Everything you need to know ahead of Tiger Woods’ return to the Genesis Invitational

Everything you need to know ahead of Tiger Woods’ return to the Genesis Invitational

LOS ANGELES — Tiger Woods will tee it up at the Genesis Invitational on Thursday (3:04 p.m. ET, ESPN+) in his first official PGA Tour event in nearly seven months. At a news conference Tuesday, Woods told reporters he would not be playing in the event if he did not believe he could contend or even win.

While all eyes will be on Woods, there will be no shortage of great golf this weekend. The Official World Golf Ranking’s top three of Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm will continue to fight for the No. 1 spot among a tight field of an elevated event.

After watching practice rounds and the pro-am on Wednesday morning at Riviera Country Club, our golf experts weighed in on what to expect this weekend:

Riviera can be a tough walk, but it’s a favorite of Tiger’s. How did he look at practice and during Wednesday’s pro-am?

Mark Schlabach: I was surprised Woods was playing in an 18-hole pro-am. I guess if you’re hosting the tournament, you have to do everything that you’re asking everyone else to do. It was cold and windy, but he didn’t seem particularly stiff on the practice range. He was walking without a limp throughout the front nine and didn’t seem to have a problem until the last few holes. I don’t know if his decision to stop playing after a good shot on 16 was because of pain, or that he was done playing with not very good golfers. He took his time walking up and down hills on the course, but tackled the 52 steps from the 18th green to the scoring tent very well.

Paolo Uggetti: It was a windy and cold 41 degrees here in Pacific Palisades when Woods teed off Wednesday at 6:30 a.m. PT. The sun was barely out, but there was still a small gallery around him (no fans were allowed on property Wednesday) as he fired off the driver down the first fairway. At first, it was difficult to tell how comfortable Woods was walking, but as the front nine went along, he did not have a noticeable limp and looked to be walking much better than the last time we saw him play. On the back nine, however, Woods began to walk slower and his slight weight compensation resurfaced.

As Woods detailed to the media Wednesday, hitting shots is not an issue, but his right ankle is. However, Woods did say he had specifically prepared to play — and presumably walk — this course. He was in good spirits Wednesday even as the wind picked up and hitting shots became a bit more treacherous.

Tiger says he came to win. Is that what we can expect?

Schlabach: Woods said he wouldn’t have shown up at the Genesis to play if he didn’t think he could contend or win the tournament. After what we witnessed a year ago, I think making the cut and sticking around for the weekend would be a big step forward. Woods is 47 years old. He played only nine rounds in three major championships last season. He was forced to pull out of the PGA Championship after 54 holes and missed the cut at The Open at St. Andrews in July, the last time he played in an official PGA Tour event.

Woods said his surgically repaired right leg is in better shape than it was a year ago. He is still dealing with pain in his right ankle, as well as plantar fasciitis in his right foot. He acknowledged that he hasn’t walked 18 holes for four straight days this year. Hitting good shots isn’t a problem. As he has said many times, it’s still about getting from point A to point B. Will Woods’ leg, ankle and foot hold up over four days if he makes the cut? Unfortunately, that’s going to be the question every time he competes going forward.

Uggetti: At this point, it would be strange and out of character if Woods said he was playing a tournament just to play it and not try to win. He’s been repeatedly vocal about the fact that he will only tee it up if he can win, but that doesn’t mean we should expect that. Remove the fact that he’s coming off major surgeries and a long layoff, and the challenge at hand is still that of beating the best players in the world at a PGA Tour designated event.

Making the cut, as Schlabach said, would be a giant moral victory for anyone but him. At this point, that feels realistic but not a guarantee. For Woods and really the golf world at large, the hope is that playing in tournaments like this one help him prepare for the tournaments that he really wants to still win — the majors.

He’ll tee it up at 3:04 p.m. ET on Thursday in a super group of Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy. What will we see from them?

Schlabach: Hogan’s Alley is a shotmaker’s course, and few PGA Tour players are better with a mid-iron or wedge in his hand than Thomas, one of Woods’ closest friends. Thomas got off to a bit of a slow start in 2023, but his form started to come together at the WM Phoenix Open, where he carded a 65 on Sunday and finished solo fourth. After missing the cut in back-to-back starts at Riviera Country Club, Thomas was sixth last year. Thomas’ work around the green is world-class, and he’ll be difficult to beat if his putter gets hot.

I was a bit surprised that McIlroy wasn’t a factor in Phoenix, given how well he had played over the past few months. Then again, TPC Scottsdale has never been one of his favorite tracks; he often skipped the event until it became a designated one. Mcllroy has been better at Riv, with three top-10 finishes in his past four starts. His ballstriking in Phoenix wasn’t bad, but he never seemed comfortable on the green. McIlroy is a threat to win every time he tees it up nowadays.

Uggetti: Far be it from me to bemoan a featured group of this magnitude, but this feels a little too much like an Avengers situation, especially a year after Riv became the hot spot for all LIV rumors and these three have been staunchly pro-PGA Tour since. That being said, McIlroy has been vocal in the past about how playing in a group with Woods isn’t always the best for his game. The gallery Thursday will be massive and loud, and while I’m sure both Thomas and McIlroy enjoy playing with Woods, it won’t be easy.

