Tiger Woods returns from a seven-month injury absence this week amid plenty of uncertainty, but his goal at the Genesis Invitational remains clear: to win.
“I would not have put myself out here if I didn’t think I could beat these guys and win the event,” the 15-time Major champion said Tuesday as he prepared to tee it up at Riviera Country Club. “That’s my mentality.”
Woods hosts the tournament for the benefit of his charitable foundation, but it wasn’t until Friday that he confirmed he would actually make his first tour-level start since The Open in July.
Since then, he has continued his recovery from the severe leg injuries he suffered in a February 2021 car crash, his biggest problem now the “intricate little balance” of building stamina in his damaged ankle so that he can walk 72 holes for four straight days.
“I can still hit shots, but it’s the walking endurance that’s hard,” Woods said. “That’s something that we’ve had to work on, walking distances on the beach, just basically stress it out but also be able to recover by the next day and see how it is inflammation-wise and then keep practicing.
“I may have overdone it a couple times here or there, but here I am,” he said.
After several surgeries in the wake of his accident, Woods made a stunning comeback at the 2022 Masters, finishing in 47th place. He withdrew from the PGA Championship in May after 54 holes, and missed the cut at The Open at St Andrews.
A planned return at the unofficial Hero World Challenge in December was called off because of plantar fasciitis in his right foot.
He did play two low-key December exhibition tournaments – both allowing the use of carts – but four tournament rounds pose a strikingly different challenge.
“I am very rusty, but I’ve come off a rusty situation before and I’ve done well,” said Woods, who has notably come back from knee and back injuries in his career.
“Plus, I know this golf course,” he added. “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.”
Woods has a long history at Riviera, the picturesque course in Pacific Palisades west of downtown Los Angeles that he first visited as a child.
He made his PGA Tour debut at Riviera in 1992 as a 16-year-old high schooler playing on a sponsor’s exemption.
He missed the cut – and Riviera remains the course he’s played most without a tournament victory, with a runner-up finish in 1999 his best result in 13 tournament starts.
Riviera features some daunting terrain, with a steep hike down from the first tee and another climb up a set of rustic railroad-tie stairs from the 18th green to the clubhouse.
“Maybe signing for something in the mid-60s will get him up that hill pretty quick,” suggested former world No 1 Justin Rose, who was impressed by what he saw of Woods’ game in the American’s brief outings in December.
“In terms of the important part of can you hit a golf ball, can you get a ball in the hole, all of that seemed to be really in order,” said Rose, who ended a four-year title drought at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am this month.
Woods headlines a stellar field for the third of the US tour’s new “designated events” designed to showcase and reward the game’s top players.
Nineteen of the world’s top 20 players will tee it up competing for a tournament-record $20-million purse.
Scottie Scheffler, who regained the world No 1 ranking with his Phoenix Open victory last week, could be supplanted either by Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy or Spain’s Jon Rahm – both of whom have top-flight victories this year.
So Woods will be testing himself against a quality field in what he acknowledges will be one of very few starts this year. He has said he hopes to play the Major championships and “maybe one or two more” events.
“Would I like to play more? Yes,” Woods said Tuesday. “Will [injuries] allow me to? I don’t know. I have to be realistic about that.”
© Agence France-Presse