PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – Tiger mania was alive and well this week at Riviera Country Club.
Woods, 47, attracted such large crowds at the Genesis Invitational that fans packed more than five deep craned their necks, climbed trees and stood on step ladders to see the player with 82 career PGA Tour titles and 15 majors to his credit continue to defy the odds and return from a near-death car accident almost two years ago.
But the best view of Woods on Sunday belonged to playing partners Tyrrell Hatton and Kramer Hickok, who went so far as to predict that Woods would win again this year.
One day after Woods turned back the clock and shot a third-round 67, his card contained a few more miscues and he limped home in 2-over 73 for a 72-hole total of 1-under 283.
For Hatton, it marked the second time he had played alongside Tiger in a tournament,the previous occasion being the third round at the WGC-Mexico Championship in 2019.
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“Someone said his ball speed was down a little today, maybe he was hurting or what, but what he’s doing is still quite impressive,” Hatton said. “You don’t know how many events he will be playing so it is quite a special occasion for myself. Like a lot of people my age, he was a golfing idol for me.”
Hatton highlighted the 13th hole when Woods canned a 30-foot birdie putt from the fringe and sent the gallery into a frenzy.
“When he holes a putt, even if you’re not playing in his group you know it’s a Tiger roar,” Hatton said. “It’s got a different sound to it. I’ll look back on this day and think it was cool to have played with him.”
Hickok, 30, had played in front of Tiger and behind before, but never together in the same grouping. He witnessed Woods leaving the locker room Saturday and said his limp was noticeable. Woods said he spent most of the night icing his body as part of his recovery. It was the toughest turnaround for Woods, who teed off at 8:16 a.m. local time, but he managed to play 72 holes plus Wednesday’s pro-am and that alone makes the week a success.
“I think it’s unbelievable to see him doing what he’s doing,” Hickok said. “He’s playing golf with one hand tied behind his back and he’s still doing it.”
Playing with him, Hickok said, was a rare treat. Tiger no longer has the icy, distant stare that was trademark in his prime.
“He was so easy to talk to. I thought he was sort of intense and to himself but we were chatting about his family, chatting every fairway. He was a guy’s guy and someone I’d like to play with any minute,” Hickok said.
Hickok was impressed that Woods still has the desire to put in all the work.
“Just to be out here playing again shows his heart and determination,” he said. “He’s still got so much game. I wouldn’t be surprised if he won again.”
Hickok made the most of the grouping with Woods and studied his every move.
“He’s still getting around the golf course with his mind, which is what he’s so good at,” Hickok said. “I was actually watching him a lot today to see what he’s doing and he was just picking apart the golf course.”
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It’s unclear when Woods will play next. He reiterated that he will have to see how his body, particularly his right ankle, responds to treatment and his goal remains to play the four majors and sprinkle in a few other events. That’s all he says he can do at this point.
“The body says no, even though the mind says yes,” Woods said.
But Hickok says he saw enough to be convinced that Woods can still be a factor when he plays this year.
“If he can shoot 4 under on a Saturday it means he can do it again on a Sunday and then he can do it for four days in a row and get up near the top of the lead,” Hickok said. “I would not be surprised if he wins this year. Seriously, I would not be surprised.”