It feels like McIlroy is due for a strong performance in one of the designated events. As Schlabach pointed out, he has a history of playing well here and has been striking the ball at an elite level for the past 10 months or so. It’s hard to gauge how Thomas will do at any given event but I’ll be interested to see how his putting fares on Riv’s small, undulating greens. So far this season, Thomas is 159th in strokes gained: putting and has already switched putters once.

It’s been a real battle at the top of the standings. How will Jon Rahm and Scottie Scheffler fair at Riviera?

Schlabach: As much as Scheffler won last season, it’s hard to believe he didn’t win again after the Masters and went 10 months without a victory until finishing first at Phoenix. After ending his “drought” at TPC Scottsdale, one has to wonder if he’s about to put together another heater like last season, when he won four times in six starts and picked up his first major at Augusta National. When Scheffler gets it rolling, he’s tough to slow down. He has only four starts at Riviera but did progressively better in each of them: missed cut, 30th, 20th and seventh last year. He led the field in strokes gained: tee to green and approach last week. That would be another good recipe at the Genesis. Scheffler loves competing in big events, and with 23 of the top 25 players in the world here, he’ll be highly motivated to win.

As good as Scheffler and McIlroy have been, I’m not sure anyone has been as consistent as Rahm. The Spaniard has made five starts this season, including back-to-back wins at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and American Express. Rahm didn’t have his best stuff at Phoenix last week but still managed to finish solo third. There’s not any part of his game that isn’t firing on all cylinders right now; he’s driving the ball far, hitting greens and making putts.

Uggetti: It feels like the cream of the crop is starting to not just rise this season but stay at the top. Even when Rahm struggles, he seems to revert to his elite self almost immediately and make a run at the leaders. Meanwhile, Scheffler is the tour’s quiet constant. He might not get paired with Woods like Thomas and McIlroy, but to hear him talk about his weekly approach, he might prefer flying a bit under the radar compared to his more well-known peers.

I would not be surprised to see both Rahm and Scheffler in the top 5 this week. It’s a course that sets up well for both (in large part because, well, every part of their games seem to be thriving). An intended effect of the tour’s new designated events seems to be allowing for the best players in the world to prove themselves to be just that. No one is doing that better at the moment than Rahm and Scheffler.

Who’s winning this week?

Schlabach: Give me JT. He’s rounding into form and will want to perform well while playing with Woods in the first two rounds. He loves the course, even though it’s where he lost to good friend Jordan Spieth in the 2012 NCAA championship. It would also mean a lot for Thomas to win Woods’ tournament, especially since Tiger hasn’t won at Riviera Country Club.

Uggetti: It is very difficult to pick anyone other than the trio of Rahm, McIlroy and Scheffler right now, but in an effort to go out of the box a bit, I think this week sets up well for a repeat winner like Max Homa. The Southern California native didn’t have his best stuff in Phoenix, but the way he’s been hitting the ball as of late, it’s easy to see him bouncing back in a big way at a course he’s already won at.

Best bets

Collin Morikawa to win (22-1); Tourney matchup Morikawa over Spieth (-140)

Anita Marks: Morikawa has been a stud in the Golden State. He has one of the best fades on tour, ranks 7th in SG-Tee-to-Green, 6th in Approach and 13th off the tee. He also putts well at Riviera Country Club.

Xander Schauffele top-5 finish (+350); first-round leader (30-1)

Marks: Schauffele ranks fifth in tee-to-green, seventh in par-4 scoring and has finished no worse than T-23 to T019 in five appearances at Riviera Country Club.

Tiger Woods, top-40 finish (2-1)

Marks: Woods is making his 15th appearance in Riviera this weekend but has never won the event. However, he has finished as runner-up twice.

Tiger Woods, top-40 finish (2-1)

David Bearman: While Scheffler, Rahm and Nick Taylor got most of the attention last week, JT snuck into a fourth-place finish with a 67-65 finish. It was just what he needed after a slow start to the 2023 campaign. Now in good form, JT heads to play Riviera, where he finished runner-up in 2019 and was sixth last year.

Adam Scott (60-1) to win; top-10 finish (+450)

Bearman: Every course has a “Horse for Course” and that golfer here at Riviera is Adam Scott. He was the winner in 2005 and 2020, runner-up two additional times and T-4 last year as part of seven top 10s in 14 appearances. The all-time money leader at this event is also well-rested, having been off since completing the Hawaii swing with a T-21 finish at Sony.

Tiger Woods to make the cut (+150)

Bearman: You just aren’t going to get many opportunities to play Tiger to make the weekend at plus money. I know he hasn’t played competitively since last July, but as he says, he isn’t teeing it up for show … he’s in it to win it. Not saying he will, but he has made the cut in 11 of 12 appearances as a pro. Plus, you want something to root for, right?

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