Refreshed Tiger Woods takes on Riviera in buildup to Augusta


There were only five tournaments set in stone on Tiger Woods’ schedule when he arrived in The Bahamas for December’s Hero World Challenge.

Tasked with playing enough to stay sharp and peak at the right times while not overdoing it, Woods still was trying to navigate his new compact order of events, in which he might play as few as 15 or 16 events. He played 18 official events last year.

Four majors were a given. The only other sure thing at that time?

This week’s Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club, where in 1992 Woods made his first PGA Tour start as a 16-year-old amateur.

Fourteen major victories and 80 Tour titles later, Woods is the tournament host and returned to Riviera last year for his first appearance since 2006. No one could have predicted a missed cut in 2018 would create a domino effect that helped set the stage for his epic comeback season culminating with a win at East Lake in the Tour Championship.

Woods wasn’t satisfied after just two rounds in L.A., and he wanted to see if his newly fused spine could handle two full tournaments in back-to-back weeks. So he added the Valspar Championship the week before the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Keep in mind there were still tons of skepticism then. When Woods finished T-2 and just one shot shy of a playoff at Valspar, it sent a clear message.

Woods wasn’t done yet.

We all know that now, so the expectations from Woods and fans alike are totally different this week in southern California.

“This year I have an understanding of what I can and cannot do,” Woods said. “Finishing the year the way I did in the playoffs, hitting it like I did was great because I finally built it to a place where I can take a little time off and I know what I’ll have when I come back. I don’t have to go looking, searching for something, so that helps a lot.”

Telling comments coming off a T-20 finish at the Farmers Insurance Open in January at Torrey Pines, where Woods wasn’t as sharp as he hoped but still put together a solid result without much help from the putter.

The fact Woods knows what his game is now all about means he’s spent the past few weeks sharpening and honing his swing. It’s not the big soul-searching process it was at times last year.

That bodes well for his chances this week at one of the few long-standing Tour events Woods has never won. A runner-up finish in 1999 is as close as he’s come, but last year also marked the first time he missed the cut at Riviera as a professional.

Leaving Torrey Pines a few weeks ago, Woods had no doubt he’d be good to go.

“I feel like I knocked some rust off, which was great this week,” Woods said. “Figured a few things out as the week was going along. I just felt like I got better each and every day. I got cleaner, my rounds got cleaner and that’s what I want to have happen. I’ll be ready in a couple weeks.”

Woods was ranked No. 544 in the Official World Golf Ranking at this time last year. He since has risen to No. 13 with no major signs of health issues. He’s also taking on more of an ambassador role, working clinics and participating on-site as he will in Monday’s Celebrity Cup – a 9-hole team event featuring celebs like Nick Jonas, Jerry Rice and Mark Wahlberg. Woods will captain Team Eldrick, and Fred Couples will lead Team Frederick.

He now seems comfortable in those spots, and he’s comfortable with the challenge ahead. The Players Championship is less than one month away due to the new schedule, the Masters just a month after that.

Woods has been able to ease into the 2018-19 season with just a handful of appearances since the Ryder Cup in Paris. But things are about to pick up in a hurry with the condensed schedule, and it’s all about building toward Augusta National.

Everything is part of a bigger plan that will be set in motion this week at Riviera.

“We have a lifting schedule, we have my practice routines,” Woods said. “Everything’s geared up for the big events instead of getting enough reps and getting enough sharpness to be ready.” Gwk

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