With the PGA Tour heading into Florida this week for the start of a four-week run through Florida -- with a one-week stop off in Mexico -- we're getting closer to the first major of 2018, the Masters.
However, before we move ahead to venues like PGA National, the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook and Arnold Palmer Invitational, it's worth looking back at the leaderboard from the Genesis Open as a potential predictor of contenders at Augusta National. For whatever reason, Genesis Open host Riviera Country Club has historically been a pretty good indicator of players who do well at the Masters just two months later.
Take Bubba Watson as an example. Watson won for the third time in his PGA Tour career at Riviera, backing up wins in 2014 and 2016. While Watson didn't win the Masters in 2016 -- he finished T-37 that year as Danny Willett shocked the golf world and won the green jacket -- he did pick up his second Masters title in 2014 after winning at Riviera.
Charley Hoffman has a solid record at Riviera, and he's become an early-round leader at Augusta National in recent years. He was a contender well into Sunday at the 2017 Masters after finishing tied for fourth at Riviera. A final-round 78 at Augusta undid Hoffman's long-shot bid for a maiden major title. Thomas Pieters finished tied for second at that same 2017 Genesis Open, and he went on to finish tied for fourth place in the subsequent Masters.
Then, of course, the ultimate example of a potential link between Riviera and Augusta National performance is probably Fred Couples. Though Couples has only won a single Masters title back in 1992, he was a regular Masters contender well into his 50s. Couples bagged a pair of Riviera titles in a three-decade-long run there, including a second title in 1992 to set the stage for his lone major championship.
So, then, which players near the top of the 2018 Genesis Open leaderboard could be poised for a deep run at the Masters?
How about starting with Phil Mickelson? He finished tied for sixth place at Riviera, marking his third-consecutive top-six finish on the PGA Tour -- a first for him since 2007. Mickelson has three Masters titles, all coming in even-numbered years: 2004, 2006 and 2010. Could the 47-year-old be prepared to unseat Jack Nicklaus to become the oldest Masters champion?
Patrick Cantlay certainly deserves consideration as well. Cantlay suffered for years with a back and neck problem, and he has also faced personal tragedy in witnessing the death of his good friend in an automobile incident as a pedestrian. However, Cantlay came back a year ago at Pebble Beach and quickly made his presence felt in limited PGA Tour action. He won his first event at Las Vegas late in 2017. His T-4 finish at Riviera could suggest he is ready to pounce in his second Masters run.
Finally, Dustin Johnson has to be considered a Masters favorite, and perhaps his topsy-turvy performance at Riviera indicates some reinforcing positives after winning the Tournament of Champions to start 2018. Johnson struggled to make the cut, then turned in a second-nine 29 in the third round to get in contention. He stumbled on Sunday, but Johnson showed enough to buoy supporters who think he missed out on a huge opportunity at last year's Masters.
As we get closer to the Masters, punters will be checking in with golf betting sites to get odds on their favorites and lock in the best prices. They would be wise to remember the leaderboard from Riviera when thinking about who will win the year's first major.