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Battle of the young guns looms


It says a great deal about the storied Riviera Country Club, home of many Hollywood stars down the years and also of the many notable US PGA Tour events staged there since 1926, that it invariably draws powerful fields.

And this year is no exception.

For heading the field along with the defending champion and two-time winner Bubba Watson at this week's Genesis Open, is World No 1 Jason Day and the World's Nos 3, 5 and 6, Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama, and Jordan Spieth.

And that's just for starters.

Also playing in a tournament that over the years has been won by golfing greats like Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson - and never won by other standouts like Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tiger Woods (in 11 attempts) - are many other high rankers including Adam Scott (No 7), Justin Thomas (8), Sergio Garcia (9), Patrick Reed (10) and Justin Rose (12).

The bookmakers see Spieth, who comes to the Pacific Palisades fresh from his confidence-boosting 9th PGA Tour win at last week's AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. as the most likely winner. On Tuesday morning they had him at 8/1 followed by Johnson and Matsuyama at 9/1, Day at 14/1, and Garcia, Scott and Thomas at 22/1.

Can Spieth win again?

Generally, the emotional come-down that invariably follows a Tour victory has tended to limit back-to-back wins on major international tours.

However, if Spieth, the 23-year-old Texas owner of two majors and the 2015 FedEx Cup crown, can reproduce some of the scintillating stroke-play and putting he did on the Monterey Peninsula last week, he might well be the man to beat.

But then again, you can probably say the same thing about other likely, still-hot recent winners, not the least of them being Matsuyama (Phoenix Open), Garcia (Dubai Desert Classic) and Thomas (Tournament of champions and Sony Open).

The tricky greens at Riviera, ranked last year as the Tour's most difficult to convert from inside 10 feet, could well be where the tournament is won and lost.

If Spieth can consistently putt with the feel, fearlessness and accuracy that he did in the third round st Pebble Beach, he'll certainly be up among the front runners coming down the final stretch on Sunday, but if he is as cautious and less effective as he was on Sunday, two other fine young wielders of the flat stick, his good friend, Justin Thomas, and the seemingly unstoppable Matsuyama, the new young champion of Japan, might well the ones who break the winners tape first and carry off their third or fourth trophies in a matter of months.

But then again, with the field as strong as it is, there are a number of other contestants capable of seeing off Spieth, Thomas, Matsuyama and the rest of the field, not the least of them be Johnson, whose game was looking pretty solid when the reigning US Open Champion shrugged away his missed cut at Torrey Pines with a third-place finish last week at Pebble Beach.

Most of the Riviera winners have been big guns, to be sure, but not all. It's also had some lesser-known champions like John Merrick in 2013 and James Hahn in 2015, so you can never be sure that another unheralded campaigner won't rise up and stun the golfing world.

I believe, however, that regardless of who wins in the end, the contest will be packed with drama and constant change. With fields of this calibre, they almost always are.

(as on Tuesday AM, Feb 14, 2017)

Jordan Spieth 8/1
Dustin Johnson 9/1
Hideki Matsuyama 9/1
Jason Day 14/1
Sergio Garcia 22/1
Adam Scott 22/1
Justin Thomas 22/1
Justin Rose 25/1
Bubba Watson 33/1
Brandt Snedeker 30/1
Phil Mickelson 40/1
Paul Casey 50/1
J B Holmes 45/1
Patrick Reed 40/1
Brooks Koepka 50/1
Byeong Hun An 60/1
Bill Haas 55/1
Marc Leishman 66/1
Brendan Steele 60/1
Charl Schwartzel 66/1
Charles Howell 60/1
Ryan Moore 55/1
Matt Kuchar 55/1
Jimmy Walker 66/1
Keegan Bradley 75/1
Branden Grace 66/1
Shane Lowry 66/1
Jim Furyk 70/1.

NOTE: For all the latest odds, visit


Neville Leck

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