February 13, 2018

Tiger looking forward to Genesis Open

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Looking trim and relaxed, Tiger Woods began his Southern California homecoming early Tuesday morning by playing the back nine at The Riviera Country Club with Justin Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau. All will compete in this week’s Genesis Open.

Woods will also serve as tournament host, as proceeds benefit the newly named TGR Foundation, which oversees youth education programs around the planet and has produced 194 Earl Woods Scholars that have attended more than 50 colleges and universities.

“This is a big announcement for us,” Woods said at a morning press conference. “Through the course of the last 21 years we’ve evolved from a golf-based foundation to an educational-based foundation based primarily in STEM with 51 different curricula. The name change is something I think is important because the foundation and the work we do is bigger than my name. And I want something to live in perpetuity that doesn’t have to do with me, it’s about kids and having an opportunity to get their education with the support and resources we provide.”

Countless underserved kids have already been helped by the TGR Foundation, and Woods hopes to expand his reach world-wide through a new digital platform. Named for his father, the Earl Woods Scholars program has resulted in a 98 percent graduation rate and 97 percent were first-generation college students.

“We’re very proud of the kids of all those kids who have gone through our programs,” he said. “This new platform is going to be very exciting. It’s going to be free education online for any kid around the world, and that to me is very important and special.”

Woods, who grew up in nearby Cypress, about 25 miles south of Los Angeles, played in his first PGA Tour event at Riviera in 1992 as a 16-year-old amateur, missing the cut. He last competed here in 2006 and this marks his 12th appearance as a pro.

“This tournament basically put me on the path to playing professional golf,” he said.

Although he has recorded 79 career victories on the PGA Tour, second only to Sam Snead’s 82, Woods has never won this event. He lost in a playoff in 1998, tied for second in 1999, and has eight top 20 finishes.

“I love the golf course, it fits my eye and I play awful,” Woods shrugged. “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.”

On Tuesday, Woods noticed many changes at Riviera – subtle and substantial. The bunkers are bigger and new pin placements have been created.

“I forgot how much tug there is down towards the ocean,” Woods said of the iconic George C. Thomas layout, located in a posh seaside neighborhood about five miles east of the Pacific Ocean. “I probably misread about three or four putts. The yardage book on No. 12 when I used to play is a 1-iron and pitching wedge, now it’s a driver and 6 or 7 iron. Some of the holes have really changed. So the old yardage books are out the window.”

The Genesis Open is only his second PGA Tour start in a year. He was sidelined for two years with by back problems and underwent his fourth back surgery last April.

Last month, Woods played in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, where he tied for 23rd and showed great promise. His short game was remarkably sharp and he grinded all four rounds, finishing the tournament pain-free.

Woods, 42, has worked hard on his game since then, practicing and playing in Florida. His top priority was getting more comfortable with his driver, and he has, switching back to a shaft he used at the 2015 Wyndham Championship. Prior to Torrey Pines, that was his last full-field start on the PGA Tour. At the Wyndham, Woods tied for 10th and hit 12 of 14 fairways in the final round.

“It’s a little more stout,” he said of the shaft.

Woods will play in the pro-am Wednesday and is paired with Rory McIlroy and Thomas on Thursday, the trio starting off the 10th tee at 7:22 a.m. PT.

“I’d like to win tournaments,” said Woods, when asked about his expectations. “I’m trying to get to that point. I was telling JT last night when we were flying out here that it’s interesting that I’m making small little changes in my posture and my game and my swing because I’m starting to understand my body a little bit more with this back that’s different than it used to be, and those are the things that I could have never figured out on my own without being in a tournament setting, because in a tournament setting, things are ramped up. The more tournaments I play in, the more I’ll be able to get a better understanding of that.”

That doesn’t mean Woods is ready for a full schedule.

“I don’t want to play too much,” he said. “This is still new to me and I just want to be real smart about it.”