Tiger on the Prowl

Former World No. 1 Golfer Tries to Tame Riviera for the First Time

By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor

The first ball Tiger Woods ever hit in a professional tournament came at the age of 16 on the first tee at famed Riviera Country Club when he looked, in his own words, “like a 1-iron.”

He blasted his 3-wood to the green and made birdie—a fitting start to one of the most storied careers in the history of golf. The year was 1992, the event was  then called the Nissan Open and even the wide-eyed Woods, who was given a sponsor’s exemption to become the youngest man ever to play a PGA TOUR event, could not have imagined he would blossom into the best player in the world and maybe the best the sport has ever seen.

Next week, Woods returns to  compete on the hallowed grounds off Capri Drive for the first time since 2006 and his mission is the same as it has always been—win, something he has not done in 11 previous tries at the LA tour stop.    

Woods withdrew at the halfway point in 2006 after firing rounds of 69 and 74. His best finish came in 1998 when he lost in a playoff to Billy Mayfair when the event was moved to Valencia Country Club because Riviera was being groomed for the U.S. Senior Open later that year.    

Woods tied for second place  in 1999, two back of Ernie Els. His only other top 10 finishes came in  2003 (tied for fifth) and 2004 (tied for seventh).

In the 26 years since his first appearance at Riviera, Woods has racked up 106 professional victories worldwide, 79 of those on the PGA TOUR, including 14 grand slams (second behind Jack Nicklaus’ 18) and has been named PGA Player of the Year a record 11 times. In 2001, he became the only player to hold all four major titles simultaneously, a feat known as the “Tiger Slam.”

Now 42, Woods is on the downslope of his career and eager for his first PGA TOUR win since 2013. He is not only playing Riviera for the first time in 12 years but TGR Live, which benefits his youth-based Tiger Woods Foundation, is hosting the event for the second straight time.

“I’m very excited to come back to Riviera and compete in the Genesis Open,” Woods said after committing in January. “This is where it all started for me. It was my first PGA TOUR event, I was 16 years old, I weighed about 105 pounds and it was a life-changing moment for me.”

Woods grew up in Cypress, California but now resides in Jupiter Island, Florida. The Genesis Open is the only tournament that Woods has played at least three times and failed to win.

“I’ve always loved playing Riv,” Woods confessed. “I’ve just never played it well and that’s the only reason I haven’t played here for so long, except last year when I intended to play but got injured.”

Woods had his first back surgery in 2014 and two more surgeries followed in the fall of 2015. In December he returned from a 10-month absence, which included fusion surgery on his back, at the Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth in the star-studded 18 player field.

To hoist the trophy on Feb. 18 Woods will have to top a field that includes world No. 1 and defending champion Dustin Johnson, 2017 British Open champion Jordan Spieth and 2017 FedExCup Champion Justin Thomas.