Tiger Woods at Genesis Invitational: What to expect as 15-time major winner enters return exuding confidence
On the one hand, it’s surprising that Tiger Woods is set to play this week’s Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club. On the other hand, this is not very true.
Woods took part in an event hosted by his foundation last Friday during the Phoenix Open. TPC Scottsdale players were caught off guard when they were informed of his return from the rounds. It makes sense because although Woods played in three majors last year, he limped (literally and figuratively) to the finish line. He withdrew from the Hero World Challenge due to plantar fasciitis and then appeared to be physically depressed during his appearances at The Match and the PNC Championship.
All pumped up to hear @Tiger Woods next week @TheGenesisInv. pic.twitter.com/q6zjACv5qg
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 11, 2023
When he said he wanted to play in a few tournaments in addition to the big championships in 2023, I think everyone assumed that those additional tournaments would probably happen later this year – perhaps the Players Championship or even the Memorial in the summer, a tournament that he dominated throughout his career. Nope. Woods will play in a tournament where he has relatively struggled (and is known to have never won).
The flip side of this question is: what else is Tiger going to do? A cat is a golfer, and given the nature of the sport, even with a broken body, he will always be a golfer. His desire to compete and mingle with the boys is, so to speak, insatiable, and he will take every opportunity to make sure that his body provides it to him.
“I’m really excited to get out there to compete and play with these guys,” Woods said Tuesday at the Riviera. “And I wouldn’t have put myself up here if I didn’t think I could beat these guys and win the tournament. This is my mentality. If I wasn’t ready to win at this level, I would be very rusty, but I was already getting out of a difficult situation. I did well, and I had to use many of these tactics in practice when building. I know this golf course. I know I haven’t had much success on this golf course, but I knew what to train for to hit at home while preparing.”
It’s a difficult crossroads that Woods and I find ourselves at. His desire to play competitive golf is still great, but his ability to do so is not. Woods, as it became clear last spring at the PGA Championships in Southern Hills, often doesn’t know how his body will react from day to day. He will play when we (and maybe he himself) do not expect it. And he No is going to play when we (and he does) expect him to.
Such is the mystery of having a body and aspiration, which are often found on different pages.
What can we expect from Tiger Woods this week in the Riviera?
Short (and simple) answer: …a little. Woods was 68th, T15 and a miss in his last three starts at the Riviera, but T15 came in a year where he was mostly healthy and played frequently. Add to that the fact that he didn’t make it to St. Andrews last summer and couldn’t even finish the PGA, and it’s hard to imagine him competing.
This is a seemingly controversial position in the golfing world. Everyone loves to lose their minds when the Tiger sticks a peg in the ground. The reality, however, is that Woods is turning 48 this year, and since the horrific car accident, he hasn’t given the slightest hint that he’s physically capable of climbing a mountain for full-time participation on the PGA Tour or major championships.
Does that make him a ceremonial golfer? I don’t know. However, that makes him someone who, for all his unique qualities, currently can’t throw the Jon Rams, Scotty Shefflers, and Rory McIlroys of the world something they can’t easily brush off.
The reality is a little more complicated than that, because Tiger, perhaps more than anyone, can play golf with his mind, and when his body cooperates, he can still hit world-class golf. So there will be days when he drops 67 and leaves the world of golf with bated breath. There will be shots that will make you believe in anything.
However, given the nature of his body, those moments would not last long. They will be fleeting. Woods has two problems.
First, even though his desire to compete is still extraordinary, his mental readiness to put his body through the rigors he needs to go through in order to compete has waned. Secondly, even if he hadn’t shrunk, his body would no longer be strong enough to withstand any kind of ordeal. Still, Woods won’t give up on its competitive edge.
“I know the players have played, they are the ambassadors of the game and they are trying to develop it,” said Woods. “I can’t… comprehend it as a participant. If I enter the tournament, I will try to beat you. I’m here to get W, okay?”
Add it all in and you have something that has never been part of the Woods zeitgeist. When you keep his body’s abilities, his heart’s craving, and his mind’s exhaustion in suspense with each other, you get a man who is likely to be playing some tricky golf for the next few years. Glimpses of the past, but also glimpses of the future – and these will be very different views. Now the only way to sum up where Woods is is to admit that the only correct way to look at weeks like the Riviera – and in fact everything he plays – because of the uneven recovery of his body – is to look at the iso Day after day, or even week after week, we almost always have to expect the completely unexpected.