The Genesis Invitational lived up to the hype on Thursday during Round 1 at Riviera Country Club, and the golf course — as expected — played a prominent role. Pars were good (how rarely that happens on the PGA Tour) and anything in the high 60s got you on the leaderboard.
Sam Burns leads after 18 holes as he birdied his last three holes to shoot a 7-under 64, which was about seven strokes better than the field average. He’ll have plenty of heat behind him with several top-10 players in the world within a few strokes, but Burns has been playing tremendous golf for several months now. Let’s take a look at his round in-depth and everything else you need to know about the biggest names on this board after 18 holes.
1. Sam Burns (-7): Unsurprisingly, Burns led the field in approach shots, and he also gained about half of his seven strokes with the putter as he holed three birdies or eagles of more than 15 feet. Burns is a favorite among the fantasy golf community as he’s normally terrific from tee to green, but his putting is what has carried him for the last few months. He’s been sniffing leads for weeks, too, and played in the final group at the Farmers Insurance Open next to Patrick Reed before fading late on Sunday. He might be a one-round wonder, but that seems like an unlikely scenario. I think he’s here to stay throughout the weekend even if he doesn’t win.
T2. Matthew Fitzpatrick, Max Homa (-5): This does not seem like the style of golf course Fitzpatrick would thrive on, but both were lights out on Thursday. Fitzpatrick’s construction of 66 concerns me a bit more than Homa’s because he leaned so heavily on the putter, and I’m probably fading him over the next three days. A Homa win would be pretty incredible given his proximity to this event for most of his amateur career.
T4. Patrick Cantlay, Wyndham Clark, Joaquin Niemann, Matt Jones, Scottie Scheffler, Tyler McCumber, Alex Noren, Jason Kokrak (-4): I’m furious at myself for not picking Cantlay this week. He’s been lights out the last two events, has a good history here and his game sets up perfectly for this golf course. Coincidentally, he also had a terrific quote about what he called “by far” the best course on the PGA Tour.
“There’s a lot of holes out here that are just how far and how straight can you hit your driver and then hit your golf ball in the right spot, but you can hit any shape you want,” Cantlay said. “I don’t think you necessarily have to shape the golf ball, but you definitely have to be cognizant of where you’re leaving the golf ball even off the tee.”
A lot of courses on tour are just hit it and go find it, but you certainly have to think your way around Riviera, and Cantlay is quite good at that. The course got universal praise for being in tremendous condition on Thursday (not always the case with poa annua greens), and if they dial it up a bit we could see 6 under or 7 under as a winning score.
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T12. Dustin Johnson, Francesco Molinari, Keegan Bradley, Brooks Koepka, Talor Gooch, Jordan Spieth (-3): DJ was even through his first 13 holes before making birdie at three of his last five. He is absolutely going to be a problem the rest of the week if that was his bad round. He’s an even shorter favorite than he was to start the tournament. Partly because he’s DJ but also because the average score on Thursday hovered around 71 all day. If he’s gaining three a day on the field, it might be a wrap. Spieth extended his positive strokes gained on approach shots streak to 10.
T105. Bryson DeChambeau (+4): This is what I thought Winged Foot was going to do to DeChambeau. He hit just 2 of 14 fairways, which is not as bad as it sounds for somebody who hits it as far as him (he was only -.612 strokes gained off the tee), but he struggled with every other part of his game. Like Cantlay said above, you have to be aware of where your leave is, and DeChambeau was nowhere near what I imagine his intended targets were. Take the par-4 9th hole where he was about 0 strokes gained off the tee because he hit it 341 yards. However, he left himself nothing on his approach and made bogey. This is an extreme example but it depicts what great courses are supposed to do.
117. Justin Thomas (+6): It was tough to watch. Three doubles, a four-putt from 33 feet and now probably his second missed cut in his last three starts. Long-term there are zero concerns, though. J.T. missed two of three cuts at the start of 2020 (after his Tournament of Champions victory) and went on to win and finish runner up twice the rest of the year. Still, my confidence in him is not running high at the moment.