LOS ANGELES — Brooks Koepka is back at Riviera with a healthy dose of confidence from winning and the same set of irons.
The latter illustrates some of the frustration for a four-time major champion who was trying to get back to the form that made him No. 1 in the world. He missed the cut in Mexico to end the year. He missed the cut in Palm Springs to start the year. And then he missed the cut at Torrey Pines and was at his breaking point.
Instead, he broke his clubs.
“I snapped two sets of irons after playing Mexico and then after Torrey, and I don’t really do that,” Koepka said Wednesday at the Genesis Invitational. “So there was quite a bit of frustration, but at the same time, you’ve just got to stick it out. I felt like my patience is always there. It’s just sometimes results take a little bit longer.”
There are photos to illustrate what Koepka did to his clubs, but those stay among his posse. More than a snap decision, this sounded as though it involved some premeditation.
“I did it at the house. I wouldn’t do it so everybody else could see,” Koepka said. “It was in the living room. I walked right into the house and just (snapped it) right over the knee.”
Winning doesn’t take of everything, but it goes a long way. Koepka felt good about his game at the Phoenix Open, and winning with a bold charge on the back nine only affirmed what he was thinking.
Now he’s at Riviera to face the strongest field of the year and a tournament feels as prestigious as anything this side of a major championship or The Players Championship.
Some of that has to do with the strength of the field. Much of it has to do with Riviera, among the best course players will see all year, especially in a week of dry weather and conditions that are fast and firm and get their attention.
Dustin Johnson, the No. 1 player in the world, also is coming into Riviera off a victory.
He has no confidence issues, no broken clubs.
Johnson won in Saudi Arabia two weeks ago. Not only was it his third victory in his last nine events – one of those at Augusta National in the Masters – only twice in that span has he finished worse than second.
He is on one of his favorite courses. A lot of players feel that way, but not to the point of naming their son after Riviera (Johnson’s youngest is River).
Johnson won the Genesis Invitational in 2017 by five shots when he first rose to No. 1 in the world. He has been runner-up on two other occasions, along with two other finishes in the top five. Dating to 2008, his rookie year, Johnson has 12 rounds of 66 or lower at Riviera. Next on that list is Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson, each with five.
“I feel like it’s a tough golf course,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to drive it well, you’ve got to be really spot on with your irons and distance control, shot shapes into the green. I think it kind of makes you think on every shot you’re hitting off the tee, coming into the greens and then even when you’re on the greens.”
Only two players from the top 10 in the world – Tyrrell Hatton of England and Webb Simpson – are not at Riviera. Neither is the tournament host, Tiger Woods, who is still recovering from his most recent back surgery.
It speaks to the love of Riviera, and the prestige that comes with winning can feel equal to the World Golf Championship that is being played next week in Florida.
“To win on quality golf courses is just a little something extra,” Adam Scott said.
His victory last year was his second at Riviera, at least in his books, though not in the PGA Tour tally. Scott won in 2005 when there was so much rain the tournament was cut to 36 holes (he won in a playoff) and not deemed official.
But there’s no doubt he’d like to win again, because of the course, because of the field.
“I think everyone, or certainly top players, have such a big focus on major championships, then a few other championships,” Scott said. “Generally, the quality of golf course they’re played on is at a very high standard and Riviera fits that category. I feel like if you’ve had a good week here, it’s a good measure certainly generally of where your game is at.”
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