PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Big crowds. Pristine weather. Tiger Woods, the hometown hero back for the first time in over a decade, on one of the greatest golf courses you’ll find anywhere. There was even an opening-hole birdie on the drivable par-4 10th—actually three of them in the group—after he laid up to 85 yards, wedged to nine feet and knocked in the putt.
It felt like the old days.
Thursday started so promising for Tiger in the opening round of the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club.
It didn’t last.
Woods shoved his drive right and into the top of a eucalyptus tree on the next hole, the ball never coming down. He hopped in the cart a of rules official and headed back to the tee, eventually making double bogey on the par 5.
One hole later, he drove it into the trees on the right again. He found his ball but still made bogey.
“I was like, oh, man, here we go,” Woods said afterward. “I’ve got to somehow turn this thing around.”
He did, enough to shoot a one-over 72 anyway, that left him five strokes off the early lead.
There was a blistered 3-wood that went 320 yards and split the narrow fairway on 14. That set up a wedge that he hit pin high 14 feet right of the hole, and he made the putt for birdie.
But on 15, Woods was wild again, again right. He hit a nice recovery shot to the front edge of the green but took three more to get down on the par 5, blasting his first attempt with the putter 15 feet past the hole.
At the 166-yard par-3 16th Woods hoisted his tee shot high in the air only to have it smack in the face of the bunker short of the green. As he walked off the tee, a fan shouted, “Come on Big Cat, get it together!”
This is the new normal for Woods.
Occasionally there are highlight-reel moments of brilliance, like the 9-iron he hooded out of a bunker on 10—he was playing the ninth hole—and onto the green as he finished up his round. He also had little trouble keeping up with the long-hitting Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy, something that might’ve seemed wishful thinking after undergoing four back surgeries.
Other moments were worthy, too, like the wedges he stuffed on Nos. 17 and eight to set up easy birdies.
Some not so much, like on seven, where he badly yanked one left of the green from just 140 yards in the middle of the fairway and failed to get up and down.
“I made really silly bogeys out there,” Woods said. “But overall I thought I hung in there well and grinded.”
That much hasn’t changed.
Save for a few injury-riddled years where Woods’ driver was at the very least less than it used to be, he’s always been among the best at getting the most out of nothing. About midway through his round Thursday morning, Woods’ strokes gained off the tee ranked 71st of the 72 players on the course. Yet he was tied for 44th on the leaderboard.
“I think I’m just going to work on it a little bit,” Woods said when asked what adjustments he plans to make for the second round. “I’m not that far off to really putting some good numbers out there."
Maybe, big maybe.
Added Thomas when asked how far Woods is to playing the type of golf he watched growing up, “I’ve never seen [him at his best] so it’s hard for me to say. I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”
That’s OK. Give it time. He’s still the most compelling figure in the game.
But to borrow one of Woods’ favorite phrases, it is what it is. This is the new normal, for the foreseeable future anyway.