Tiger Woods has no interest in being a ceremonial golfer. He showed Thursday at the Genesis Invitational that he’s not ready for that phase of his career, either.
Playing for the first time in a PGA Tour event since he missed the cut at the British Open last July (a span of 216 days), Woods swung with ease and power and fluidity. He also outdrove his playing partners, the much younger and fitter Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas, on a few occasions and racked up five birdies, including three in a row to close out the opening round, in front of a massive gallery at storied Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles.
Woods’ 2-under-par 69 left him five strokes off the lead. Only a few flakes of rust and a course that has befuddled him over his historic career kept him from going even lower.
Max Homa, who won the Farmers Insurance Open last month, and Keith Mitchell shared the top spot at 7 under, while Jon Rahm, who is No. 3 in the world rankings and has won four of his last eight worldwide starts, was a stroke back.
But all eyes were on Woods during his first meaningful golf in seven months, and nearly two years after he nearly lost his right leg in a horrific single-car crash in Southern California just days after the 2021 Genesis.
Things got off to a promising start for Woods, who opened with a birdie after he got up-and-down from short of the green on the par-5 first.
On the 432-yard par-4 eighth, he smoked a 332-yard drive to the center of the fairway and followed by sticking a wedge to 3 feet to set up another birdie.
Woods dazzled again on the 166-yard par-3 16th, with a baby cut that rolled to 5 feet for another easy birdie.
One hole later, he made another, pouring in a 24-footer on the par-5 17th before he capped his round with one more, sinking an 8-footer on the last hole.
Not everything went that smoothly, though. Woods also made three bogeys at Riviera, which has inexplicably stymied him throughout his otherwise legendary career.
In 13 starts at the famed venue, Woods has never won. He has posted just one runner-up finish, in 1999, and three other top 10s. He has never played a course on tour more times than Riviera without a victory.
Though he’s off to a good start, it will take some work for him to break that streak this week.
Woods’ first bogey of the day came on the par-3 fourth. He missed the green right and failed to get up and down.
Then, he made a mess of the course’s most notable hole, the drivable par-4 10th. After sending his tee shot into a bunker left of the green, he caught his pitch heavy and the ball didn’t reach the green. His chip from there bounded through the putting surface and into another bunker before he eventually sank an 8-foot putt to save bogey.
Two holes later, Woods stumbled again. He missed the green to the right with his approach and left his chip 10 feet short on his way to another bogey.
Still, there was plenty to be pleased about, and for Woods there’s only one thing that matters this week.
“I would not have put myself out here if I didn’t think I could beat these guys and win the event,” Woods said this week. “That’s my mentality.”