Tiger Woods ‘playing to win’ at Genesis Invitational

PACIFIC PALISADES — While the news that Tiger Woods would be playing in this week’s Genesis Invitational at Rivera Country Club came as a surprise to many people, according to Woods, his plan all along was to be part of the field this week.

“Whether or not this body would listen to me or not was the main question,” Woods said during Tuesday’s media conference. “I can hit golf balls and do all that stuff, it’s a matter of whether I have endurance in my leg. We’ve been pushing it pretty good and able to recover each and every day, which is great, so I’m excited about being able to compete and play and play here at Riviera where basically it all started.”

The tournament, which benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation, will mark the first time since the 2022 Open Championship in July that Woods will compete in an “official” PGA Tour event.

It was just two years ago that Woods was severely injured in a single-car accident two days after the 2021 Genesis in which he suffered significant orthopedic injuries to his leg and ankle, creating doubt that he might ever walk again much less play competitive golf. As he has done more than once during his career, Woods rose to the challenge, returning to play in the 2022 Masters just over a year after the accident.

While he also played in the US Open and the Open Championship, he struggled with the leg. Since July, he and his training staff have worked diligently to increase his strength and movement, especially in the ankle.

“It’s gotten so much better the last couple months,” Woods said. “I’m excited to go out there and compete and play with these guys. And I would not have put myself out here if I didn’t think I could beat these guys and win the event. That’s my mentality. If I wasn’t ready to win at this level, (I would not play). I am very rusty, but I’ve come off a rusty situation before around I’ve done well and I’ve had to utilize a lot of those tactics in practice in buildup, plus also I know this golf course. I know I haven’t had a lot of success on this golf course, but I knew what to practice for, shots to hit at home getting ready.”

Woods has a long history at Riviera, having first played in the Genesis Invitational in 1992 as a 16-year-old amateur living in Orange County. This will be Woods 15th appearance in the event, which he’s never won. He came close in 1998, losing in a playoff to Billy Mayfair, but that year the tournament was played at Valencia Country Club.

Between his struggles with the course and the rust from having not seriously competed in seven months, the expectations for Woods this week are low. But might they they serve as motivation?

“It used to be early on in my career, yes, but I don’t think that it has been later, middle part of my career, back side of my career it really hasn’t,” Woods said. “It was honestly, ‘Can I actually do this still?’ Those back operations were tough. That proved to myself more than anything that I could still do it. Ultimately, it’s within me and whether or not I believe I can do it.”

Growing up in Southern California, Woods became an avid fan of the Lakers. Like NBA fans around the world, to watch LeBron James surpass former Lakers great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, Woods said he has been amazed at James’ high level of play this season as he drove toward the record. 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. Does he think he will be able to tee it up once he knows he can’t  realistically win?

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“I have not come around to the idea of (not competing),” Woods said. “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 ahead around that transition and being the ambassador role and just trying to be out here with the guys, no, that’s not in my DNA.”

Woods tees off in Thursday’s first round at 12:04 p.m. PT. He will play the first two days with Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas.

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