Tiger Woods is synonymous with winning but here’s why this week is different

Tiger Woods is back in action at the Genesis Invitational this week  (AP)
Tiger Woods is back in action at the Genesis Invitational this week (AP)

As arguably the greatest winner and biggest competitive animal that golf – and perhaps sport as a whole – has ever seen, it came as no surprise that Tiger Woods claimed he was dreaming big heading into this week’s Genesis Invitational.

“A nice W would be nice, right,” smiled Woods at his pre-tournament press conference. “I haven’t ever won this event. I played in this event since ‘92 and the years I’ve played, I still have never won this event. Hopefully I can figure something out and get myself in there in contention and maybe get a W at the end of the week.”

The tournament at Riviera Country Club is a bizarre anomaly in the career of Woods. As the man himself alludes to, in more than 30 years of heading to the Los Angeles course, he has never once lifted the trophy at the end of the week – whether the PGA Tour event was in its Genesis Invitational, Genesis Open, Northern Trust Open or Nissan Open guise.

On a ludicrously good CV, it is more or less the only notable tournament that he hasn’t won. So it’s no wonder that he says he’s keen for glory and claiming his 83rd title by finally winning at Riviera would undoubtedly be a poetic way to break the tie with Sam Snead for most PGA Tour victories in history.

Of course, the reality is that Woods hasn’t won a golf tournament since the Zozo Championship in 2019, since when he’s had microdiscectomy surgery on his back for the fifth time and had a life-altering car crash in which he sustained multiple serious leg injuries that required operating on. It has been a long journey back to the point where he can play competitive golf again and he’s still having to nurse his body through the few tournaments that he does appear in.

“One of the reasons I don’t have a choice with my swing right now, my body day to day, week to week just looks kind of different,” admitted Woods. “I can’t really model myself or fit any kind of model – a lot of it’s my hands and my feel. I built this golf swing the last few years, four, five years based on my hands and what that feels like. What that looks like, I don’t – sometimes it doesn’t look pretty, but I can still hit the ball flush.”

Tiger Woods returns to Riviera this week (Getty Images)
Tiger Woods returns to Riviera this week (Getty Images)

Wood completed four rounds at the Hero World Challenge in December – finishing 18th in the 20-man field after shooting level-par for the championship – in his first tournament since ankle surgery last summer and has stated that he aims to play one competition per month this season, with particular focus being on the Masters at Augusta in April and The Open at Royal Troon in July. The hope is that he has one more magical week in him to break Jack Nicklaus’s record as the oldest major winner by lifting a 16th title at the age of 48.

Getting through 72 holes fully fit is not a given anymore and he recently expressed his desire to keep playing professionally for many years to come. “I still love competing, I love playing, I love being a part of the game of golf,” he said. “This is the game of a lifetime and I don’t ever want to stop playing. I love being able to compete.”

That means picking his battles and knowing his limitations. So, while Tiger the competitor will be desperate to break his Riviera duck, Woods the man will – deep down –have much more achievable goals when he tees off for his first round alongside great friend Justin Thomas and Gary Woodland at 5.25pm GMT (9.25am local). Given what happened the last time Woods and Thomas walked the fairways together at the Genesis, it should be worth watching for a number of reasons...

There are 71 players competing for a $20m purse with the top 50 and ties, as well as those within 10 shots of the lead, making the cut after two rounds. If you offered Woods a guarantee that he will make the cut and successfully complete all four rounds relatively pain-free, he would likely bite your hand off. All roads leads to Augusta in April and getting another tournament under his belt here is vital to that goal.

Tiger Woods has launched his new-look brand ‘Sun Day Red’ (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Tiger Woods has launched his new-look brand ‘Sun Day Red’ (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Woods commands media attention wherever he goes but his role as tournament host at Riviera grants him even more of the spotlight. Having just launched his new brand ‘Sun Day Red’ following a split from Nike after 27 years together, the veteran will be keen to show off the apparel to kick-start a surge in sales.

Regardless of what you think about the name of the brand (not choosing the grammatically-cleaner ‘Sunday Red’ is jarring...), the logo (having a tiger made up of 15 stripes to represent the number of majors he has won may be the aim but it looks an awful lot like the Slazenger emblem...) or the merchandise they will be selling from 1 May, this is clearly a priority for Woods.

“It’s the right time in my life,” he said at the launch in Los Angeles. “It’s transitional. I’m not a kid any more. I want to have a brand I’m proud of going forward.”

As he strolls round Rivieria in his Sun Day Red (still a bad name...) gear this week, Woods may want to recapture former glories on the course. But if his body holds up, his swing shows signs of progress and his brand receives coverage, then Tiger will be purring come Sunday evening.