Genesis Invitational

Tiger Woods faces the loss of a most valuable tool—his competitive edge

February 15, 2024
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Tiger Woods waits to putt on the fourth green on Thursday.

Ben Jared

LOS ANGELES — Believe it or not, Tiger Woods gets nervous. Still.

Fifteen major championship wins, 82 victories and 374 starts into his PGA Tour career, he stood on the elevated first tee at Riviera Country Club on Thursday morning, a large crowd gathered around him, and if Woods looked calm, he was not. Nowhere can you duplicate the tension of the opening shot of a professional golf tournament.

Ask Sahith Theegala. A couple hours after Woods, the Southern California native had his own boisterous following on the first tee and nearly whiffed on his fairway wood, hitting a popup to short centerfield that traveled all of 243 yards—60 behind Tommy Fleetwood.

Woods fared better on his first competitive shot in an official PGA Tour event since the Masters last April, sending his tee ball 299 yards on the way to an opening birdie.

“Definitely nervous,” Woods said afterward. “I care about how I play, and certainly I was feeling the nerves starting out.”

Once the nerves settled down, Woods spent the rest of the first round of the Genesis Invitational peeling of the layers off rust that accumulated over the 10 months of rehab following surgery last spring to fuse his right ankle that was mangled in his 2021 car accident.

“A lot of good and a lot of indifferent” is how the 48-year-old summed up an effort of one-over-par 72 that put him tied for 49th place and seven shots back of leader Patrick Cantlay.

Woods made only seven pars in the round, bouncing back and forth between fairly sharp driving, some squirrelly iron play and more of the struggles he has spoken of on Riviera’s Poa annua greens. In a rare refrain, he said, "I can't believe how fast the greens are here considering how much rain." And there was the shank heard ‘round the Southland, with Woods cold hoseling his approach from the fairway at 18 for what resulted in a hard-fought bogey.

Woods said he suffered a back spasm on the shank, and therein lies the issue whenever he comes back out to play competitively: What part of his body will ail him? He has a fused back and fused ankle. Remember, Thursday marked only Woods’ 26th official round in the past three years.

“I think sharpness,” Woods said of where his preparation for the tournament might have been lacking. “… Making adjustments on the fly … and the feel for a round and how to make those adjustments. When we were playing here, I was getting better each and every day. But then again, I haven't played in a while again. That's kind of the frustrating part of it.

“I'm going to be rusty and I have to do a better job at home prepping. We need to do a better job with lifting and treating and continuation of rehab protocols, all those things.”

What remains to be seen is if Woods can ever summon a competitive edge if he’s in the arena so little. Like that adrenaline rush he felt on the first tee at Riviera.

“It is impossible to prepare for,” he admitted. “I rely so much on experience and having done this a long time, but still having the adrenaline dump in the system—ball goes further, speed goes up, just the yardages are a little bit different than they are at home. It's just different and that's just a part of playing competitive golf.”