Tiger Woods returns (with a 72), and the day feels like an old classic

Tiger Woods returns (with a 72), and the day feels like an old classic

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Golf looked groovy again for a spell Thursday, with the air perfectly cool and the sun high but benign and the classic figure of Tiger Woods set against that old pearl Riviera Country Club. Old feels resurfaced. You could overhear old hits such as a spectator studying and saying, “Just trying to figure out which hole Tiger is on.”

Phone cameras went up in droves. Throwback scenes took hold enough to drown out the occasional wafts of marijuana. Some cops under a tree beside No. 10 marveled at how Woods makes the throngs thicken. A messy sport at a funky intersection, with a rival circuit poaching and committees mulling and the biggest draw a 48-year-old who seldom plays got a turn of vintage elegance when Woods played a PGA Tour event for the first time since last April’s Masters.

“I care about how I play,” Woods said after shooting a 1-over-par 72 with five birdies and six bogeys, “and certainly I was feeling the nerves starting out.”

For one thing, the sport arrived at the Genesis Invitational here smack off the Phoenix Open, so it went from Phoenix orgy to Los Angeles majesty, almost as if Ben Hogan himself might appear from behind one of a big eucalyptus. For another, one day after Woods’s words about LIV GolfTour had reiterated how grand defiance has lost to piles of money yet again in the world, with potential “pathways back” to the PGA for defectors and with the Saudi public investment fund desired as “part of our product,” nobody cared for a while.

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“Welcome home, Tiger!” a voice bellowed from the tent near the No. 10 tee.

That delight known as Gary Woodland, the 2019 U.S. Open champion, found the Woods buzz helpful as he played alongside his friend and Justin Thomas. That’s something, given Woodland is still recovering from brain-lesion surgery Sept. 18 that required a baseball-sized hole in the side of the skull and 30 staples to close up same. He still needs a couple of hours in a dark room here and there. But in the brightness Thursday, he called his 1-under 70 the best round of his year. He “saw a lot of things I haven’t been seeing” shot-wise. “Playing with ‘T-Dub,’ ” he said, “you really have to focus on yourself. You can’t get too distracted out there [with the galleries]. I think probably earlier this year I’ve been a little distracted.”

With the view of Woods among fans long since gone from awe to come-on-buddy, from distant to familiar, some watched as keepsake-viewing, wondering how many chances might remain. Some watched as long-timers. Some watched even as first-timers.

“It went wonderfully, very exciting, exhilarating,” said Adriana Agosto of nearby Orange County, who was seeing Woods in person for the first time, alongside John Maciel from nearby Torrance. “I don’t know. I feel good. I feel like an adrenaline rush just going through my body. He’s the G.O.A.T. So how can you not feel what he makes you feel inside?”

On the other end of experience, Bill Avery, former wingback at UTEP, a you’re-kidding-me 70 years old with a face suggesting 50 and a gait across the hills suggesting 30, watched from both an athlete’s perspective and a long perspective. He first saw Woods here in Woods’s second entry, in 1993 when the lad was 17. “I’m not expecting him to win this tournament, but we have the Masters coming up, and he knows that course front and back,” Avery said, “so I’m expecting him to do well there.” He thinks Woods’s future still holds some goodies in it, and he thinks he thighs look stronger since his post-car-crash ankle got fused last April, perhaps permitting a better range of training.

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Woods thinks he needs to get more of that. “I’m going to be rusty,” he said, “and I have to do a better job at home prepping. We need to do a better job with lifting and treating and continuation of rehab protocols, all those things. I just haven’t done it in a while.”

He found his first round back to contain “a lot of good and a lot of indifferent.” The greens astonished him for their (fast) speed given the recent rain deluges in the region. He kept running balls past holes in a manner “very stressful,” even as he never did three-putt and he found the course “in such perfect shape.”

“As you know,” he said to those who know, “I putt so much by memory and by feel, so I need to do a better job of making adjustments like that. I just haven’t played. So it’s a little bit different to make those adjustments on the fly like that.” He told of lacking sharpness. He spoke of coping with adrenaline. He said: “Foot’s good. Leg’s a little bit sore. Things are a little bit sore, but that’s to be expected. That’s nothing we weren’t prepared for, and we’ve got some work to do tonight and tomorrow.” He loved the energy: “I see J.T. a lot at home, but I haven’t seen ‘Wood’ at all. To be out there with him and just share the moment with him, it was a lot of fun.”

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The whole daydream-style day got to No. 18, with Woods situated nicely on the right side of the fairway, the spectators traveling up the hill and the famed clubhouse in the background. Then . . .

“Oh, definitely, I shanked it,” he said.

He shanked it for one of the crummier reasons out there.

“Well, my back was spasming the last couple holes,” he said, “and it was locking up. I came down, and it didn’t move, and I presented hosel first and shanked it.”

The thing barely traveled, landing down beneath a tree on the right so that people giddily thronged around it so they could get a closeup. He stood there, looked up toward the green and “had a small window there, 96 [to the] front . . . and tried to hit a punch hook 8-iron after I just shanked an 8-iron.” It flew obediently to the green, and the people made a little roar, and if a two-putt bogey can ever have the look of a storybook, here was that time.

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