The stars are out in LA for a major-like field at Riviera

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Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, tees off on the 17th hole during the Genesis Invitational pro-am golf event at Riviera Country Club, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Kang)

LOS ANGELES – All the best players in the world are gathered on a course rich in heritage and esteem.

And the Masters is still seven weeks away.

The Genesis Invitational wraps up the West Coast swing at Riviera with a field so strong that it attracted everyone from the top 10 in the world ranking. It's the first time in 15 years a regular PGA Tour event has all of the world's top 10.

It even has Tiger Woods, even if he's at Riviera as the tournament host while recovering from injuries to his right leg from a car crash in Los Angeles nearly a year ago.

“It's sort of turned into a can't-miss event on the PGA Tour,” said Rory McIlroy, who checks in at No. 5. “All the top 10 are here this week, and I think that speaks volumes for what we all think of this event. It's one that you don't want to miss.”

Riviera has never looked better, thanks to a recent dry spell in California and a blast of heat during Super Bowl weekend. The greens already are firm and fast, and they have enough subtlety to make them difficult even in moist weather.

McIlroy is making his U.S. debut after playing twice during the European Tour's swing through the United Arab Emirates.

With so many top players in the field, Collin Morikawa at No. 2 and Patrick Cantlay at No. 3 have a mathematical chance to replace Jon Rahm atop the world ranking.

It's almost enough to divert the attention away from the endless rumblings of a Saudi-financed “Super Golf League” that has yet to announce the signing of a player. Most of the attention is on Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau, neither of whom are at Riviera.

“Not so Super League,” is what McIlroy called it, suggesting it would be more like a pre-Champions Tour than a league of the best players.

Among those who have said they aren't interested are McIlroy and Rahm, Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka and most recently Morikawa.

Rahm said nearly two years ago he was opposed to the idea, and he took time out Wednesday to again say whatever legacy he leaves in golf will come through the PGA Tour and that money is not his sole motivation.

“They throw numbers at you and that’s supposed to impress people,” Rahm said.

The more pertinent numbers at Riviera come through the world ranking. Much of that has to do with Riviera, and a tournament with Woods as the host that is referred to as “elevated status.” The prize money is $12 million, the same purse the PGA Championship offered last year.

Cantlay, who lost in a playoff to Scottie Scheffler last week in the Phoenix Open, has driven up to Riviera from his home in Long Beach since he was a kid.

He had said two weeks ago that Pebble Beach or Cypress Point would be the course he would love to play with friends. For tournament golf, he felt Riviera was the best in the country.

“I think it defends par without getting tricked up better than any golf course I’ve ever been to,” Cantlay said. “They rarely grow any rough. There’s basically no rough out there, there’s no water, you only can really hit it out of bounds on the 12th hole. And yet 13, 14, 15, 16 under wins pretty much every time.”

And that's with a par-5 opening hole that Cantlay can reach with a 3-wood and a 7-iron.

Max Homa won last year in a playoff after finishing at 12-under par.

“I think it’s an amazing test of golf," Cantlay said.

Of course, having all the top 10 players doesn't guarantee one of them will be there at the end. The leaderboard was strong in Phoenix, with five players from the top 10 in the world finishing among the top 10 at the TPC Scottsdale.

Scheffler (now No. 9) was at No. 15 when he won in Phoenix. That was the highest-ranked player to win on the PGA Tour since McIlroy (No. 14) in Las Vegas at the CJ Cup. Two players from outside the top 100 in the world have won in the six tournaments to start the year.

This isn't the first time Morikawa has a shot at No. 1. He was poised to get to the top at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas in December until losing a five-shot lead in the final round.

He hasn't seriously contended in three events this year — two in the Middle East — though some of that was a long rest in the offseason from getting over the coronavirus. But he spent time with his hometown coach last week in LA and likes where his game is headed.

“So the confidence is back, glad to be back in LA and I’m just excited to see everyone and ready to play some great golf,” he said.


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