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Wearing one of many hats, Tiger Woods says Saudis are welcome to support PGA Tour

February 14, 2024
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Tiger Woods speaks to the media on Wednesday ahead of the Genesis Invitational.

Ronald Martinez

LOS ANGELES — Tiger Woods has a job to do this week at Riviera Country Club. Or maybe it’s three jobs to do.

The 15-time major champion is making his first official start in a PGA Tour event since withdrawing from the 2023 Masters, after which he underwent surgery to fuse his ankle. He also is the tournament host for the Genesis Invitational, whose stature was further heightened this season by being among the PGA Tour’s eight $20 million signature events. And then there is the 48-year-old Woods as the elder statesman on the PGA Tour Policy Board, to which he was named a player director last August.

That’s a lot of hats for the man wearing a new logo this week, and not surprisingly, Woods was called upon to speak about each of those jobs in his pre-tournament press conference on Wednesday.

His health, his swing, his winless skein at Riviera, his TGR Foundation and, of course, the current state of affairs as the pro golf world moves into unchartered territory—Woods addressed all of it, though it could be said that he delivered very little of actual substance.

The most pressing question in the game is the PGA Tour’s partnership with Strategic Sports Group (SSG) that will infuse up to $3 billon into the newly created PGA Tour Enterprises. Still to be determined, however, is whether Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), the purveyor of rival LIV Golf, also will become a part of the enterprise, and at what level, both financially and as a power player.

Woods is no doubt a significant voice in those negotiations, and though he provided few details about how the talks with PIF are going, he did make it clear that he is not opposed to the Saudis having a stake.

“Ultimately, we would like to have PIF be a part of our tour and a part of our product,” Woods said. “Financially, [they aren't] right now, and the monies that they have come to the table with and what we initially had agreed to in the framework agreement, those are all the same numbers. Anything beyond this is going to be obviously over and above. We're in a position right now, hopefully we can make our product better in the short term and long term.”

The framework agreement is the initial deal struck back in June in private meetings that PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and select cohorts had with PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan. The agreement came as a surprise to most in golf, including the PGA Tour’s players, as the backlash included some calling for Monahan’s resignation.

“We were very frustrated with what happened,” Woods said in November, “and we took steps going forward to ensure that the player involvement was not going … we were not going to be left out of the process like we were. So, part of that process was putting me on the board and accepting that position.”

Woods confirmed on Wednesday that he has never met or personally spoken to anyone from PIF, including Al-Rumayyan. He was asked if he has a sense of what Saudi Arabia’s “end game” is in seeking to join forces with the PGA Tour.

“From what their representatives have discussed with us, yes and no,” Woods said, “because that changes and that evolves from a few months ago to what it is currently now.”

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Tiger Woods walks with Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen during their pro-am round of the Genesis Invitational.

Ben Jared

“I don't know if it's good or bad,” Woods said. “It's an ongoing, fluid process.”

In terms of his golf, Woods’ return to Riviera is always somewhat bittersweet. He watched the pros play here as a young child, got his first sponsor’s exemption at Riviera when he was 16, and now hosts the tournament that drives sizeable dollars into his foundation. Yet he still has never lifted the trophy here in 12 tries as a professional.

The closest Woods came was very early in his career, when he lost a playoff in 1998 to Billy Mayfair when the then-Nissan Open was played for one year at Valencia Country Club. The next year, Woods tied for second, losing by two shots to Ernie Els.

Since then, he has two other top-seven finishes, but really has not sniffed a victory. Last year, in Woods’ return from two years away after his car accident, he made the cut on the number and eventually tied for 45th.

Woods cited poor putting on Wednesday as a reason for not playing better at Riviera, but he has fared splendidly elsewhere in California on the Poa annua greens at Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach.

“It is frustrating in the sense that this is a golf course that has been to me very comfortable visually,” he said. “It's a fader's delight from the tee shots and I have been a pretty good iron player. But for some reason I just haven't put it together at this event other than one time with a chance. For some reason it just hasn't happened. Hopefully, it will this week.”

The good news is that Woods seems to be limping less than he has in any of his previous public golf appearances. On Wednesday he had a spirited pro-am group that included Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen and Los Angeles Angels veteran outfielder Aaron Hicks.

“We had an absolute blast and couldn't ask for a more perfect weather day,” Woods said. “And we just had a bunch of fun talking trash, telling stories and just enjoying just a really fun day.”

Despite the enormous challenges Woods has faced with his health, these are the times he still cherishes.

“I still love competing, I love playing, I love being a part of the game of golf,” he said. “This is the game of a lifetime, and I don't ever want to stop playing. I love being able to compete; I love being able to enjoy different conversations from across time.

“For instance, like today, to be able to play with two great athletes, the cross-pollination doesn't happen with other sports. And this game, I love that, and I don't ever want to lose that.”