Golf’s brightest star Tiger Woods beams in Tinseltown pro-am

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Golf’s brightest star Tiger Woods beams in Tinseltown pro-am

PGA Tour

Golf’s brightest star Tiger Woods beams in Tinseltown pro-am

LOS ANGELES – The Genesis Open is as close as the PGA Tour gets to Hollywood. Riviera Country Club sits about 10 miles west of the movie capital, but the tournament has for years been absent the biggest star in the business.

Tiger Woods hasn’t played here since withdrawing with a cold after two rounds in 2006. Sure, there have always been plenty of A-listers in the field and some of them even won (Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson), but the event has long lacked the star wattage that only Woods brings to the party.

Picture Oscar night with Jack Nicholson watching from home.

There are two reasons why Woods has returned to Riviera after a 12-year absence: the need for competitive reps in his comeback from back surgery, and the fact that the Genesis Open now benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation.

He did not talk to the media on Wednesday, but a day earlier had admitted that he was relearning a course that has seen significant changes in the dozen years since he was last here.

“The old yardage books are out the window,” he said.

Tiger Woods chats with PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan during Wednesday’s Genesis Open pro-am. (Geoff Shackelford)

This marks Woods’s 10th professional start in the event, which he has never won. His best finish was a 1998 playoff loss to Billy Mayfair.

“I love the golf course, I love the layout, it fits my eye and I play awful,” he said. “It’s very simple. It’s just one of those weird things.”

One person who is acutely aware of the increased buzz with Woods back in the field this year is Rory McIlroy, who will tee off with the 14-time major champion and Justin Thomas at 7:22 a.m. Pacific Thursday.

“I wouldn’t have minded a nice quiet couple of days,” McIlroy said. “But no, it’s totally fine. Any time you have a chance to play in a group like that you sort of relish it and embrace it.”

Woods seems just as keen to share the spotlight with the younger generation of stars.

“We’re going to have a lot of fun,” he said. “I think that all three of us are excited about playing with one another in this event.”

Woods was the first guy out in the Wednesday pro-am, teeing off with a group that included actor Mark Wahlberg at 6:40 a.m. As the hours progressed, his gallery swelled, and even included PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan. He put together a tidy round, hitting 8 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens, with three birdies against just one bogey.

But the wayward driver that crippled him in his comeback three weeks ago at Torrey Pines was still on Woods’ mind. After hitting his tee shot on 18, he handed the club (sans headcover) to a rep to be taken away for an adjustment. He was hitting it again on the range shortly afterward, with four young kids quietly gathered on the grass behind him watching intently. Between shots, Woods tapped keepsake balls back toward them.

Woods said he’s not sure what to expect in just his second official PGA Tour start in a year, but is clear on the longer-term goals.

“I’d eventually like to win tournaments,” said the man who has won 79 of them on Tour. “I’m trying to get through that process, get to that point.”

Woods tied for 23rd at the Farmers Insurance Open, an outing that offered much encouragement for his fans. His short game looked sharp, his vaunted ability to grind out a score was evident, and most importantly, his health remained robust. Only one thing hurt after the event, he confessed: “My feet. I’m not used to walking.”

Defending champion Johnson is among those just happy to see Woods in the field, regardless of his score.

“Golf wouldn’t be where it is today without Tiger. It’s great to see him back, it’s great to see him competing again,” Johnson said. “It’s good for the game of golf him being here. It can only help us.”

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