February 14, 2018

Tiger preps for Riviera

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – Tiger Woods makes his second start of the 2018 PGA TOUR season on Thursday in the $7.2 million Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club.

Woods, also the tournament host, wrapped up his practice sessions Wednesday. He was first off in the pro-am with actor Mark Wahlberg, Erwin Raphael, General Manager of Genesis Motor America, and Rob Light, a board member for TGR Foundation, the foursome starting at first light. Conditions were cool and cloudy, but warmed up on the back nine, with players and spectators shedding sweaters and wind shirts.

Playing the front nine for the first time since 2006, Woods and caddie Joe LaCava familiarized themselves with the new tees, enlarged bunkers and several pin positions. Woods hit eight drivers during the round, paying close attention to his lines off the tee. Barring wind, he will likely use the big stick no more than 10 times each round.

Woods hit solid shots most of the way and carded three birdies and a 2-under-par 69 in the relaxed, low-key format. After a rough start, Wahlberg, an 18-handicapper and Riviera member, came alive and nearly dunked his tee shot at the unique 198-yard par-3 sixth hole, which features a bunker in the middle of the green. He plays left-handed and putts right-handed, and poured in the eight-foot birdie putt.

At home in Florida, Woods usually plays in a cart. Since they are not permitted on the PGA TOUR, he is still working his way into tournament walking shape.

While Woods has experienced no pain after undergoing his fourth back surgery last April, he was tight after last month’s season debut at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.

Asked what bothered him the most, he said, “My feet. I’m not used to walking. It’s a good sore, but it’s just different.”

Following Wednesday’s round, Woods signed autographs, then went straight to the practice range, where he fine-tuned his wedges and other clubs. He also had fun with four young admirers at the front of the range, chipping souvenir golf balls to them left-handed.

Needless to say, it made their day.

There are many key holes at Riviera, but one of the most exciting is the 315-yard par-4 10th, a slight dogleg right that is drivable for most players. It’s a true risk and reward hole, because the small, narrow green is surrounded by bunkers and the putting surface slopes away on both sides.

Holding the green with a driver or 3-wood is no bargain. Even if you lay up with a mid or long iron, it’s a challenge to get the ball close to the hole.

Last year, it played to a 4.025 scoring average and was the fifth-toughest in the tournament. It surrendered no eagles, 64 birdies, 61 bogeys, four double-bogeys and two others.

Woods droved with a 2-iron Wednesday, then hit a delicate pitch within 10 feet, but failed to capitalize on the sixth-shortest par-4 on the PGA TOUR.  Of the 900 holes played on TOUR in 2017, No. 10 ranked 700th in difficulty.

“I’ve gone for it and laid up and I’ve been very unsuccessful both ways,” he said. “I believe the percentage is right around 51, 52 percent who go for it make birdie. It’s a tossup, it really is. I just find that the green over the years has gotten a bit steeper than I first remember, so it’s a tough hole. I’m still trying to figure it out.”

So is everybody else.

“Quite frankly, if you play the hole in 1 or 2 under par for the week, I actually think you might do well compared to some of the guys who are making silly doubles or bogeys,” said Woods. “That’s the one thing you don’t want to have happen, you don’t want to make a silly mistake.”

Woods will experience the 10th hole quickly on Thursday, as he begins his first round there at 7:22 a.m. PT with Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas. Woods will be looking to build off his tie for 23rd at Torrey Pines.

“Rory’s off to a good start this year and Justin’s already won in Korea,” Woods said. “We’re going to have a lot of fun.”

As for expectations, he’s taking it one swing and day at a time.

“I’ve been away from the game for a very long time,” said Woods, whose 79 career victories on the PGA TOUR rank second to Sam Snead (82). “I’ve basically played in two tournaments, so I’ve got a lot of room for improvement and a long way to go.”

He’s also one of the great competitors the sport has ever known.

Woods has become friendly with many of golf’s bright young stars, including Thomas, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler and Daniel Berger. They encouraged him during his down time and invited him to play practice rounds.

Now, at age 42, he’s trying to show them he still has game.

“Hey, I’m trying to win a tournament,” Woods said. “I’m sure they all feel the same way, but it’s winning time.”