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Alexander: It was an ordeal, but Tiger Woods made it through 72 holes

Max Homa tries the get his shot through the trees and the crowds on the fairway on the 18th hole at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. Jon Rahm won the tournament at -17. Max Homa of Valencia, CA, finished second at -15. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Jon Rahm with Tiger Woods who hosted the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. Rahm won the tournament at -17. Max Homa of Valencia, CA, finished second at -15. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Jon Rahm reacts to a birdie chip on the 1st hole of the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Jon Rahm greets his caddy after winning the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. Rahm finished the course at -17. Max Homa of Valencia, CA, finished second at -15. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Patrick Cantlay closes his eyes after almost getting this chip shot in the cup on the 13th hole at the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. Jon Rahm won the tournament at -17. Max Homa finished second at -15 and Cantlay placed third with -14. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Max Homa makes an adjustment to his caddies cap during the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Max Homa watches his fairway shot on the 2nd hole of the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Collin Morikawa chips on the 1st hole of the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Jon Rahm tries to coax his putt to make the break on the 5th hole of the final round of of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Max Homa tees off on the 4th hole of the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Jon Rahm tees off on the 5th hole of the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Max Homa tosses his putter after missing a birdie putt on the 6th hole of the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Jon Rahm reacts to a birdie chip on the 1st hole of the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Max Homa tees off on the 4th hole of the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Keith Mitchell chips out the sand on the 4th hole of the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Max Homa lines up his putt on the 4th hole of the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Jon Rahm tries to coax his putt on the 4th hole of the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Jon Rahm hits from the fairway on the 4th hole of the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Patrick Cantlay lines up his putt on the first hole of the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Max Homa lines up his putt on the 7th hole of the final round of the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Jon Rahm raises the trophy at the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. Rahm finished the course at -17. Max Homa of Valencia, CA, finished second at -15. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Jon Rahm raises his putter after winning the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. Rahm finished the course at -17. Max Homa of Valencia, CA, finished second at -15. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Patrick Cantlay hits out of the sand on the 14th hole at the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. Jon Rahm won the tournament at -17. Max Homa finished second at -15 and Cantlay placed third with -14. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Max Homa drops to his knees after almost chipping the ball in the cup on the 18th hole at the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. Homa finished in second place at -15. Jon Rahm won the tournament at -17. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Jon Rahm raises his putter after winning the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. Rahm finished the course at -17. Max Homa of Valencia, CA, finished second at -15. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Max Homa drops to his knees after almost chipping the ball in the cup on the 18th hole at the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. Homa finished in second place at -15. Jon Rahm won the tournament at -17. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Jon Rahm embraces Max Homa after winning the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. Rahm finished the course at -17. Max Homa of Valencia, CA, finished second at -15. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Jon Rahm raises the trophy at the Genesis Invitational at the Riviera Country Club Sunday, February 19, 2023. Rahm finished the course at -17. Max Homa of Valencia, CA, finished second at -15. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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PACIFIC PALISADES – So, what to make of Tiger Woods these last four days at Riviera?

Should we be sad about those moments when he looked every bit of his 47 years on this earth, one of the game’s elders trying to stay with the young guys?

Should we be optimistic that, after not playing a full tournament since last April’s Masters, he made it through 72 holes this weekend and actually finished the week 1-under par?

Should we be disappointed in him for the sexist prank on his buddy Justin Thomas during Thursday’s round, when he slipped Thomas a tampon after outdriving him? (We’ll acknowledge that Tiger issued an apology to those offended, but we should also note that Tiger’s length off the tee in 2020-21, the last full season listed for him, was only six yards more than current LPGA leader Yuka Saso’s 277.1 with about the same accuracy, around 64 percent.)

But that contretemps, while igniting a justified firestorm, does distract from the greater issue: How much Tiger really has left physically, and how much we’ll see of him on tournament courses going forward?

