I Followed Tiger Woods Inside The Ropes At Riviera... Here's What I Noticed

Anticipation was high for Tiger's latest comeback and he didn't disappoint

Tiger Woods during the first round of the 2023 Genesis Invitational
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Another iconic memory was written into Riviera Country Club folklore during the first round of the 2023 Genesis Invitational, as Tiger Woods made his latest comeback to pro golf.

Not since the 150th Open at St Andrews in July of last year had the 15-time Major champion featured competitively before he teed off on Thursday at the revered LA venue.

Anticipation was understandably high to see how he would perform under the microscope at one of the most popular stops on the PGA Tour schedule, and I was lucky enough to have a close-up view to see the drama unfold. Here are the things I noticed...

He's still got it

Nobody knows how much Woods is able to play or practice these days given the extent of his injuries. He admitted here things can change on a daily basis, so it seems like any sort of schedule that may exist has to be very flexible. However, such is his immense ability that he's still able to mix it with the best of the best, as was evident on Thursday.

I watched him warm up and it didn't fill me with confidence. He was walking pretty gingerly and hitting it pretty poorly, especially with the longer clubs, but he once again showed he still has all the shots and grit in abundance to limit the damage where necessary and take advantage where possible. 

He admitted he was nervous to get going so the birdie at the first will have been somewhat of a settler, but the early stretch posed some problems. His next real birdie chance wouldn't arrive until the seventh but in the intermittent holes, he limited the loss to a solitary bogey to remain competitive on a day of low scoring. The putt on seven slipped by but he made amends on the eighth and closed out a one-under front nine. 

A tough stretch to start the inward half saw him drop two shots before a good par save on 13 set up a grandstand finish. The birdie on 16 was trademark Woods as he flighted a delicious iron shot to around six feet to a tucked pin on the par-3. Then, he showed he can still crank up the power when he needs to. On 17, he was comfortably 15 yards by playing partner Justin Thomas and on 18 he even pipped Rory McIlroy by a few paces.

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Both of those tee shots paved the way for birdies two and three in succession that saw him round in two-under 69 and sparked some incredible scenes more akin to that of a Major.

There was, understandably, some rust on display, but there were some incredibly encouraging signs. The swing looked great from the ground, even when he let a few shots go to the right, and there were no signs of discomfort. It's early doors, of course, so this could change come Sunday should he make the cut, but his action remains a thing of beauty.

He was also consistently driving it long, showing he has enough confidence in the ankle to load it up when he wants to. He outdrove Thomas all day and McIlroy on occasion, two guys who are certainly no slouches, and his iron game remains as prodigious as ever.

His golfing days are numbered

Many - myself included - people will have been sceptical when Woods said he would never play a full schedule again following his car crash. He has always been a master of subverting expectations so the optimist in all of us would have been forgiven for hoping this was the latest in a long line of examples.

It's time to put that lingering hope to bed and learn to appreciate the rare glimpses we will get. Woods said the ankle has been feeling as good as it has in a while before the tournament started, partly due to the new strapping method he and his team have found to minimise the pain, but he's still sporting a fairly noticeable limp. 

Tiger Woods adjusting his ankle strap during day one of the 2023 Genesis Invitational

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Watching him get in position to hit a recovery shot from a sidehill lie on the fifth was mega uncomfortable, as was seeing him struggle when leaving the property following his media duties. Even before he got going, there was concern as to how he was moving.

He said he hasn't walked 72 holes in four days in practice and it's easy to see why. Getting from A to B without a cart remains a real and ongoing issue. However, on the plus side, should he enjoy a handful of healthy weeks during the season and manage to overcome this challenge, there's no reason he can't add another PGA Tour title to his resume and break the all-time record he shares with Sam Snead.

He's still the needle

It was alarming how much more support Woods garnered on the course compared to McIlroy and Thomas. There were honestly times when the crowd wrongly showed complete disregard for the 47-year-old's playing partners. 

One spectator told me it was "a typical LA crowd" when JT's miraculous up and down on the fifth received a smattering of applause at best. Contrast that to Tiger and almost anything he did caused near pandemonium. 

There were numerous fans who revealed they had ditched work or school just to come out and see Woods play on Thursday, while I overheard some emotional phone calls to parents or friends describing the magnitude of the day they were having watching a sporting icon. 

Tiger Woods hitting his first tee shot on day one of the 2023 Genesis Invitational

(Image credit: Getty Images)

It spilled over far too many times, with Thomas and McIlroy having to back off various shots or just carry on through the noise, but that's a sign of the impact Woods still has on this game.

Many times, the source of the disruption was from people who had just recorded a video of Woods and were playing it back to relive the moment, oblivious to the fact that there were two fellow superstars making up the threeball.

But while there were some unseemly consequences of the Tiger mania, it brought a smile to my face seeing the number of kids that were out spectating, cheering and enjoying themselves following the tournament host and star attraction.

For all the talk of growing the game, there is still only one man capable of moving the needle to such an extent; luckily for everyone who cares about the future of the sport, it's a responsibility he appears to be relishing in these uncertain times. 

Andrew Wright
Staff Writer

A lifelong golf fan, Andy graduated in 2019 with a degree in Sports Journalism and got his first role in the industry as the Instruction Editor for National Club Golfer. From there, he went on to enjoy a spell freelancing for Stats Perform producing football reports, and then for RacingNews365 covering Formula 1. However, he couldn't turn down the opportunity to get back into the sport he grew up watching and playing and now covers a mixture of equipment, instruction and news for Golf Monthly's website and print title.

Andy took up the game at the age of seven and even harboured ambitions of a career in the professional ranks for a spell. That didn’t pan out, but he still enjoys his weekend golf at Royal Troon and holds a scratch handicap. As a side note, he's made five holes-in-one and could quite possibly be Retief Goosen’s biggest fan.

As well as the above, some of Andy's work has featured on websites such as goal.com, dailyrecord.co.uk, and theopen.com.

What's in Andy's bag?

Driver: Callaway Mavrik Sub-Zero (9°)

3-wood: TaylorMade Stealth 2 Plus (15°)

Driving iron: Titleist U500 (17°)

Irons: Callaway Apex Pro '19 (4-PW)

Wedges: Titleist Vokey SM9 (50°, 54° and 58°)

Putter: TaylorMade Spider X

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x