PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – Tiger Woods is making his second start of 2018 this week at historic Riviera Country Club, mainly because his TGR Foundation is the Genesis Open’s charitable beneficiary.
Woods, who grew up in the Los Angeles area, said during a news conference Tuesday, “I love the golf course,” although his record here wouldn’t seem to support that emotion. Since 1992, when he missed the cut by six strokes as a 16-year-old amateur making his PGA Tour debut, Woods has not won in 10 starts at Riviera.
In 2006, Woods withdrew after going 1 over for 36 holes, and he hadn’t returned until this week.
“I love the layout,” Woods said of the 1927 George Thomas-William Bell design. “It fits my eye, and I play awful. It's very simple. It's just one of those weird things. It's a fader’s golf course for a righty. A lot of the holes, you hit nice soft cuts, and I used to love to hit nice soft cuts, and for some reason I just didn't play well.”
For Woods to qualify for the weekend, he will have to find a way to hit more than 30 percent of the fairways, as he did in his season debut three weeks ago, a T-23 at Torrey Pines. He ranked last in driving accuracy among those who made the cut.
Woods confirmed that his swing remains a bit of a parlor trick since he rehabbed from two back surgeries that cut short his 2017 season after only three competitive rounds. He has hit plenty of balls at home in Jupiter, Fla., to firm up his game.
“I felt we could all see how bad I was driving it,” Woods said. “So, I was able to clean that up a little bit and still keep my putting sharp.”
Even when Woods was playing at his best in 2000, his game wasn’t good enough to win at Riviera. To think that it might be championship-worthy this week might be an unreasonable expectation.
But Woods, 42, isn’t looking for a miracle this week, merely progress.
“I've been away from the game for a very long time,” said Woods, a 79-time Tour champion who has gone winless since 2013. “I've basically played two tournaments, and so I've got a lot of room for improvement and a long way to go.”
Oddly, Woods’ knowledge of Riviera is also pretty much a lost cause.
In his practice round Tuesday, Woods saw the influence of the nearby Pacific Ocean on some putts, and that was just the beginning of a learning experience.
“Well, the yardage book on No. 12 when I used to play is a 1-iron and a pitching wedge; now, it's a driver and a 7-iron, 6-iron, somewhere in there,” Woods said. “Some of the holes have really changed. So, the old yardage books are out the window.”
It’s a new game at Riviera, and everything's bigger now, Woods said.
“The bunkers are deeper; they seem to be bigger,” Woods said. “The greens have gotten more pin locations than I remember. They've added a few sections around here.”
We will learn much more at 7:22 a.m. PST Thursday, when Woods tees it up on the 10th hole with Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy.
Woods’ best opening round here came in 2005, with a 4-under 67. His scoring average is just below par, at 70.18.
Maybe the most important fact we will learn this week is whether Woods can play two events in a row.
Woods said that next week’s Honda Classic, the start of the Florida Swing and near his home, is on his schedule, provided that he feels better than he did after four rounds at Torrey Pines.
“I think it would be a great sign if I do play,” Woods said. “I think it would be a smart sign if I didn't play. How about that? Does that dance that dance pretty good?”
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli