19th hole: Tiger Woods rekindles his unusual Riviera relationship

Jan 27, 2018; San Diego, CA, USA; Tiger Woods waits his turn on the fifth tee box during the third round of the Farmers Insurance Open golf tournament at Torrey Pines Municipal Golf Course - South Co. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

19th hole: Tiger Woods rekindles his unusual Riviera relationship

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19th hole: Tiger Woods rekindles his unusual Riviera relationship

As with most golf legends, Tiger Woods is an unabashed horse for certain courses.

The 42-year-old has had an affinity for some of the biggest, best and most important tournament venues in the game. That’s a nice thing for building an eye-popping resume, given that you can’t win 14 majors hating the Old Course and Pebble Beach.

But his 11 Riviera Country Club appearances have been an odd mix of euphoria, a near win and a forgettable departure in his last appearance more than a decade ago. The odd combination of factors will only make his rekindling of the Riviera relationship that much more special if he can round out one of his few resume blemishes – an official hometown PGA Tour win.

Given his affinity for the famed George Thomas- and Billy Bell-designed masterpiece hosting the Genesis Open again, Woods should have lapped the field here long ago. Or at the very least, teed it up here in the last 11 years since his 2006 WD due to the flu.

But now in a fitting bookend to his career, the Woods Foundation benefits from the event and Tiger is going to try to turn Hogan’s Alley into his playground as he attempts to leave all of us with a few more thrills.

So what’s the deal with Tiger and Riviera? The story involves poa annua, scheduling and traffic. Work with me here.

We all know this is where the La Mode Du Golf-wearing lanky kid debuted on the PGA Tour in 1992 and was wowed by Davis Love’s scoring, inspired to get better. He did. A lot better.

The cameras followed him that week and everywhere else he went for the next decade as Woods grew up and became everything his dad said he would – except a winner in his home-area event. Not that there is great shame in this, since, after all, Jack Nicklaus adored Riviera and couldn’t win at Hogan’s Alley. The Golden Bear even put two of its holes in his best 18 major championship holes but suffered several near-misses here, most notably in the 1983 PGA Championship. He even made a late run in the 1998 U.S. Senior Open.

In nine starts with the swoosh emblazoned on his hat, Woods owns a 69.39 scoring average at Riviera and came closest to a win in 1999. He trailed by two strokes heading in the final round and needed a birdie at the 18th to tie Ernie Els, but lost his approach right, where it hit the unfortunately placed cart path and ended up in a concession stand.

That T-2 came a week after Woods closed with 62-65 to win down at Torrey Pines and a year after he lost in a playoff to Billy Mayfair when the tournament temporarily moved to Valencia Country Club. In the ensuing Riviera appearances, Woods struggled to make putts on Riviera’s bumpy poa annua greens. In 2006, caddie Steve Williams didn’t have an umbrella in the bag when a surprise rain struck Friday afternoon. Woods was already battling something, grew more sick overnight and withdrew the next morning.

As legend has it, and Woods confirmed to me in his own way last year, the entire thing was exacerbated by getting stuck in a brutal Friday night traffic jam heading to his lodging east of the course. Riviera never made it onto his schedule again.

But a lot has changed since Tiger last strolled the kikuyu fairways, and the differences should work in his favor.

For starters, everyone knows to book lodging south or west of the course, which Woods planned to do last year before his back sidelined him from returning. No more 90-minute drives stuck in hellacious traffic.

Those bumpy poa greens?  So much smoother, thanks mostly to Riviera hiring Matt Morton, one of the best superintendents in the country.

Woods also will find many holes lengthened and others playing shorter than he’ll remember, with the famous short 10th practically a par 3 to a PGA Tour field now. The two back-nine par 5s, once stout and hard-to-reach holes, both are reachable in two shots by nearly all the players in this week’s Genesis Open.

Best of all? Riviera no longer sports the high rough seen in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. The difficulty of greens running 13 on the Stimpmeter allows the course to still pose enough problems for today’s players. Woods should chomp at the bit considering all of the factors working in his favor. And L.A. fans will relish seeing him again. Gwk

 

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