LOS ANGELES (AP) — Tiger Woods made it through 16 holes of his pro-am Wednesday at the Genesis Invitational on a bitterly cold morning with occasional 25 mph gusts that made the temperature feel like the upper 30s.
What mattered, at least for now, was how he finished. He didn’t play the last two holes at Riviera, but after shaking hands with his amateur partners, he had no trouble climbing the 52 steps that lead to the clubhouse.
There will be no stopping on Thursday when Woods competes against 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 doing better. He said his ankle, badly injured from his February 2021 car crash outside Los Angeles, is his biggest concern. There’s also that matter of rust.
“But I’ve come off a rusty situation before and I’ve done well,” Woods said Tuesday during his news conference.
He returned from knee surgery at the end of 2002 and won in his first start at Torrey Pines. He once took 10 weeks off after the 2007 tour season ended and won his World Challenge by seven shots.
He was younger, healthier and in his prime. His swing looks as efficient as ever, particularly with his irons. For Woods, it’s about getting to the next shot on a pair of legs that have been battered over the years.
And then there’s the matter of the golf course.
“He’s going to be a force on TOUR.” 🐅
In 1992, a then 16-year-old @TigerWoods made his PGA TOUR debut as an amateur @TheGenesisInv.#TOURVault pic.twitter.com/GNuPLKEUr6
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 16, 2023
Riviera is among his favorite designs, but the love affair ends there. Woods stopped playing this tournament after 2006, primarily because he rarely had good results. He alluded to that when he talked about his preparation for the Genesis Invitational.
“Plus, I know this golf course,” he said, pausing to smile before adding, “I know I haven’t had a lot of success on this golf course. But I knew what to practice for, shots to hit at home getting ready.”
It really is a mystery.
Woods has never played more times on a PGA Tour course without winning — 11 appearances at Riviera as a pro, with only one chance at winning. That was in 1999, when he tied for second, two shots behind Ernie Els.
Most telling was his greatest stretch in golf. From the end of August 1999 through March the following year, Woods either won or finished second in 10 out of the 11 PGA Tour events he played.
The exception? He tied for 18th at Riviera.
“This may be an anomaly, and the only one in his whole career maybe,” said Adam Scott, who has two wins and two runner-up finishes at Riviera. “It’s a little bit unexplainable. I don’t know what to say about that. Over his career, there’s been only strengths, really. This course is quite demanding from the second shot in, and he’s 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 a few majors with me.”
The issue for everyone Wednesday was the cold and wind, though that might be the worst of it. It was gusting to 25 mph (40 kph) in the morning. Woods hit driver and a fairway metal into the frigid wind on the 458-yard ninth hole and plugged in a front bunker, some 10 yards short of reaching the green.
That elicited little more than laugh, and another one followed when he blasted out right as a ball from one of his amateurs zipped near his legs and into the bunker.
“Lot going on here,” Woods said with a chuckle.
The field is the strongest of the year to date with a $20 million purse, though Riviera is so pure it always attracted the best players. Nineteen of the top 20 in the world ranking are playing (Woods is No. 1,294), the exception being Cameron Smith, who is suspended for signing with the Saudi-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 like to take home the trophy himself, even against such long odds.
Max Homa received the trophy from Woods two years ago, one of the best memories he’s ever had as a guy who grew up in the LA area and who grew up idolizing Woods.
How to explain Woods not winning at Riviera given his sublime iron play? Homa found himself trying to answer that while playing the course Wednesday.
“It makes absolutely no sense,” Homa said.
He thought about courses Woods has dominated, such as Bay Hill, where the second shot is so critical, like at Riviera.
“So when you come here … I would have thought he won 10 times,” Homa said. “That one’s a mystery to me. This seems like it would be a playground to him.”