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Game Day: Age-old questions for Tiger Woods, LeBron James

Editor’s note: This is the Wednesday, February 15, edition of the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

Good morning. Tiger Woods plans to play in a PGA Tour event for the first time this season when the Genesis Invitational starts tomorrow at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades. His comments show it’s a pivotal time for him physically and emotionally.

In other sports news:

Take time to read Adam Grosbard’s in-depth story about USC forward Vincent Iwuchukwu, his cardiac arrest in practice last summer and what he overcame to make his collegiate debut six months later.
The Clippers took advantage of a clean injury report and contributions from three newcomers to beat the Warriors.
The Lakers are running out of time to make the playoffs after four losses in five games. Angels manager Phil Nevin starts spring training with a different plan for the starting rotation.
LAFC star Carlos Vela isn’t letting up after the MLS Cup victory that he calls “the first one.” The Bellator card at Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula on March 31 will feature the return of Joey Davis, the undefeated welterweight from Compton.
And check your local SCNG paper for high school basketball playoff stories, including St. John Bosco toppling top-ranked Harvard-Westlake and wins by Mater Dei, Mira Costa, Anaheim Canyon and Bishop Montgomery.

Tiger Woods talked with reporters yesterday at Riviera for the first time since he announced he’ll play this week in the event he hosts, the $20 million Genesis Invitational (what some of us still think of as the L.A. Open, the Glen Campbell, the Nissan Open or the Northern Trust Open).

Woods’ challenge will be less about hitting the shots the Orange County native would need to be competitive in a Genesis field that includes 19 of the top 20 players in the world and more about his ability to walk 18 holes for two or four days.

What he’s trying to do with a 47-year-old body on the golf course is impressive in a different way from what LeBron James is doing with a 38-year-old body on the basketball court. Tiger talked about LeBron. More about that in a moment.

He’ll probably never again compete without feeling the effects of five back surgeries and the car crash in Rancho Palos Verdes in 2021 that left him with fractures of his right leg and ankle. And lately he has been battling plantar fasciitis as well. He skipped an unofficial event and rode carts in two others.

The hope – for Woods and for golf – is that he can return to the Masters, where making the cut last year was a remarkable enough feat.

Can he still win, something he hasn’t done since the October 2019 victory that tied the record for career victories on the PGA Tour victories, and hasn’t done atthe highest level since the April 2019 Masters victory that was his first in a major in 11 years?

“I have not come around to the idea of (not competing),” Woods said in yesterday’s press conference. “If I’m playing, I play to win. I know that players have played and they are ambassadors of the game and try to grow the game. I can’t wrap my mind around that as a competitor. If I’m playing in the event, I’m going to try and beat you.

“There will come a point in time when my body will not allow me to do that anymore, and it’s probably sooner rather than later, but wrapping my head around that transition andbeing the ambassador role and just trying to be out here with the guys, no, that’s not in my DNA.”

Bob Buttitta is covering the Genesis this week along with columnists Jim Alexander and Mirjam Swanson. Bob has been writing about golf and other sports for more than 30 years, including time at the Ventura County Star and Orange County Register. He has chronicled Tiger’s career since he was a teenager.

Buttitta writes that Woods, a Lakers fan, talked about James breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s NBA career scoring record.

“Woods said he has been amazed at James’ high level of play this season as he drove toward the record,” Buttitta writes. “He compared getting that record to the record that he and Sam Snead share for most career wins on the PGA Tour (82). As a fellow competitor, Woods understands better than most what it feels like to display greatness at an older age, evidence being his win at the 2019 Masters.

“With Tom Brady having announced his retirement, and Aaron Rodgers reportedly considering doing so, Woods said admitting to himself he can no longer compete to win on the PGA Tour will be difficult.”

While LeBron was going for the record, it was said that he’s having the longest prime in NBA history, or in sports history. His challenge is staying healthy.

As Tiger tries to win again and stand alone in PGA Tour victories, you might say he’s trying to have the greatest post-prime in golf history, maybe in sports history. His challenge is getting healthy.

The greatest golfers can keep going out there and drawing crowds for years after they’re threats to win.

Arnold Palmer was still playing in multiple majors 18 years after his first top-10 finish in a major, Gary Player for17 years. Snead, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson teed it up at two or more majors each season for seven, seven and six years after their last leader-board finish. (Watson’s last was his runner-up finish in the British Open at age 59.) Some of them might have kept at it longer if the Masters hadn’t imposed an age limit at 65.

But Ben Hogan, whose career was interrupted by his own serious car accident in 1949, didn’t play another major after 1967, when he tied for 10th at the Masters and 34th at the U.S. Open at age 55.

It’s going on a decade now since Tiger Woods was regularly finishing top-10 and a threat to win major tournaments. Yet he has that ’19 Masters, not bad for an athlete past his prime.

In betting on the Genesis, Woods is 120-1 to win, between Patrick Rodgers and Billy Horschel on the odds list, a long way down from favorites Jon Rahm (7-1), Rory McIlroy (9-1) and Scottie Scheffler (10-1).

This week, though, might be less about Woods showing he can weather the ups and downs of the leaderboard than about him showing he can withstand the ups and downs of getting around the Riviera course. If so, more is possible.

Can he match the other greats by playing in tournaments that matter into his 50s or even 60s? That’s a long shot to root for.

TODAY

Lakers coach Darvin Ham says LeBron James, out the past three games, should play against the Pelicans (7 p.m., SPSN, ESPN).
Ducks, who are giving up too many goals, host the Sabres, who are fourth in the NHL in scoring (7 p.m., BSSC).

NEXT QUESTION

Does Tiger Woods competing in a tournament, such as this week’s Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club, make you more interested to watch and read about it? Share your thoughts by email (KModesti@scng.com) or on Twitter (@KevinModesti).

280 CHARACTERS

“Win what?” – NBA writer Janis Carr (@janiscarr) after Metta World Peace (@MettaWorld37) tweeted, “The Lakers got a shot to win it.”

1,000 WORDS

Temporary roadblock: Trey Pearce of Mira Costa HIgh (Manhattan Beach) is stopped from scoring by Eli Garner and Nate Garcia of Damien (La Verne) during Mira Costa’s 49-41 victory in the CIF Southern Section Division I playoff quarterfinals. Photo is by contributor Robert Casillas.

TALK BACK

Thanks for reading the newsletter. Send suggestions, comments and questions by email at KModesti@scng.com and via Twitter @KevinModesti.

Editor’s note: Thanks for reading the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

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