There were moments of triumph this week, especially during Saturday’s 67, which included an eagle on the par-5 1st hole. And there were moments, especially toward the end of Sunday’s round, where he seemed sapped of energy.

But overall, just for having navigated 72 holes on his feet – with a chance for a birdie on the very last hole that would have vaulted him from a tie for 45th to a tie for 39th – the week was positive.

“It was progress, but obviously I didn’t win. My streak continues here at Riv,” said Woods, who has never won on the historic course. “I felt like the first couple days I left certainly a lot of shots out there with some putts,especially Friday when I was blocking everything. (Saturday) was better. Still wish I could have gotten within a touch of the leaders.”

Remember what he said at the start of the week. He is the tournament host, and the Tiger Woods Foundation benefited greatly from the numbers who showed up, a large number of them – maybe the majority – making up his galleries. But his stated intent from the outset was to win.

Just competing had to do, however. That in itself was a benefit, both to Woods and to those of us who watched.

“I miss the fraternity of the guys,” he said. “Because I haven’t played a lot in the last few years, there’s a tremendous amount of turnover. I look at the Champions Tour leaderboard, those are all the guys I know. There’s a lot of new faces out here that are going to be the future of our tour that I got a chance to see and play with.

“It’s neat to see the turnover. It’s neat to see the guys who are playing the best right now.”

His process during the week was more of a struggle than you might have imagined. His back, his leg, his foot … all had to be managed, and it’s going to remain that way for as long as he plays.

“My team has been fantastic in getting my body recovered day to day and getting me ready to play each and every day,” he said. “That’s the hard part that I can’t simulate at home. Even if I played four days at home, it’s not the same as adrenaline, it’s not the same as the system being ramped up like that, the intensity, just the focus that it takes to play at this level. No matter how much — I’m very good at simulating that at home, but it’s just not the same as being out here and doing it.

“I can do carts at home,” he continued. I can hit balls, chip and putt. But it’s time or attention and getting your eight to 10 miles of walking in and the concentration that it takes. Yeah, it’s hard. I’ve done it for a long time, but … sometimes, (the body) says no even though the mind says yes.”

The recovery process can test an athlete’s devotion. In Woods’ case, it included lots of ice baths.

“It’s not fun,” he said. “Very cold all the time. … It’s hard mentally, it’s hard physically. It’s just one of those things, part of being an athlete. Yes, we train, yes, we push our bodies, but also what’s probably even more important is the recovery process. If you’re able to recover, you’re able to push it harder the next day.”

It shouldn’t be hard, then, to figure out why Woods has pared back his schedule to, ideally, the four majors and a couple of other tournaments.

“That’s it, that’s all my body will allow me to do,” he said. “My back the way it is, all the surgeries I had on my back, my leg the way it is, I just can’t. That’s just going to be my future.”

Wherever he does enter a tournament, his future will remind us so much of the dominance of his past. It’s a blessing, because of the aura he created with his play, and it’s also a curse because we compare the old Tiger to, um, an old Tiger.

“If somebody ever sits down and just starts seeing stats, and what that man has been able to accomplish, you would be amazed,” said this year’s tournament winner, Jon Rahm, who was asked what he admired most about Tiger and said, simply, “All of it. Every single aspect of his game.

“But I think the No. 1 attribute is for the better part of 15 years and even in 2019, he just seemed to have the ability to make the putts that he needed to make when he needed to make them on that back nine, right? Just when he had to make that par putt, he had to make that shot or whatever, gave himself a chance, he did it no matter what.

“… That’s what I think makes the greatest the greatest and the really good players the really good players, just being able to do what you need at those times.”

Bottom line: We should appreciate what we have while he’s still able to play.

And while you can never say never, it’s hard to imagine him playing the Champions tour when he turns 50. Nothing against those legends of the game, but the galleries of the past four days provide the evidence: Tiger still plays the big room, and that’s not ever going to change.

jalexander@scng.com

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