Tiger: “I would not have put myself out here if I didn’t think I could beat these guys”

Mark McGowan

Tiger Woods (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Tiger Woods returns to competitive action on the regular PGA Tour circuit for the first time 2020 at this week’s Genesis Invitational at Los Angeles’ Riviera Country Club. Seeking his first win in the event formerly known as the L.A. Open, the tournament host provided a welcome boost to the event when his entry was announced on Friday, but was adamant that he’s certainly not just there to make up the numbers.

Speaking in Tuesday’s press conference, Woods was asked what were the physical challenges that he had to overcome in order to tee it up this week. “As far as the recovery, it’s more my ankle, whether I can recover from day to day,” he said. “The leg is better than it was last year, but it’s my ankle. So being able to have it recover from day to day and meanwhile still stress it but have the recovery and also have the strength development at the same time, it’s been an intricate little balance that we’ve had to dance.

“But it’s gotten so much better the last couple months. I’m excited to go out there and compete and play with these guys. And I would not have put myself out here if I didn’t think I could beat these guys and win the event. That’s my mentality. If I wasn’t ready to win at this level, I am very rusty, but I’ve come off a rusty situation before around I’ve done well and I’ve had to utilize a lot of those tactics in practice in build up, plus also I know this golf course. I know I haven’t had a lot of success on this golf course, but I knew what to practice for, shots to hit at home getting ready.”

Last seen on a golf course partnering son Charlie at the PNC Championship in December, albeit using a golf cart, Woods showed that he still had the swing speed to compete at the top level. “As you watch that PNC,” he admitted, “I was able to play out of the cart and hit shots and do whatever I wanted, but I just didn’t have the endurance in my ankle, so we’ve been working on that and getting it to where — I can still hit shots, but it’s the walking endurance that’s hard.”

Still unsure how he’ll be able to handle 72 holes should he make the cut, and he clarified that it’s not something he’s done even in practice, but he has been working hard to strengthen his ankle and build resistance against the rigours of professional golf. “That’s something that we’ve had to work on, walking distances on the beach, just basically stress it out but also be able to recover by the next day and see how it is inflammation-wise and then keep practicing. I may have overdone it a couple times here or there, but here I am.”

Inevitably, the conversation turned to the upcoming Masters Tournament, and the presence of LIV players at Augusta National. Several players have spoken recently of potential tension at the annual Champions Dinner on Tuesday of Masters week, and though Woods is unsure whether the atmosphere may be different from years gone by, he was adamant that any issues should be put to one side in honour of the defending champion.

“The Champions Dinner is going to be obviously something that’s talked about. We as a whole need to honour Scottie [Scheffler]. Scottie’s the winner, it’s his dinner. So making sure that Scottie gets honored correctly but also realizing the nature of what has transpired and the people that have left, just where our situations are either legally, emotionally, there’s a lot there.”

The Genesis Invitational is the third of the PGA Tour’s designated events – an initiative that Woods played no small part in influencing – and he admitted that the format that the designated events adopt over the coming years is still being considered.

“We are in the process of figuring all that out,” he said, “and it’s been a variety of different models, different opinions, trying to figure out what is the best product and competitive environment and what we should do going forward. Yes, limited fields, what’s the number. Cuts? Yes or no. What’s the number, what do we go to. How many players are playing the event?

“OK, what is the ability to get into the designated events? How is Jay able to sell our product to all the different sponsors across the board? There’s so much give and take. It’s still ongoing. I mean, it really has, it’s been difficult. A lot of the players have been very forthright which is great, it’s the way it should be.”

Towards the end of the press conference, Woods, who’d earlier referenced the 50-plus Masters Tournaments that Arnold Palmer and Gary Player had played when asked to reflect on Lebron James’ NBA Scoring Record achievement, was in the process of being asked if he could picture himself still competing into old age, but Tiger was having none of it.

“Nope,” he quickly answered, cutting off the question. “Nope. I’m not playing that many. Sorry.”

“[The] Ambassador role in hosting events like this, in hosting the Genesis Invitational or the Hero, doing those type of things, I totally get it. But as a player, I flip the hat around and become a player, and from a player standpoint, I’m here to get that W.”

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