Is this Tiger better suited for Riviera?
February 12, 2020
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
PGA TOUR – The CUT
Tiger Woods looks for a win at The Genesis Invitational
LOS ANGELES – Magic happens in Hollywood.
The Oscars came and went this weekend in Los Angeles as the iconic golden statues were handed out in a celebration of the best motion pictures have to offer. 'Parasite' took home plenty of awards, with Best Original Screenplay being one of them. But even those now-decorated writers may not be able to dream up a storyline quite like Tiger Woods winning this week at Riviera Country Club.
Woods serves as host of the now-elevated Genesis Invitational this week at Riviera – a tournament that is now on the same level as a pair of other events named after and/or hosted by golf legends: the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard and the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide (Jack Nicklaus).
Sitting on 82 PGA TOUR wins, tied with Sam Snead at the top of the all-time list, Woods is looking to sit alone atop the list with another victory. It’s already been an incredible career for the 44-year-old, but winning at Riviera has eluded him.
Woods has played Riviera Country Club 12 times on the PGA TOUR without a win – the most starts on a course without victory in his storied career. It all began as a 16-year-old in 1992 with the native Californian’s TOUR debut. He was runner up in 1999 and had additional top-10s at Riviera in 2003 and 2004, but otherwise hasn’t had much to get overly excited about.
The majority of his starts, 10 of them, happened between 1992 and 2006 before he returned over the last two seasons as host. Back in his prime, Woods would struggle with the inconsistent poa annua greens at the iconic course as well as the thick kikuyu rough that he would often find off the tee. The propensity for the tournament to fall in rare wet weeks for Los Angeles didn’t help either.
But this is a new Tiger Woods. A more matured player who, more than ever, knows how to plod his way around to find a score. He doesn’t try to overpower a course; he tries to outthink it. So is he more suited to a win at Riviera Country Club than ever before? And has he allowed himself to think just how incredible such a win would be in the scope of his career?
“That’s been mentioned,” Woods said with a smile.
“To come here in, what, '92 and play but to come here with my dad and my old pro, Rudy, who took me up here. I remember watching Lanny Wadkins play well here and win, seeing Corey Pavin and Davis and Freddie go after it. There's a lot of history for me.”
Woods recounted a story from his childhood where, as a spectator, he ran over to the eighth green to watch Tom Watson hit a chip shot from near the gallery, only to be moved out of the way by Watson’s caddie Bruce Edwards. He recounted it when he joined the TOUR and was told playfully, “well, you were in the way.” Woods still beams at such stories from his younger years.
“For me to have experiences like that here at Riv and to have now this be my event.. (it’s great), and hopefully on Sunday we'll be having this discussion a little bit more,” Woods added.
“I've played in a number of events over the years and for me not to win an event that has meant so much to me in my hometown (is tough). I've done well in San Diego, I've done well at Sherwood, just haven't done well here. So hopefully I can put together this week and we'll have a great conversation on Sunday.”
So what does the man himself say has stood in the way of his success at Riviera?
“Historically, never really putted well here,” Woods says. “I’ve played here so many rounds. It suits a natural cutter of the golf ball, so I figured that’s what I have done pretty much my entire career, but when it comes right down to it, you’ve got to hit the ball well here because the greens are so small and they’re so slopey.
“If you look at the history of champions at this event, they have all been able to shape the golf ball. There are some great alley ways with the eucalyptus trees but you still have to be able to shape the ball. And people don’t realize these greens have a lot of steepness to them. So hitting the ball in the correct spots stresses the iron game but also again, if you are able to shape the ball correctly, it makes these greens, even though they are tiny, a lot bigger.”
One man who has had success at Riviera is three-time champion Bubba Watson. And he believes Woods is a serious threat to stopping his quest for a fourth title, despite what his previous results indicate.
“What I have seen over the last year – the smooth swing… the calm motion of the driver and iron swing look the same now speed-wise… and he just looks so controlled,” Watson said.
“He can win at any moment. Doesn’t matter the course, the difficulty… with his golf swing so pure, he can win. And he knows this golf course better than most, so it just comes down to trusting his putter. Trusting he has the read and trusting his stroke. In the past, he has played well here, we just expect so much from him and I think he just hasn’t made those momentum putts.”
With a positive weather forecast this week in Los Angeles, the soft poa greens that bring out more hops and skips won’t surface as much. We certainly won’t be looking at a 34-hole final round like a year ago.
“The harder the golf course, the better his chances,” Matt Kuchar says. “This place is difficult. If the greens and course is firm he has an even better chance. And I put so much more stock in to how you are playing presently and how much control you have versus historical results.”
When it comes to form, Woods is doing pretty well. He won The ZOZO Championship earlier this season and was a clear MVP of the victorious U.S. Presidents Cup team, which he also captained, at Royal Melbourne in December. More recently, he was T9 at the Farmers Insurance Open a few weeks back.
While he is yet to play enough rounds this season to officially qualify for rankings in TOUR stats, he would be 51st in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and fifth in Strokes Gained: Approach the Green if he were ranked. Woods' irons might be as good as they have ever been in and his driver no longer produces the wild miss of his younger years. So if he can find the fairway somewhat consistently, the chances are he will have more looks at birdie than others.
“I don’t think there is a course he’s not suited to in his current form. What I saw down in Australia – that’s as good as I’ve seen him drive it as long as I have been around him,” Steve Stricker said.
“He’s always been a great iron player and he looks like he has his putting under control. So I wouldn’t put anything past him. I’m sure he feels a little extra pressure here to win. He got his first start here as a 16-year-old and he grew up right down the road. So I bet he really wants it, which can sometimes get in the way. But no one should be surprised if he does well here this week.”
Striker might be the missing ingredient this week. The veteran is known for giving putting advice to Woods in the past and does so with countless TOUR players when asked outside of competition rounds. He is paired with Woods over the opening two rounds this week. Perhaps that familiar feeling will help Woods stay at peace with the ebbs and flows of the putting surfaces.
And if, come Sunday, Woods can slay the jinx at the place where it all began and take the all-time TOUR wins record outright in his home state, that would be a performance worthy of an Oscar.
Tiger Woods reflects on watching tournaments at Riviera as a kid