Tiger Woods shoots 2-under 69 to open Genesis Invitational

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Tiger Woods calmly waved to an exuberant crowd and tipped his cap after finishing his first round at the Genesis Invitational with three straight birdies.

Woods finished with a 2-under-par 69 on Thursday at Riviera Country Club outside Los Angeles. He made five birdies and three bogeys on the afternoon in his first start in a competitive event since the Open Championship last July.

Woods’ final birdie, from about 7 1/2 feet, dropped in between his two playing partners closing with birdies of their own. Justin Thomas made a 28-footer from the fringe at the par-4 18th to wrap up a 3-under 68, and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy knocked in a 6-footer to card a 4-under 67.

They were all looking up at 2021 champion Max Homa and Keith Mitchell, who were tied for the lead at 7-under 64.

The tournament host, Woods badly injured his right leg and foot in a single-car accident in Los Angeles two days after the 2021 Genesis. He’s played sparingly since, competing only in majors and exhibition events. This was Woods’ first official PGA Tour start outside the majors since he won the Zozo Championship in October 2019.

He told reporters earlier in the week that whenever he plays, he’s intending to win. He reaffirmed that self-belief after his round.

“That’s the only reason why I tee it up,” Woods said. “There will come a point in time when I can’t do this anymore, but right now I feel like I still can, given the right golf course.”

He said while he could “simulate” nerves when practicing at home, it couldn’t match being at a PGA Tour event and hearing his name constantly shouted.

“There’s nothing like come game time, just the feeling of the butterflies and trying to calm all that stuff down,” he said. “The adrenaline, the ball goes further. Even though it’s cold out here, it was going even further than we expected. I had to dial all that back in.”

As expected, Woods said his right ankle was sore after 18 holes. How his stamina and pain tolerance hold up as the week wears on again will be a major factor in his game.

“Last year you saw it, I didn’t finish off the rounds right,” Woods said. “Those are things that I hadn’t done and I hadn’t played a whole lot, so I was chastising myself pretty hard coming off of 12 saying, hey, we’ve got to really get this thing going. … Let’s just somehow figure it out and figure out how to piece together something around even par, 1 under par and just happened to get three (bridies) in a row coming in.”

Woods birdied the par-5 first hole before a wayward tee shot at the par-3 fourth led to his first bogey. He stuck his approach at the par-4 eighth 3 feet from the pin to set up a birdie.

Poor drives at the par-4 10th and 12th holes led to bogeys, leaving him at 1 over. But his irons came through on the finishing stretch at Riviera, starting with a tee shot at the par-3 16th that left him 5 feet for birdie.

He made his longest putt of the day at the par-5 17th, a birdie try from 23 1/2 feet that was uphill and bent dramatically right to left.

Then came No. 18, which features an uphill finish and an iconic view of the course’s sienna-roofed clubhouse. Woods placed his drive on the right side of the fairway to set him up with a 150-yard approach shot, thrilling the scores of fans around the green as his ball bounced just past the hole.

Woods played with two of his closest friends on tour in McIlroy and Thomas.

“JT hoops one in there and Rory’s been beating us all day,” Woods said. “He’s nervous as can be because he didn’t want to be the one to miss on 18. I didn’t want to be the idiot host to miss it right in front of everybody after I just went birdie-birdie.

“It was a great round. The ebb and flow of needling each other, encouraging each other and telling stories.”

The threesome is scheduled to tee off in the early wave of golfers Friday morning for the second round. Woods was in position to make the cut as of Thursday evening.

–Field Level Media

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