Expectations for Tiger Woods at the Genesis Invitational, his first PGA Tour tournament start since Masters 2023

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Tiger Woods arrived at Riviera Country Club outside Los Angeles on Tuesday with a fresh clothing line, a new caddie and renewed hope that this season will be different than the past three when he was still recovering from serious injuries suffered in a car wreck in February 2021.

Wearing his new Sun Day Red apparel, Woods played Riviera’s back nine in a practice round on Tuesday.

He is scheduled to play in Wednesday morning’s pro-am and meet with the media later in the day.

This will be the first tournament in his professional career where he isn’t decked from head to toe in Nike’s famous swoosh.

On Thursday at the Genesis Invitational, Woods, 48, is set to make his first start in an official PGA Tour tournament in more than 10 months. It will be his first competitive rounds since he finished 18th in a 20-man field at the Hero World Challenge, an unofficial event, in the Bahamas in December.

Woods’ most recent start in an official PGA Tour tournament came at the Masters in April. After making the cut, he was forced to pull out of the 2023 season’s first major in the weather-delayed third round because of severe pain in his right ankle and foot.

The 15-time major winner underwent fusion surgery on April 19 to address post-traumatic arthritis he suffered in the car wreck. The procedure sidelined him for nearly eight months.

After playing 72 holes at the Hero World Challenge, Woods said he was encouraged by how his surgically repaired right ankle and foot held up. He said he “drove it pretty much on a string all week” and was encouraged that he was hitting the middle face of his irons. However, he admitted his short game needed work.

Woods said he was inspired enough to believe he could play one tournament per month this season, including The Players in March, the Masters in April, the PGA Championship in May, the U.S. Open in June and The Open in July.

“I think that I can get into the rhythm of it,” Woods said in the Bahamas. “I think that having a couple of weeks off to recover, a week to build up, there’s no reason why I can’t get into that rhythm. It’s just a matter of getting in better shape, basically. I feel like my game’s not that far off, but I need to get in better shape.”

Woods will play the first and second rounds of the Genesis with good friends Justin Thomas and Gary Woodland. It is the fifth straight time he’ll play with Thomas in the opening rounds at Riviera. The trio will tee off at 12:25 p.m. ET Thursday and 2:54 p.m. ET Friday at Riviera.

Woods’ influence and larger-than-life persona is perhaps no more evident than at this tournament each year. He helps select each year’s Charlie Sifford Memorial sponsor exemption, usually given to a young up-and-coming player. This year, recipient Chase Johnson spoke at length about Woods’ impact on him.

“He’s my idol. I grew up playing the Tiger Woods video games and everything,” Johnson said. “I’ve always wanted to play against him. Everyone from my generation does. Everyone from every generation wants to.”

It’s not just young players who seem to feel that way. Canadian golfer Nick Taylor, who won last week’s PGA Tour event at the Waste Management Open, said he has never met or played with Woods but hopes to one day.

“There’s been a few times when I was very close to being paired with him,” Taylor said. “I hope he keeps playing as much as he can so that scenario works out.”

The Genesis, which benefits Woods’ TGR Foundation, was the only official PGA Tour event in which he played 72 holes last season. After posting a 2-under 69 in the first round, Woods carded bogeys on three of his last four holes in the second round for a 3-over 74. He made the cut on the number and tied for 45th with a 72-hole total of 1-under 283.

Longtime caddie Lance Bennett will carry Woods’ bag this week. Bennett has worked previously with PGA Tour players Matt Kuchar, Sungjae Im and Davis Riley, as well as with LPGA legend Lorena Ochoa.

This season, Bennett is working for PGA Tour rookie Adrien Dumont de Chassart of Belgium. Dumont de Chassart, the 2023 Korn Ferry Tour Rookie of the Year, did not qualify for the Genesis field. It isn’t known if Bennett will continue to work with Woods in potential starts later this season.

“It’s exciting,” Kuchar said of Bennett. “I’m really, really happy for him, happy for Tiger. What a cool opportunity, right? I mean, that’s just awesome. Lance and I go back a long time. For me, it’s a funny kind of small world out here, golfers and caddies, but I am excited to see how it goes.”

Woods’ most recent full-time caddie, Joe LaCava, is now working with Patrick Cantlay. LaCava helped Woods capture his 15th major championship at the 2019 Masters.

Kuchar said carrying Woods’ bag will come with increased responsibilities for Bennett.

“Tiger’s a unique creature when it comes to the attention and all the stuff that goes his way,” Kuchar said. “I’m a pretty low-maintenance guy. I think that the Tiger Woods job comes with a lot more responsibilities and duties, and I think Lance certainly can handle them. I hope things go well.”

Woods’ longtime friend and business partner Rob McNamara carried his bag at the Hero World Challenge. Woods’ daughter, Sam, caddied for him when he played with his son, Charlie, at the PNC Championship in December.

Woods’ most recent top-10 finish on the PGA Tour came at the 2020 Farmers Insurance Open. He needs one more victory to break a tie with Sam Snead for the most wins in PGA Tour history at 83. His last win on tour came at the 2019 Zozo Championship.

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