Dustin Johnson: The secret to his success in the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club? Grass

DJ has been playing the LA event for 15 years now and it’s slightly surprising that he’s only won it once.

A glance through Dustin Johnson's media interactions down the years at the Genesis Invitational tells you pretty much everything you need to know about his relationship with the host Riviera Country Club.

Let's not over-complicate it and instead just list a few.

We'll start with the straightforward tummy tickling: "It's a fun golf course to play."

And: "It sets up good to my eye."

And: "I've had a lot of good finishes here so it definitely gives me a lot of confidence."

Johnson is not the easiest golfer to push into a deeper dive, but it's clear that the above were no mere platitudes. For example, when pressed about the test he'll add: "It really makes you think about every shot you're hitting."

He's also said: "You've got to drive it well, you've got to be really spot on with your irons and distance control, you've got shape shots into the green, and then even when you're on the greens you have to be sharp … it always plays tough, especially when it's firm and fast … and it always plays a little different depending on the wind."

It's apparent his fondness for the layout is more than just telling folk what they want to hear and it's proven in his record. He's played there 14 times and landed 10 top 10 finishes, six of them top fours including victory in 2017.

There is also another, crucial, factor.

Grass.

It's well-established that he's a fine performer on California's Poa Annua greens, but that's not all.

"When you hit it in the fairway," he said of Riviera, "you always have a good lie, the ball sits up nicely."

Why is that so worthy of note? Because the grass is kikuyu. It can be nasty around the greens when left to grow, but when cut short it is dense, providing that "sit up" Johnson likes.

And guess what? Zoysia grass on the fairway achieves something similar and he's pretty good on that, too.

Take TPC Southwind: eight starts, never outside the top 25, five top 10s, two of them wins.

Also take East Lake: seven times a top 10 finisher in his last nine starts.

That's a pretty good record book when the ball is sitting up nicely on the fairways. Can it assist him in landing a second win at Riviera this week?

Let's take a closer look.

Johnson at Riviera in detail

2008, T59th - Opens with a 68 to lie T5th on debut, still T13th after 54 holes before closing with a 78.

2009, T10th - Another quick start (66) and he spends all week in the top 10.

2010, third - Leads by one through 18 and 36 holes before weekend laps of 74-66.

2011, MC - Never in the hunt for the weekend action.

2012, fourth - A slow-ish start (just outside the top 20), but 67-71 gets him a second top five.

2013, MC - A Friday 69 can't rescue the damage made by a Thursday 76 (a score he's not got close to repeating since).

2014, second - Led by one after 18 holes and in contention all week.

2015, second - Another near-miss culminating in play off defeat to the unheralded James Hahn.

2016, fourth - Yet another weekend of being in contention - at this stage his 12th consecutive weekend round that ended with a top 10 position on the leaderboard.

2017, winner - Opened with two rounds of 66 to lead by one at halfway, a third round 64 opened up a five shot lead and a 71 maintained it for the W.

2018, T16th - Not a bad effort given he was T105th after 18 holes. Shot 64 on Saturday.

2019, ninth - Another bad start (T117th after an opening 73) and an even better run to the line.

2020, T10th - Yet again he struggled on Thursday (a 72 for T65th), but he improved thereafter.

2021, eighth - second through 36 and 54 holes, contended during the final lap, slipped back after late errors.

Johnson elsewhere on Poa Annua in California

Torrey Pines is not a course Johnson has entirely taken to. He's 9-for-12 at making the cut, which you'd expect for a player of his quality, but turning five top 25s into just one top 15 (third in 2011) is not.

He's much better at Pebble Beach, missing just one cut in 15 starts with nine top 10s (a tally that includes two wins and another three top three finishes).

Johnson's form

When he was eighth here 12 months ago it was a 10th top 10 finish in a row, a startling run of form that saw him return to the top of the world rankings.

"I'm still swinging good," he said, leaving the course after the fourth round. "Made a few mistakes, that's all. I'm playing good. Looking forward to the next few weeks."

Alas, his form went south. It was perhaps inevitable that he couldn't maintain such a sensational pace, yet the extent of the drop-off was worrying.

He went seven starts without another top 10 and hasn't made a top five in the last 12 months.

However, he finished tied eighth in his last start, at the Saudi International earlier this month, and ranked second for Strokes Gained Tee to Green in his only PGA Tour start of 2022 at Torrey Pines - his first top five ranking in that category since last February.

It's been suggested that he has been offered, and is very interested in, vast sums of money to play in the Saudi breakaway league.

If that is not a distraction there is undoubtedly evidence that his game is ready to help him contend again - and this layout is the perfect place to confirm that.

READ MORE: Riviera, Tiger Woods and the intriguing clue to this year's Masters winner

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