Los Angeles — Tiger Woods flew to California with Justin Thomas and had reason to feel older when they landed.
Thomas, the reigning PGA Tour player of the year, is among several players who were getting seriously hooked on golf about the time Woods was winning tournaments at a rate never seen. He had vague recollections of Woods making his PGA Tour debut at Riviera as an amateur and asked for details.
It was 1992. Woods was 16.
That was a full year before Thomas was even born.
“That really put things in perspective really fast,” Woods said Tuesday at the Genesis Open.
This is the new world for Woods even as he tries to bring back his old brand of golf.
In his first PGA Tour event after recovering from his fourth back surgery, Woods tied for 23rd on a tough test at Torrey Pines. His play has improved.
But is he more of a mentor? Or elder statesman?
“Idol?” Thomas suggested.
“I still look at him as what I looked at growing up. It’s just now I can beat him,” Thomas said with a laugh. “Now I’m playing against him and trying to beat him, instead of watching on TV and rooting for him.”
Woods has not won since his five-victory season in 2013. He has played 21 times since the first of his four back surgeries a week before the 2014 Masters.
During that time away, when even Woods wasn’t sure about his future, he became more accessible to players. He was texting them at the Presidents Cup in South Korea in 2015. He was in their ears as an assistant captain the last two years at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup.
Jason Day, during his rise to No. 1 in the world, could barely make it through a press conference without mentioning a phone call or a text message with Woods to seek out advice
This is not the same guy who once didn’t even acknowledge his mother walking to the first tee at the Masters. Maybe that will change. Perhaps it will take winning, though Woods clearly has tempered his expectations this early in his comeback.
They’re starting to see me as a competitor because I’m starting to come back again,” he said. “They know I’m playing in a tournament, and so are they.”
The week ahead
Course: Riviera CC, Los Angeles, 7,322 yards, par 71
Purse: $7.2 million (winner: $1.296 million)
TV: Thursday, 2-6 p.m. (GC); Friday, 4-8 p.m. (GC); Saturday, 2-3:30 p.m. (GC), 4-7 p.m. (CBS); Sunday, 1-2:45 p.m. (GC), 3-6:30 p.m. (CBS)
Defending champion: Dustin Johnson
Women’s Australian Open
Course: Kooyanga GC, Adelaide, Australia; 6,599 yards, par 72
Purse: $1.3 million (winner: $195,000)
9 p.m. to 2 a.m. (GC)
Ha Na Jang
Course: TwinEagles GC (Talon Course), Naples, Fla.; 7,193 yards, par 72
Purse: $1.6 million (winner: $240,000)
TV: Friday, noon-2:30 p.m. (GC); Saturday, 3:30-5:30 p.m. (GC); Sunday, 3-5