Woods gets elevated status at Riviera, now wants victory
By Doug Ferguson
AP Golf Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Tiger Woods and his TGR Foundation took over the Genesis Open at Riviera two years ago, and now the PGA Tour is elevating it to the same status as tournaments hosted by Jack Nicklaus and the late Arnold Palmer.
Still to be determined is whether Woods can actually win the one PGA Tour event that has his number.
Riviera is where a 16-year-old Woods made his PGA Tour debut on a sponsor exemption. This is the closest PGA Tour event to where he grew up in Orange County. Riviera also is the PGA Tour course he has played the most times — nine — without winning.
“It is certainly a love-hate relationship,” Woods said Wednesday after getting through his pro-am ahead of the rain. “I love playing this golf course. I always have. I enjoyed playing up here when I was young with my dad. For some reason, I’ve only played well here one time in the tournament.”
That was in 1999, a few months before the first major overhaul in his swing took root. He was tied with Ernie Els and Ted Tryba going to the back nine before Els ran off three straight birdies and no one could catch him. Woods was runner-up his best finish at Riviera.
The real measure was in 2000, when Woods either won or was runner-up in 10 out of 11 starts on the PGA Tour.
The exception? A tie for 18th at Riviera.
Woods gets another crack in what figures to be cold, wet conditions because of another storm system that is likely to linger through the opening round. He is in the same group as Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy, just like last year, when Woods missed the cut for the only time in 2018 at a regular PGA Tour event.
Expectations are slightly higher, though it’s still early in the season.
Woods, who ended last season by winning the Tour Championship for his 80th career victory, had a pedestrian start to the year last month at Torrey Pines when he rallied with a 67 on the final day to tie for 20th.
“I’m in a very different position now having played an entire season, and I know what my body can and cannot do,” he said. “So I’m looking forward to this week. Hopefully I can finally play this golf course well.”
The field is stacked, though it is missing the top two players in the world ranking as Justin Rose and Brooks Koepka are taking the week off. It includes Phil Mickelson, a two-time winner at Riviera who is coming off a victory at Pebble Beach last week.
Riviera has attracted the strongest field in regular PGA Tour events on the West Coast Swing every year since 2006, and this is no exception. The field also features Dustin Johnson, who considers Riviera his favorite track and has a victory to show for it.
So does Bubba Watson, the defending champion and a three-time winner, though his main infatuation is that it’s not far from Hollywood and all the movie stars.
“The only thing I’ve got on Tiger is that I’ve won here,” Watson said.
Palmer bought the Bay Hill Lodge and the PGA Tour renamed it from Bay Hill to the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2007. Muirfield Village is the course Nicklaus built, and it was the first in 2016 to offer a three-year exemption to the winner, instead of two years for other PGA Tour victories.
Palmer’s tournament received the same status in 2017.
The Genesis Open joins them starting in 2020, offering $9.3 million in prize money (this year it is $7.4 million). That also means the field will shrink from 144 players this year to 120 players next year, but it will lose the Monday open qualifying it has had since 1926.
Bryson DeChambeau approved of the decision as he raved about Riviera, where his idol Ben Hogan won four times, including the U.S. Open and Los Angeles Open in the same year in 1948.
GARCIA APOLOGIZES, WANTS TO BE ‘BEST BEHAVED’ IN GOLF
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Sergio Garcia apologized in a statement and in person to the players in his group when he damaged five greens at the Saudi International. He apologized in a social media post and in an interview at his locker Wednesday at Riviera.
That has been the easy part. He has had plenty of experience over the years.
Garcia said the challenge now is to make sure it does not happen again, knowing that the scrutiny of his behavior will be greater than ever.
“I’m sure I’m going to hear it throughout the year,” Garcia told The Associated Press in his first interview since he was disqualified Feb. 2 for the damage he did to five greens out of frustration early in the third round.
