Los Angeles — Tiger Woods is roaring into the new year, preparing to play four times in five weeks in his return to the PGA Tour after a 15-month absence. One of his stops includes a return to his hometown tournament in Los Angeles, where he made his first start on the pro tour as a skinny 16-year-old.
Woods has stayed away from Riviera, which hosts the newly renamed Genesis Open next month, since 2006. He loves the venerable course nestled in a posh residential neighborhood overlooking the Pacific Ocean, but has never won there.
And that led him to avoid it.
“I’ve just never played it well,” he said Monday as occasional rain pelted the already soggy course. “That’s the only reason.”
Woods debuted at Riviera in 1992 on a sponsor’s exemption. The teenager from nearby Orange County shot 72-75 to miss the cut.
“I felt fine on that first tee but as I took the club back, I never felt nerves like that,” he recalled. “I was skinny. I looked like a 1-iron. I didn’t weigh a lot. I had a lot of speed.”
Woods birdied his first hole and thought to himself: “That’s how you want to start off your PGA Tour career.”
On his second hole, his shot smacked a fence and soon the teenager was 17 shots behind Davis Love III, who lost to Fred Couples in a playoff. Woods got caught in the rain without an umbrella and barely made the cut, and then withdrew because of the flu.
“I have so far to go,” Woods recalled thinking. “I’m not that good.”
But by 1997, he was Masters champion and well on his way to winning 79 PGA Tour career titles.
“Twenty-five years later, here we are,” said Woods, whose best finish at Riviera was a tie for second in 1999.
From the end of 1999 to early 2000, Woods either won or was runner-up in 10 of 11 PGA events.
The exception was Riviera, where he tied for 18th.
Although Riviera is considered his hometown tournament, Woods is partial to Torrey Pines near San Diego, where he’ll start his season on Thursday in the Farmers Insurance Open. He’s won that tournament seven times along with a U.S. Open playing on a bad knee at the La Jolla course.
Woods will be testing his surgically repaired back starting at Torrey Pines. Next week, he’ll jet to Dubai for an event before returning to Los Angeles for the Feb. 13-19 Genesis Open and then playing the Honda Classic in Florida.
A lot of travel in a short time for the 41-year-old.
“If my back feels good, I know I can prepare enough and I know I can play,” he said. “I need to have my health at a state where I can prepare. When I feel that way, I know I can shoot scores and win golf tournaments.”
McIlroy bows out
Rory McIlroy will miss the Dubai Desert Classic next week to keep recovering from a stress fracture of a rib.
The European Tour tweeted the confirmation.
McIlroy revealed a week ago he injured himself, aggravating the rib while finishing runner-up at the SA Open in Gauteng, South Africa.
Rib stress fractures generally take six weeks to heal. He already missed the Abu Dhabi Championship last week.
McIlroy won the Dubai Desert Classic in 2009 and 2015.