Genesis Invitational

Riviera Country Club

Woodland's return

Emotional Gary Woodland has never been so happy to shoot over par

January 11, 2024

Kevin C. Cox

At 7:40 a.m. local time, Gary Woodland stepped between the tee markers on the 10th hole at Waialae Country Club. It was time for his return to the PGA Tour.

“Now, on the tee, from Topeka, Kansas, a warm aloha for Gary Woodland,” the Sony Open starter said to warm applause. It was an emotional moment for the 39-year-old who had a baseball-sized hole cut out of the left side of his skull to remove a brain tumor just four months earlier.

“A little more emotional than I thought I was going to be,” Woodland said after shooting a first-round one-over 71, playing with Tyrrell Hatton and Kevin Kisner. “Took an extra second being deep breath, hearing Topeka, Kansas, hearing my name called, there was a time when I didn't know if that was going to be called again, so it got me a little more than I thought it was going to.”

Woodland, a four-time PGA Tour winner and 2019 U.S. Open champion, shocked the golf world on Aug. 30 when he released a tweet saying that doctors had found a lesion on his brain. He underwent surgery on Sept. 18. Earlier this week he sat with the media and recounted the horrible experiences with nausea, anxiety and battles with constant fear—fear of dying and dear that something would happen to his family.

He first consulted his doctor after he missed the cut at the PGA Championship at Oak Hill. And MRI was ordered and ultimately revealed the lesion was growing on his brain.

On Thursday, Woodland hit his first competitive shot since that September surgery. He made three bogeys in his first eight holes, but rebounded with two on the last seven holes, including two-putting from 25 feet on the last hole for a final birdie.

On this day, however, score didn’t matter for perhaps the first time in his career.

“Probably the happiest I've ever been shooting over par, tell you that,” Woodland said. “At the end of the day the goal this week was to see how I was mentally, and I was really, really good.

“It was pretty tough out there. Been here nine times. This was one of the hardest rounds I've ever had here. And got off to a rough start. I was excited and was doing a lot of breathing trying to slow everything down because I was moving fast.

“I settled in, especially the last nine holes, and played really, really well. A lot to build on and, like I said, I'm excited. The energy stayed up. Focus stayed up. A lot to be proud of.”