“My job is to make sure I deal with it the best way possible, and show them that I can grow, that I can move forward and I can be who I am in the right way,” he said. “I want to face my mistakes head on. My job is to go out there and enjoy my game and show everyone that no matter what, I can be the best behaved guy in the classroom. … I just hope I can maintain their respect.”
The Genesis Open is his first event since he lost his head early in the third round at the Saudi International, which he attributed to a personal issue that put him in a bad frame of mind at the start of the week and greens at Royal Greens in Saudi Arabia that were new, grainy and slow.
He did not disclose the personal matter and said it was no excuse, and that he knew immediately he had done wrong.
“It hit me like on the 10th hole. I started thinking: ‘What am I doing? Get your head back on top of your shoulders,’” Garcia said. “I know I lost it.”
The 39-year-old Spaniard has put his emotions on full display since he turned pro in 1999 at age 19, challenged Tiger Woods in the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah and played in the first of nine Ryder Cups.
There was great passion when he won the Masters in 2017 for his first major. But the explosive, petulant variety has been seen far more often over the years, whether it was kicking a shoe that nearly struck an official at Wentworth in 2000, blaming a European Tour rules official for a two-shot penalty in Australia or accusing Woods of disturbing the gallery at the TPC Sawgrass, a rift that ended with Garcia making a racially insensitive comment about him.
Damaging greens in the middle of a round, which affected the players behind him, caught even his friends by surprise.
“We always think he gets over it, but there’s no doubt he’s out of line behaving like that,” said Adam Scott, one of his closest friends in golf. “He said he needs to understand his emotions and channel that in a better way. I’m not a psychologist and don’t know how to do that, but I think it’s a good thing for him. The game can get the better of us at times. It seems to get the better of him more than some others.”
Garcia’s disqualification — the European Tour said he would not be suspended — ended a streak of seven straight top 10s worldwide, which began when he was picked for the Ryder Cup in France. He went 3-1-0 for the week at Le Golf National.
His game was in good shape. Now he has a reputation to mend.
“I feel terrible about it,” Garcia said. “I’ve been thinking about it for the last week, every day. I’m an emotional player. That emotion is probably my biggest strength, but it’s also one of my biggest flaws. If I channel it the right way, it’s amazing. I think that’s why people follow me the way they do. If I channel it the wrong way, it’s too extreme. My goal is make sure the bad gets better and the good stays.”
Rory McIlroy, another of his close friends, says being Spanish and full of emotion was “no excuse” for what Garcia did in Saudi Arabia.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re from. It’s not acceptable,” McIlroy said. “If you’ve got stuff bothering you, let the course be your sanctuary. I’ve had to deal with that in the past.”
Some of the strongest comments came from three-time major champion Brooks Koepka, who said on “Playing Through Podcast” that the Saudi incident was “Sergio acting like a child.”
“You’re 40 years old, so you’ve got to grow up eventually,” Koepka said.
Garcia pondered what he would say to Koepka when he sees him next week in the Mexico Championship.
“I’m going to tell him I agree,” Garcia said. “I’m the first one to say that I was wrong. I agree with what he said. That’s why we’re here, to get better, to grow up and become better people.”
He paused and smiled before adding: “But I don’t agree with the age. He got my age wrong. I’m 39, not 40. So I have a year to improve,” Garcia said. “But when I see him, I’ll tell him I agree, and I’m sorry for what happened. And I understand why he would say that.”
“This place has created great champions,” he said. “This golf course exposes the best players in the world, so I think it definitely deserves it, and it’s worth everyone’s while to have the person who wins it have a three-year exemption. I think it’s a great move and can’t wait for next year.”
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said that all a tournament needs to have elevated status is to have a tournament host win 60 times or more. Woods has 80 victories, two shy of Sam Snead’s PGA Tour record. Nicklaus had 73. Palmer had 62.
“If there comes a day where someone else wins 60 events, I guess that’s a conversation we’ll have,” he said. “But sitting at 80, two away from 82, he’s in a pretty remarkable position.”
Now he sees if he can be in the winner’s position at Riviera.