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  • Alistair Tait

Masters build up begins in LA

Updated: Feb 23, 2020

The build up to this year’s Masters starts this weekend in Los Angeles. The year’s first major might be 56 days away, but what happens in this week’s Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club will give us a hint of what to expect over four days at Augusta.

Forget about what’s come before this year. True, all the main protagonists have already teed it up in 2020. They just haven’t teed it up together. In fact, they haven’t done so since August. That’s why the Genesis is the perfect Masters barometer.

Nine of the world’s top 10 are in Los Angeles. Webb Simpson is the missing top 10 player. So, the prospect of world number one Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and company going head to head gives golf fans their first true buzz of the year.

The storylines in Los Angeles are enough to make any golf writer salivate. Can Tiger earn his record-breaking 83rd victory on the course where he made his PGA Tour debut as a 16-year-old amateur in 1992?

Most Hollywood script writers would kill for that sort of storyline. Hard to believe Woods, tournament host this week, has never won in 12 attempts around the course known as Hogan’s alley thanks to the maestro’s three wins here. Woods’s best effort is runner-up in 1999. He’s had two other top 10 finishes. His explanation for not winning?

“Historically, never really putted well here.”

He putted well at Augusta last year to claim his 15th major title. How he handles the shortest club in the bag this week should give us a wee hint of where his game is as he prepares to defend his Masters title.

There will be lots of focus on that aspect of McIlroy’s game this week. Putting isn’t only the key to Rory winning this week, but the key to him acquiring the most garish jacket in golf to complete the grand slam.

McIlroy had a great 2019 thanks in part to improved putting statistics. Will he carry that form into this year’s major season? LA should give us a clue. He finished T4 here last year, his best finish in LA.

McIlroy only ousted Brooks Koepka from the top of the world order this week because of the rollover of official world golf ranking points. He knows he could lose that title come Sunday night.

“The work’s only started,” McIlroy said. “Staying there is the hard part.”

Koepka will be keen to re-take what many see as his rightful place at the top of the world pecking order after winning four of the last 11 majors.

Let’s not forget Koepka put a lot of heat on Woods in last year’s Masters. He finished T2. He’ll be looking to go one place better this year to make the Masters the third leg of his grand slam quest after two U.S. Open and two PGA Championship wins.

Rahm has started 2020 with three top 10s, including second in the Farmers Insurance Open. He can take over the world number one spot this week with a win.

Meanwhile, Justin Thomas is coming off a T3 finish in the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He was runner up to JB Holmes last year. Don’t be surprised if he goes one better this week.

Throw in nearly forgotten man Jordan Spieth. Hard to believe he’s now world number 49. A T9 in last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am thanks to a closing 67 perhaps suggests he’s heading back to his best. We’ll see.

McIlroy is listed at 15/2 with William Hill to win in LA. He’s 8/1 to win the Masters. The Genesis odds are listed below. Perhaps wait until after this week to make your Masters bets.

Genesis Invitational odds by William Hill

Rory McIlroy 15/2

Justin Thomas 9/1

Jon Rahm 10/1

Dustin Johnson 12/1

Tiger Woods 16/1

Patrick Cantlay 20/1

Bubba Watson 22/1

Brooks Koepka 22/1

Xander Schauffle 22/1

Jordan Spieth 45/1

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