weather today at the Riviera Country Club.
Sam Burns, 24, took a two-stroke lead with a 7-under-par 64 on the historic course, opening with an eagle on the first hole and closing with birdies on 16, 17 and 18.
“This golf course at times doesn’t offer you a lot of opportunities, so I think just with that mindset going in we were just going to kind of take what we could get,” said Burns, who is seeking his first PGA Tour victory.
Max Homa, who grew up in Valencia and was a spectator at the tournament as a kid, and Matthew Fitzpatrick both shot 66. Homa also birdied the final three holes (going 2, 4 and 3) and Fitzpatrick eagled No. 1.
“It was a good day overall,” Fitzpatrick said. “I feel like I struggle a little bit on poa annua, so to see them [the greens] how they are this week, so firm, fast, they’re as true as I’ve ever seen.”
Homa said, “I know the golf course pretty well, I’ve been fortunate to play a few more times since college and it’s the grass I grew up on. Kikuyu, poa annua, it’s very very comfortable for me.”
Eight golfers were tied at 67, including Patrick Cantlay (who played at UCLA). He had a sizzling 4-under 31 on the front nine, but had to settle for a 36 on the back side. “I thought the golf course was incredible,” he said. “I think it’s the best on Tour.”
Tyler McCumber, one of the players bunched at 67, caught his fingernail on a nail in the hotel room Monday night. On Tuesday morning, “It was pretty torn up, but fortunately the surgeon on site, the emergency surgeon is a hand specialist. Dr. Modabber. So, he gave me the option, he said we can bandage it up, obviously you can’t play because it’s just too painful, or we can do a procedure where we just rip off the nail, but half of the nail is still intact. So, he numbed the finger and ripped off the nail.”
When McCumber was asked about his pain level he said, “It’s just gone numb. . .Riviera will take your mind off the pain.”
The PGA interviewer noted that McCumber’s hand looked swollen, and the golfer admitted: “I was surprised I could play, honestly. When I did it, I pretty much booked a flight back home and changed it once he ripped it [the nail] off. Honestly, I was pretty fortunate to tee it up.”
Alex Noren (67) pointed out that “the rough is not very high, but it’s hard to stop the ball on the greens from the rough.
Dustin Johnson, the No. 1 player in the world, had a frustrating 68 (along with six other players). The long driver parred all three of the par-5 holes, which normally are birdie opportunities for him. “Tomorrow I need to hit a few more fairways and take care of the par 5’s,” he said, and added: “You can’t ask for a course in better shape. The greens are perfect, the fairways are firm and fast. But yeah, this golf course plays really difficult when it’s firm and fast. You have to be in the right position, or you’ve got no chance.”
Former world No. 1 Jordan Spieth also shot 68, helped by a birdie 3 on the famous 10th hole. On the tee, he said, “The idea was to hit a 3‑wood over the left bunker into those trees . . .but that angle’s the best angle to be chipping into the green from.” He said the wind “was blowing pretty hard so I knew I needed to kind of hook it in order to get it over that bunker. So I went a little left of where I wanted, ended up in one of those spots that was not ideal because the palm tree happened to be right in the line I wanted to go.”
He ended up going to the left side and cut it out of the rough from about 60 yards. “That shot was the shot of the day for me,” Spieth said. “That could have easily been a 5 and it turned out to be a 3.”
Defending champion Adam Scott, a 14-time Tour winner, finished 2-under. “I felt pretty good out there, but just didn’t hit as good off the tee as I was hoping.” He said the wind moved direction a little bit during the day, but “it’s a course I’m comfortable on, so even hitting poorly, I kind of feel like I know how to get it around.”
Korean Tae Hoon Kim eagled the par-5 11th hole (sinking a bunker shot from next to the green) and had a hole-in-one on the 16th hole as he also finished with a 69.
This is one of three tournaments on the PGA TOUR schedule with elevated status, along with the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide and the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard.
Elevated events each offer a larger purse ($9.3 million), a three-year PGA TOUR exemption for the winner, and (new in 2021), 550 FedExCup points to the winner.