Paired with Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas here at the Genesis Open, it is yet another first couple of rounds in the company of the under-30s for Tiger Woods and the 43-year-old is taking longevity inspiration from an unlikely source. So much for Phil Mickelson being his arch nemesis.
Woods was as impressed as anyone by Mickelson’s win on Sunday at Pebble Beach, one of American golf’s most iconic venues, as he stared down England’s Paul Casey by three shots. “Phil’s making it look easy,” Woods said here at Riviera Country. “To see him winning a World Golf Championship [at Mexico last year] and at Pebble at the age of 48, it’s impressive to see because it’s not easy to do.
“He’s making more putts than I’ve ever seen him make. He’s been driving it a little better but has really changed his putting the last year and a half.”
It is one of the curiosities of Woods’s garlanded career that he has never prevailed here at the event where his father used to bring him as a boy and which now benefits his charitable foundation. In 11 appearances the best he managed was second in 1999. Among the professional events Woods has entered at least four times, it remains the only one he has not won. But with Mickelson in the field, there is added incentive.
“I think Phil and I can both attest to this and we’ll both say the same thing: Each of us winning has motivated one another throughout our entire career,” Woods said. “We were both vying for [the world] No 1 spot for virtually 18 years or so. Each win by the other person always motivated the another.”
Woods, of course, rolled back the years to lift the Tour Championship title in Atlanta five months ago and comes into this season as world No 13 being tipped to resume on the major trail after an 11-year absence. He enjoyed a so-so seasonal bow last month at Torrey Pines - scene of his 2008 US Open success - but believes he is now sharper.
“The game is good,” Woods said. “I was just rusty at Torrey after taking quite a few months off prior to that event. I got better each and every day. Now, my schedule going forward is to try get myself ready for [The Masters in] April.”
Sergio Garcia will also attract plenty of interest here this week, if only because of his disqualification in the last event he appeared in. The European Tour threw out the Spaniard from the Saudi Arabia International two weeks ago for “serious misconduct” which saw Garcia damage five greens in frustration. The 39-year-old issued another apology via social media on Tuesday but will have to face the media sometime.
“I’ve obviously had some time to reflect, and want to again say I’m sorry to my fans and fellow competitors” Garcia said. “What happened is not an example I want to set, and it's not who I truly am. I am an emotional player and while I believe that's one of my biggest strengths, it's also one of my biggest flaws. I’m focused on working hard to channel that emotion the correct way and to be the best me.”