LOS ANGELES: Golf’s establishment is still redefining itself 12 months after the emergence of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit rocked the game globally and pitted longtime friends and colleagues against each other. Tiger Woods, who came down hard on the side of the US PGA Tour and the DP World Tour, said those circuits are seeking the best means to engage fans, honor history and reward players in golf’s changed landscape.
“If you go back to this week at Genesis last year to where it’s at now, we all have to say it’s been very turbulent,” Woods said Tuesday as he prepared to play in the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club. “We never would have expected the game of golf to be in this situation, but it is, that’s the reality.”
That reality includes back-and-forth lawsuits, a ban on LIV Golf players teeing it up on the PGA Tour-and similar attempted suspensions by the DP World Tour thwarted in court. In the year since Phil Mickelson declared that LIV Golf offered a chance to “reshape” how the PGA Tour does business, significant changes have indeed been made, notably the addition of designated events in which top players must play and which carry beefed-up purses-including this week’s $20 million in prize money.
With other changes reportedly under consideration, including the creation of limited-field no-cut events on the PGA Tour, Woods said lots of options are under discussion. “We are in the process of figuring all that out and it’s been a variety of different models, different opinions, trying to figure out what is the best product and competitive environment and what we should do going forward,” Woods said.
“Yes, limited fields, what’s the number. Cuts? Yes or no. What’s the number, what do we go to. How many players are playing the event? OK, what is the ability to get into the designated events?” LIV Golf’s limited fields with no cuts was a major knock for golf traditionalists, who fear they undercut competitive drive and limit opportunities for golfers to rise through the ranks. Woods acknowledged that the debate has “been difficult” but necessary as “we’re trying to create the best product that we think (is) the future of golf, how it should be played.”
Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, who regained the world number one ranking with a victory at the Phoenix Open on Sunday, said even the introduction of some limited field events would offer opportunities for newcomers and mid-range tour pros. “If we do go to those smaller fields it’s not going to be an unaccessible event,” Scheffler said. “Just because you go down from 120 guys, let’s say you go to 70, there’s still going to be avenues for people to get into those tournaments. The eligibility to get into those events is still going to reward good golf.”
Amid the changes, and with LIV Golf lobbying strenuously for world rankings recognition as it prepares to kick off its second season, Scheffler could find himself at the center of the tension when he hosts the annual Masters champions dinner in April. Woods, who has hosted five champions dinners, said he didn’t know what the gathering of LIV golfers and PGA Tour stalwarts will be like.
Woods targets Riviera
Tiger Woods returns from a seven-month injury absence this week amid plenty of uncertainty, but his goal at the Genesis Invitational remains clear: to win. “I would not have put myself out here if I didn’t think I could beat these guys and win the event,” the 15-time major champion said Tuesday as he prepared to tee it up at Riviera Country Club. “That’s my mentality.”
Woods hosts the tournament for the benefit of his charitable foundation, but it wasn’t until Friday that he confirmed he would actually make his first tour-level start since the British Open in July. Since then, he has continued his recovery from the severe leg injuries he suffered in a February 2021 car crash, his biggest problem now the “intricate little balance” of building stamina in his damaged ankle so that he can walk 72 holes for four straight days.
“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 inflammation-wise and then keep practicing. “I may have overdone it a couple times here or there, but here I am,” he said. After several surgeries in the wake of his accident, Woods made a stunning comeback at the 2022 Masters, finishing in 47th place. He withdrew from the PGA Championship in May after 54 holes, and missed the cut at the Open Championship at St. Andrews.
A planned return at the unofficial Hero World Challenge in December was called off because of plantar fasciitis in his right foot. He did play two low-key December exhibition tournaments-both allowing the use of carts-but four tournament rounds pose a strikingly different challenge. “I am very rusty, but I’ve come off a rusty situation before (and) I’ve done well,” said Woods, who has notably come back from knee and back injuries in his career.
“Plus, I know this golf course,” he added. “I know I haven’t had a lot of success on this golf course, but I knew what to practice for, shots to hit at home getting ready.” Woods has a long history at Riviera, the picturesque course in Pacific Palisades west of downtown Los Angeles that he first visited as a child. He made his PGA Tour debut at Riviera in 1992 as a 16-year-old high schooler playing on a sponsor’s exemption. He missed the cut-and Riviera remains the course he’s played most without a tournament victory, with a runner-up finish in 1999 his best result in 13 tournament starts. – AFP