LOS ANGELES — Tiger Woods walked back into the epicenter of the golf world Tuesday, just days after he announced he would be playing in the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club. He discussed many topics, including his health, the way he approaches playing competitive golf at this stage of his career and where the PGA Tour stands in its ongoing battle with LIV Golf.
Here are five major takeaways from Woods’ 25-minute news conference.
He won’t play unless he thinks he can win
Early into his interview, Woods pointed out that Arnold Palmer played in 50 Masters tournaments, which meant by the end of his career, the act of playing in such a tournament was more ceremonial than competitive. In what was perhaps the most introspective moment of the news conference, Woods was then asked about the concept of playing events as a figurehead for the game versus playing to win a tournament.
“No, no, I’m not playing 50,” Woods said with a smile. His face straightened. “I know that players have played and they are ambassadors of the game trying to grow the game. I can’t wrap my mind around that. As a competitor, if I’m playing the event. I’m going to try and beat you. Just playing and just trying to be out here with the guys now that’s not in my DNA.”
Woods said as much when asked about the thought process of playing at Riviera — the PGA Tour’s fourth designated event in 2023 — this week.
“I would not put myself out there if I didn’t think I could beat these guys,” Woods, who hasn’t won a tournament since the 2019 Masters, said.
The 15-time major championship winner did acknowledge that there will come a time when not even he will be able to overcome age, time and physical ailments like he once did with fields of golfers. He has not allowed his mind, however, to live in that harsh reality just yet.
The biggest health issue is his right ankle
Speaking of physical ailments, Woods specified that, although his right leg has improved, it is the ankle holding him back at the moment, and he has had to balance the recovery aspect of it while also trying to build his strength in order for him to play.
“I can still hit shots, but it’s the walking endurance that’s hard,” Woods said. “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 inflammationwise and then keep practicing. I may have overdone it a couple times here or there, but here I am.”
When asked whether he has walked 72 holes over the course of four days this year — like he presumably will have to this week if he makes the cut — Woods said he had not.
Woods chronicled the ramp up to this week’s event, which he said was always the place he planned to make his return, saying his backyard practice facilities have allowed him to chip and putt and hit balls every day before building up to playing a few holes, nine holes and eventually a full 18 holes.
“I’m not going to be playing a full schedule,” Woods reiterated when asked if he anticipates ever getting back to full strength. “I’d like to play more but will my body allow me to? I don’t know. And I have to be realistic about that.”
He did not downplay the potential tension between PGA Tour and LIV players at the majors
Following his debut at Riviera, Woods said he will prepare for the Masters, which will be the first major event this year that will feature both PGA Tour golfers and LIV golfers. When asked about what he expects the dynamic to be like between the two factions, Woods said he was unsure but he knows it will be different.
“I don’t know what that reaction’s going to be,” he said. “I know that some of our friendships have certainly taken a different path, but we’ll see when all that transpires.”
When it comes to the possibility of tension at the yearly Champions Dinner, which will presumably feature golfers from both sides, Woods said the priority is to celebrate last year’s winner, Scottie Scheffler.
“The Champions Dinner is going to be obviously something that’s talked about,” Woods said. “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.”
He acknowledged Rory McIlroy as the “ambassador” who has led the PGA Tour through a difficult year
With LIV dominating the conversation since last year’s tournament at Riviera, Woods took a moment to reflect on everything that has transpired over the past 12 months.
“It’s been very turbulent. … It’s been difficult, there’s no lie,” Woods said. “We never would have expected the game of golf to be in this situation, but it is, that’s the reality. Obviously, they’re a competitive organization trying to create their best product they possibly can, and we’re trying to create the best product that we think is the future of golf, how it should be played. How do we do that? We’re still working on that.”
Woods did not give a specific analysis of whether he believed LIV to still be a threat to the PGA Tour, but did note that part of the Tour’s future success depends not only on players being aligned, but recognizing that playing abroad is important to the future of the sport.
McIlroy, who played in Dubai earlier this month and has been one of the most vocal players against LIV Golf, was referenced by Woods as “our ambassador.”
“It’s been tough on him, but he’s been exceptional,” Woods said. “To be able to go through all that, I’ve been with him on all those conference calls and side meetings, and for him to go out there and play and win, it’s been incredible.”
He said the PGA Tour’s No. 1 priority should be to create the best product
The PGA Tour’s evolution from the advent of LIV Golf to the players’ meeting in Delaware last year has been a fast one, with Woods spearheading a lot of the efforts that are starting to come to fruition such as restructured schedules and purses. The elevated events, with their $20 million purses, have brought nearly all the top players in the world together on any given week. Woods acknowledged “mixed emotions” from the players who are rank-and-file, but called the early returns of the designated events “positive.”
“We need to keep going with it and need to stay aligned and keep progressing and making it better,” Woods said. “We need to produce the best product we possibly can to sell to all the viewerships.”
Woods said he has had conversations with players at every level in order to hear their thoughts, but noted that ultimately the PGA Tour is trying to create the best product that can stand out in a crowded market.
An unspoken through line during many of the questions Woods was asked on Tuesday was the reality that he may still be the only player who can fill up news conference rooms and galleries alike. That has been a not-so-insignificant part of why the PGA Tour has found itself in this precarious position in the first place. Woods has done his part on and off the course to keep the train on its tracks, but even he is aware there’s a gap that needs to be filled.
“I was lucky enough to get a sponsor’s exemption here at 16 years old,” Woods said of his debut at Riviera in 1992. “So is that possible in that new model? We need to create opportunities like that. I look back, I got lucky and I was able to play in this event. … I got those opportunities very early in my career. We don’t want the next stars to not have those opportunities. We want to create the next stars.”