Tiger Woods had a hard time at Riviera, even when he was healthy
LOS ANGELES (TBEN) — Tiger Woods came through 16 holes of his pro-am Wednesday at the Genesis Invitational on a bitterly cold morning with occasional 40 mph winds that made the temperature appear above 30.
What mattered, at least for now, was how he ended. He didn’t play Riviera’s last two holes, but after shaking hands with his amateur partners, he had no trouble climbing the 52 steps leading up to the clubhouse.
There’s no end to it on Thursday as Woods takes on a full field of the world’s best players for the first time since missing the cut at St Andrews in the British Open.
The plantar fasciitis that kept him from playing in the Bahamas in December is improving. He said his ankle, badly injured in his February 2021 car accident outside of Los Angeles, is his main concern. There’s also that matter of rust.
“But I’ve come out of a rusty situation before and I’ve done well,” Woods said at his press conference on Tuesday.
He returned from knee surgery in late 2002 and won on his first start at Torrey Pines. He once took 10 weeks off after the end of the 2007 tour season and won his World Challenge by seven shots.
He was younger, healthier and in the prime of his life. His swing looks as efficient as ever, especially with his irons. For Woods, it’s about getting the next shot at a pair of legs that have been battered over the years.
And then there’s the matter of the golf course.
Riviera is one of his favorite designs, but the love affair ends there. Woods stopped playing this tournament after 2006, mainly because he rarely achieved good results. He alluded to that when he talked about preparing for the Genesis Invitational.
“Besides, I know this course,” he said, smiling briefly before adding, “I know I haven’t had much success on this course. But I knew what I had to practice for, shots I had to take at home to get ready.
It’s really a mystery.
Woods has never played so many times on a PGA Tour course without winning: 11 appearances at Riviera as a pro, with only one chance to win. That was in 1999, when he finished second, two shots behind Ernie Els.
Most telling was his greatest piece of golf. From late August 1999 to March the following year, Woods won or finished second in 10 of the 11 PGA Tour events he played.
The exception? He finished 18th at Riviera.
“This is perhaps an anomaly, and perhaps the only one in his entire career,” said Adam Scott, who has two wins and two second-place finishes at Riviera. “It’s a bit inexplicable. I don’t know what to say about that. Throughout his career there have really been only strengths. This course is quite demanding from the second shot and he is certainly capable of handling it.
“I don’t know if he just doesn’t feel it here or what it is,” Scott added. “But I’ll share some tips with him if he shares some tips on how to win some majors with me.”
The problem for everyone on Wednesday was the cold and the wind, although that was perhaps the worst part. It was gusting to 25 mph (40 kph) in the morning. Woods hit driver and a fairway metal in the frigid wind on the ninth 458-yard hole and stopped in a front bunker about 10 yards before reaching the green.
That elicited little more than a laugh, and another followed when he popped out as a ball from one of his amateurs whizzed into the bunker near his legs.
“There’s a lot going on here,” Woods said with a chuckle.
The field is the strongest of the year so far with a $20 million purse, though Riviera is so pure that it always attracted the best players. Nineteen of the top 20 in the world rankings play (Woods is No. 1,294), with the exception of Cameron Smith, who is suspended for signing with the Saudi Arabian-funded rival league at LIV Golf.
Also missing is Joaquin Niemann, the defending champion, who joined LIV Golf in August. Woods is the tournament host of the Genesis Invitational and presented Niemann with the trophy last year.
He would happily take the trophy home himself, even against such great odds.
Max Homa received the trophy from Woods two years ago, one of the best memories he ever had as a man who grew up in the LA area and grew up idolizing Woods.
How do you explain Woods not winning at Riviera given his sublime iron game? Homa found himself trying to answer that while playing Wednesday’s course.
“It makes absolutely no sense,” Homa said.
He thought of jobs that Woods has dominated, like Bay Hill, where the second shot is so crucial, like Riviera.
“So when you come here … I would have thought he won 10 times,” said Homa. ‘It’s a mystery to me. This seems like it would be a playground for him.
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