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Harbour Town Golf Links

Genesis Invitational

Tiger Woods had heartfelt reasons to choose Gary Woodland for sponsor's exemption

February 14, 2024

Tiger Woods and Gary Woodland laugh while practicing together at the 2022 PGA Championship.

Keyur Khamar

LOS ANGELES — If any golfer knows the pain and fear that come with a catastrophic health scare, it's Tiger Woods. It was three years ago this month that Woods was involved in a horrific car accident after hosting the Genesis Invitational outside of Los Angeles that led to major surgery on his right leg. He still feels the effects of that every day.

That makes fellow PGA Tour pro Gary Woodland’s battle with a brain tumor all the more real for Woods.

Woodland, the 2019 U.S. Open champion at Pebble Beach, is back to full health and a regular tour schedule. In a bonus to the start of the year, the 39-year-old from Kansas received a sponsor’s exemption from Woods into this week’s $20 million PGA Tour signature event at Riviera Country Club.

Woods got numerous requests to get into the field, but Woodland, who is a friend, seemed a perfect choice under the circumstances.

Speaking solemnly at his press conference on Wednesday, Woods said, “I think what Gary has gone through, I don't think people have really given it enough play. I think we haven't had enough conversation about what he's gone through and how difficult life was for Gary and how scary that each and every moment he's afraid of dying, and the anxiety of that. And to have a surgery and remove a tumor out of his brain and to come back and play the tour—that’s an unbelievable story. I think that we should applaud him for what he's been able to overcome.”

In several interviews this season, Woodland recounted a terrifying journey in which, beginning last April, he began experiencing tremors in his hands, as well as overwhelming anxiety. He played on, only to be diagnosed with a brain lesion in August. He underwent successful surgery in September.

“I just want to prove you can do hard things,” Woodland told the Associated Press in January. “I want to prove to my kids nobody is going to tell you you can’t do anything. You can overcome tough, scary decisions in your life. Not everything is easy. This came out of nowhere for me, but I’m not going to let it stop me.”

Woods, of course, has been forced to take months to recover from numerous leg and back surgeries related to wear and tear of golf. And then the car accident took him to places of fear and doubt he’d never experienced.

In extending the invitation to Woodland, Woods took the experience a step further. The two are grouped together, along with another close friend, Justin Thomas, for the first two rounds of the Genesis. They tee off at 9:25 a.m. PT on Thursday.

Gratitude should be the theme.

“To be able to play with two great friends tomorrow, we're going to have a great time, Woods said. “Obviously, we're going to be needling each other, but it's a great needling. The fact that we're able to do it, the fact that he's here and able give us the needling is fantastic because that was a scary time when we didn't know what it was going to look like.”