Tiger takes aim at Riviera with WGC-Mexico on horizon

LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Tiger Woods said there’s “no secret” to playing Riviera Country Club, but it’s just not something he’s done well over the years.

“There’s no secret to this golf course, it’s right there in front of you,” the 14-time major champion said on Wednesday as he prepared to tee it up in the Genesis Open, the United States (US) Professional

Golfers’ Association (PGA) Tour event he hosts for the benefit of his TGR Foundation.

Woods made his first PGA Tour start as a 16-year-old at Riviera in 1992, playing on a sponsor’s exemption and missing the cut.

He has gone on to amass 80 US PGA Tour titles, but in 11 prior appearances he has never lifted the trophy at the course he played so often as a youngster.

“Hopefully I can finally play this golf course well,” said Woods, who despite his lack of success remains a fan of the classic course tucked into Pacific Palisades west of downtown Los Angeles.

“I love playing this golf course,” he said. “There’s no faking it around this golf course, especially if the greens are up to speed like they are right now.

“It puts such a premium on putting the golf ball in play and hitting the ball high.

“You’ve got to hit the ball high into any of these greens and really control your spin and put the ball in the right spots.”

Woods will be making his second start of 2019, after a tie for 20th at the recent Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.

Tiger Woods walks the course in the Pro-Am round of the Genesis Open golf tournament at Riviera Country Club in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles on Wednesday. – AP

In the intervening two weeks, Woods said, he’s been working on hitting the ball high, not only to prepare for Riviera but also for next week’s World Golf Championship Championship in Mexico City (WGC-Mexico).

Woods will play the limited field tournament for the first time since 2014, when the event was held in Miami.

“I’m playing next week,” Woods confirmed on Wednesday after his pro-am round at Riviera.

“Beyond that, I haven’t really decided on what I’m going to be doing. I made the decision on Tuesday to add Mexico to my schedule, and obviously the Florida swing gets very complicated. So I’m leaving that open-ended right now.”

But even if Woods hasn’t ironed out all the details of his buildup to the Masters in April, he is in a “very different position” to February of last year, when he was taking his first steps in a comeback from spinal fusion surgery with no clear idea of just how far he could go. “I know what my body can and cannot do,” said Woods, who lifted the Tour Championship title in Atlanta last September and comes into this week ranked 13th in the world.

Adding to the feeling of optimism, three of this year’s major championship courses – Augusta National, PGA Championship venue Bethpage Black and US Open site Pebble Beach – have yielded six of Woods’s 14 major titles.

Woods, McIlroy paired

As he did last year at Riviera, Woods will play the first two rounds with Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas.

McIlroy admitted last year that the hubbub surrounding Woods wore on him.

“I swear, playing in front of all that, he (Tiger) gives up half a shot a day on the field,” four-time major-winner McIlroy said of the noise and movement in the massive galleries that follow Woods.

Other featured groups this week include Pebble Beach winner Phil Mickelson with Xander Schauffele and Jordan Spieth.

Woods said he was energised by the success of old foe Mickelson, who claimed his 44th US PGA Tour title at Pebble Beach on Monday, completing a bogey-free 65 in his rain-disrupted final round to beat England’s Paul Casey by three strokes.

Defending champion Bubba Watson, gunning for a fourth Genesis Open title, will play the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson and big-hitting rookie Cameron Champ.