Tiger Woods on his pursuit of win 83 this week, his caddie change, and his new spikes

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – Tiger Woods has a new caddie, a new line of clothing but the same pursuit as always.

“A nice W would be nice, right? I haven’t ever won this event,” he said. “Hopefully I can figure something out and get myself in there in contention and maybe get a W at the end of the week.”

Woods, the winner of 82 PGA Tour titles, made his Tour debut here in 1992 but has yet to win in 15 previous starts at Riviera Country Club. Woods made clear that it frustrates him to no end.

“You can see that, and you’re asking me the question,” he said, breaking into a smile. “I have never really gotten hot with the putter at this course. Generally they’re bumpy poa, so it’s been a little bit tricky. For some reason, it just has never compiled to a hot week.”

He’s both the tournament host at the Genesis Invitational and playing for the first time in an official Tour event since the Masters after undergoing surgery to fuse his right ankle two weeks later and didn’t play a competitive round until December at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas. He finished 18th out of 20 players. Woods said in December that his goal this year is to play one event a month through the major season.

“Trying to get used to the new feels of the body. That’s always the challenge. And the challenges of trying to get Tour ready, that’s been what we’ve been trying to do the last couple weeks and trying be sure I’m physically fit and ready to play this event,” he said. “We have our work cut out for us and look forward to it.”

Woods played nine holes on Tuesday and competed in the pro-am Wednesday in a group with Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen and veteran Major League Baseball player Aaron Hicks, who is married to Cheyenne Woods, Tiger’s niece.

On a glorious sunny day with just enough breeze that Woods wore a black sweater for 17 of the 18 holes, he was sporting Sun Day Red attire, the new clothing line he launched on Monday and a prototype of the brand’s footwear. Woods noted that he had to make a few modifications to the footwear to compensate for the different terrain from practicing near his home in Florida.

“Being at home in Florida and testing in Florida was very different than coming out here and playing off a slope and playing off of wet grass and having the traction I needed,” he said. “So I put some nails (spikes) in yesterday and it’s been working.”

Woods’s swing looked both fluid and powerful, and he had good control of his ball during the practice session.

“Never take a day off,” a fan shouted to Woods, which drew a wide smile from the 15-time major winner.

Between the eighth green and the ninth tee, Woods indulged in an In-N-Out burger, picking off the pickles and disposing of them in a trash container.

His gait, which has had a hitch since being involved in a serious rollover car crash south of Los Angeles after this event three years ago that severely injured his lower right leg, ankle and foot, looked improved and he never labored at any point in the round.

“I’m just happy to see the man not limping as much,” Max Homa, the 2021 Genesis Invitational winner, said. “Every event’s better when Tiger is here. It’s pretty amazing what he brings to an event with his presence on the golf course. Obviously it’s great that he’s had his name attached to this, but you want to see him play, all the fans want to see him play.”

Woods also has enlisted a new caddie on the bag this week in veteran Lance Bennett, who formerly worked for Matt Kuchar among several pros.

“I’ve had a great relationship with him over the years going back to when he caddied for Kooch and when we played at the Presidents Cup together back in, what, Muirfield Village. In all the years that we’ve been on Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups together and the times I’ve been able to play with him in the same groups — very down to earth, very loyal and how he (has communicated) through the years, I’ve also taken notice of that,” Woods said. “We’ve had the same type of feels in how we look at the golf course and how we read putts, they’re very similar. We’re going to be a great team and look forward to the challenge.”

Woods will tee off at 12:25 p.m. ET in the first round in a grouping with Justin Thomas and Gary Woodland on Thursday. When 13-time winner Jordan Spieth mentioned to Woods that he was playing right in front of him, Woods joked, “OK, I’ll hit into you then.”

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