LOS ANGELES, Calif. – A year ago, Tiger Woods had planned to be at Riviera Country Club for the Genesis Open, a tournament that benefits his foundation. But after re-injuring his back playing in Dubai, he wasn’t even able to make a ceremonial visit to hold up one of those oversized cheques. It marked yet another return cut short, another surgery and another extended stint in rehab.
This year, Woods has not only made it to the course where he made his PGA Tour debut as a 16-year-old amateur, but appears fit and ready to take another step to getting his game back on track.
So just how will he measure success in his second start since a return from spinal fusion?
“I’d eventually like to win tournaments,” he said. “I’m trying to get through that process, go through that process, get to that point.
“The more tournaments I play in, the more I’ll be able to get a better understanding of that. But I also don’t want to play too much. This is all still new to me and I just want to be real smart about it.”
That part about smart? That would be new when it comes to recovery from injury. Woods, admittedly, has made too many quick returns from surgery, often times going right back onto the shelf. But this time, he seems to be intent to ease back into action.
He played at Torrey Pines three weeks ago and is set to go here. But after that? He has nothing firm on his schedule. He’ll decide later this week whether or not to play the Honda Classic, which starts next Thursday, basing his decision on how his body feels.
“I think it would be a great sign if I do play, I think it would be a smart sign if I didn’t. How about that?”
Woods did admit that after his first start at the Farmers Insurance Open, he did feel some pain but not in any of the surgically adjusted parts of his body.
“My feet,” he smiled. “I’m not used to walking. I’m used to being in a cart playing 36 holes.”
Other than those tired dogs, Woods looked as healthy and fit as he has in years, swinging without a governor.
In that first start of 2018, Woods put together four rounds that totalled 3-under and finishing a respectable tied for 23rd. But he struggled mightily off the tee, hitting just 17 fairways, including three each on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Since he left the San Diego event, he’s worked to clean up his swing. He’s also made some adjustments to his driver, going back to a shaft he had in his club in 2015, the last time he played a full schedule, and adding a degree of loft.
One bookmaker put the over/under on the number of fairways the 14-time major champion will hit in Round One at 4.5. Based on past history around Riviera, the under might be the smart bet.
Woods has played 10 times at this Los Angeles course but never managed to capture the title. His last visit was in 2006 when he withdrew with the flu.
“I love the golf course, I love the layout, it fits my eye and I play it awful,” Woods said with a wide smile. “It very simple.”
Perhaps that will change here this week. Maybe he’ll get the ball in the fairway more often and continue to show some brilliance with his short game. He may decide that his back is strong enough to play again next week. All those would be positive steps forward for Woods.
And also for golf.