2022 Genesis Invitational leaderboard: Joaquin Niemann leads with stars all over the place at Riviera

The best week of the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing got off to a banger of a start with multiple major champions dotting the leaderboard and Riviera Country Club living up to its billing. One of the better (and perhaps more underrated) ball strikers in the world leads a crew of several more of them after the first round. Let’s take a look at what went down at Riv on Thursday.

The Leader

Joaquin Niemann (-8): Three strokes better than the rest of the field and nearly two of those came from tee to green. Niemann hit the top of his ceiling on Thursday and showed just how extraordinarily high it is. Because he’s been out on the PGA Tour for so long, we think of him being a lot older than he actually is (23), but on a resume that is good but not great, a lights-out win at Riviera over a Masters-like field would do wonders. He has the goods to do it. Now he just has to hang on until the end.

Other Contenders

T2. Max Homa, Cameron Young, Scottie Scheffler, Jordan Spieth (-5)
T6. Charley Hoffman, C.T. Pan, Collin Morikawa, Jason Kokrak, Cameron Smith, Justin Thomas (-4)

Is this leaderboard any good? Spieth and Scheffler played in the same pairing together early on Thursday alongside Jon Rahm, who shot 2 under himself. All three of them (as well as Morikawa and Thomas) were lights out from tee to green. Thomas in particular is terrifying. He gained 4.5 strokes from tee to green and was worse than field average with the putter.

He said after his round that was all he was going to work on in the afternoon. If he makes one or two early on Friday or even into the weekend, they might all start falling. Then you’ll have to thin about canceling Christmas because that’s going to be an absolute wrap.

Two takeaways

1. Riviera vs. Saudi: Thursday’s first 18 was a nice reprieve from all the Super Golf League talk, which again exploded on Thursday morning with this bombshell on Phil Mickelson from Alan Shipnuck. I don’t know what’s going to go down with the Saudi league – nobody does – but what I do know is that getting a Spieth-Morikawa-Thomas war at Riviera with a little Niemann and Scheffler sprinkled in is the antidote PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan is looking for to wrap the west coast swing.

2. Fast and firm = fun and more fun: Tournament host Tiger Woods said this Wednesday, but this was presumably the easiest day of the week as the plan is to dial it up for the duration and see whose stuff is the best stuff. The crazy part about that is that the scoring average on Thursday was right at even par which means we’re likely to see scores rise from there over the next three days. Combine that with no rain in the forecast and greens that are already repelling shots and causing them to bound all over the yard, and the rest of the week should be a delight.

Shot of the day

Aaron Beverly, who is this year’s Charlie Sifford Memorial Exemption recipient into the tournament did a press conference with Woods on Wednesday and then had to tee off in front of the Big Cat on Thursday morning to start the event. The rest of his day didn’t go very well (he shot 82 with a 9 and a 6 on the card, but he made one of his two birdies on this hole in front of the best to ever do it.

Quote of the day

“I love Riviera. I think it’s arguably, it’s in the conversation as the best golf course in the world. It’s more so that than anything else really, but obviously the fact that it’s an invitational and Tiger’s taken it over and all that added stuff, too, but I would have said that before it game a TGR Foundation event.” — Jordan Spieth

He played like it on Thursday and gained strokes in every statistical category.

One thing I loved

Max Homa’s title defense started strong with a 66 on a Thursday in which he sniffed the lead. He remains extremely easy to root for both based on how he plays and how he views the tournament.

“I guess you lie to yourself, say you don’t care what happens,” Homa said after his round. “I mean, I care what happens, but it did help just talking to Mark yesterday and to Joe. I have nothing to prove at this event. This event’s usually a big deal to me and it’s kind of a lot of pressure just because it just means a lot and I have family and friends here. But I’ve been playing a lot of good golf and I told Mark, I said I could shoot 100 over this week and I still won last year. So I’m just trying to convince myself that that was going to get me through the low expectations of the day. You know, I really tried to just go out there and have some fun and I thought I did, and I had a great group to do it with, so that’s the trick.”

Craziest stat

This is how Jon Rahm started last week’s event in Phoenix before righting the ship on the weekend and finishing in the top 10 once again. He led the field in strokes gained approach and tee to green on Thursday and finished second to last in putting.

Such a normal sport

I have two submissions from Thursday. The first is whatever this is that Patrick Reed was wearing. It looked like a designer got caught saying “yes” to 20 questions in a row.

The second is this double bogey Dustin Johnson made on the famous 10th. He hit his second, third, fourth and fifth shots out of bunkers, and the third one was one he hit left-handed and moved the ball about 3 feet. His fourth stayed in the same bunker and officially went 3 feet-8 inches. Not good.

Best tweet

All of that led to this subliminal tweet.

New odds and pick

Here’s a look at the new odds after Round 1, according to Caesars Sportsbook.

  • Joaquin Niemann: 5-1
  • Justin Thomas: 10-1
  • Scottie Scheffler: 10-1
  • Collin Morikawa: 11-1
  • Jordan Spieth: 12-1
  • Cameron Smith: 12-1
  • Jon Rahm: 12-1

Thomas is super compelling given how well he hit it on Thursday, but I’m a sucker whenever he’s involved, always talking myself into the next putt falling. Rahm, too, if he can straighten the putting out, is enticing at 12-1. Deeper down the board, Rory McIlroy at 22-1 is pretty interesting after shooting 2 under. Although the approach numbers from Round 1 are not super compelling, he’s thrived here before and is at a longer number than where he started even though he’s in the top 25 with 54 holes to go.

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