It is one of golf’s great mysteries.
Why has Tiger Woods, arguably the greatest golfers of all-time, failed to win even once at Riviera Country Club, site of the annual Genesis Open?
Coming into this week’s 2019 Genesis Open, the former Cypress resident has played his “hometown” tournament 12 times and not once has he claimed the title. There is no other tournament Woods has played that many times and failed to win.
Despite the winless streak, Woods has played respectably at Riviera. He’s missed the cut just three times, with two of those coming as an amateur. The third happened last year as he was making his return to golf following spinal fusion surgery.
In his other nine starts at the Genesis, Woods has never finished out of the Top 20 and he’s finished in the Top 10 three times. His moderate level of success at this event makes it even more astounding that Woods has never been able to get over the hump and win.
“It is certainly a love-hate relationship,” Woods said Wednesday. “I love playing this golf course. I always have, I enjoyed playing up here when I was young with my dad. For some reason I’ve only played well here one time in the tournament. It’s just one of those courses that, as I said, you have to hit the golf ball well.
“There’s no faking it around this golf course, especially if the greens are up to speed like they are right now. It puts such a premium on putting the golf ball in play and hitting the ball high. You’ve got to hit the ball high into any of these greens and really control your spin and put the ball in the right spots because getting up and down here, as we’ve all seen with kikuyu grass is not easy to do.”
This will be Woods’ second start of the season. Two weeks ago he posted a top 20 finish at the Farmers Insurance Open, where he started off slowly the first few rounds but rallied in the final round to shoot a 5-under 67. In the two weeks before Farmers and Genesis, Woods said he has made just one small adjustment, putting a new 3-wood in the bag.
“Other than that, I’ve just been working on trying to get that club out in front of me, get that ball higher,” Woods said. “I’ve always been pretty good at taking spin off, but I’m trying to get the ball up for this week and trying to hit the ball high. I knew that that was going to be one of the things I needed to do.
“To be able to send that ball up in the air and have it pretty soft when it lands I thought was important. I feel good about that. I feel good. That last round at San Diego, I put a few things together and was able to finally make a few putts, which was nice.”
Woods admitted that seeing Phil Mickelson win last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am provides a little extra incentive for him to try and break through for his first win at Riviera.
Should Woods accomplish that goal, he will have done so against an exceptionally strong field, one that contains 13 of the top 20 golfers in the world golf rankings. The field includes Dustin Johnson (No. 3); Justin Thomas (No. 4); Bryson DeChambeau (No. 5); Jon Rahm (No. 6); Xander Schauffele (No. 7) and Rory McIlroy (No. 9).
Other notables in the field include Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Fred Couples, Jim Furyk, Matt Kuchar, Ernie Els, and defending champion Bubba Watson.
Watson, who won last year’s event with a 2-under 69 on the final day, is one of only two three-time winners of the event, joining Lloyd Mangrum, who won the event in 1949, 1951 and 1953.
His 2018 Genesis win was his 10th career victory, meaning nearly one-third of his wins on the PGA Tour have come at Riviera Country Club.
“I love it, I love being back here,” Watson told reporters on Wednesday. “This is a cool place to be. I love the golf course. Obviously winning makes you love it a lot more. But I loved it even when I was missing cuts, so it’s always fun to come back here.”
Beyond the success he has experienced on the course, Watson always enjoys his time away from the course when the Tour stops in Los Angeles. On Tuesday, Watson spent some time at Warner Bros, stopping by the set of the “Big Bang Theory.”
Watson actually joked that he would quit playing golf in a heartbeat if some offers from Hollywood started rolling in.
“These are my people here, I love Hollywood,” Watson said. “I’ve always wanted to be an actor. It’s something I’ve always dreamed of, so when I come here and learn, you’re talking about learning. It’s not like I’m a kid in a candy store. I’m learning. I’m talking to the producers. I’m talking to the writers, interacting with them. I love learning about business. So when I come here, golf is second or third on the list.”
While he’s only claimed the Genesis title once, in 2017, Johnson’s track record at Riviera is nearly as good as Watson’s record. Johnson has six top-five finishes at the Genesis in his career.
Johnson, who spends a good amount of the offseason in Southern California playing at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, is also a frequent visitor to Riviera, making it one of his favorite courses on the PGA Tour.
“I enjoy being here and playing this tournament,” Johnson said. “This golf course is right in front of you, there’s not really any trouble, but the greens are pretty small. If you miss the greens, you have a tough time, and if you’re not playing out of the fairway, you’re going to have a tough time because you have to hit the green.
“You know, for a golf course with no trouble and it’s right in front of you, it just always seems to play difficult, but I think that’s just because of the small areas where they put the flags and the speed of the greens, it just plays tough.”
With the air expected to be a little heavier because of the moisture, Johnson was then asked if wet conditions might change is strategy at the 10th hole, a short par 4 that can give any player fits.
“I don’t know if you necessarily try to go for it because over the last 10 years, how many guys have actually hit a ball that went on the green off the tee?” Johnson said. “You could probably count on your hand, if that many. So just try to hit it into a good spot, which is very hard to do, too.”
This year’s tournament marks the 50th anniversary of Charlie Sifford’s win at the 1969 Genesis Open. Sifford was the first African-American to play on the PGA Tour. As a way to honor Sifford, tournament organizers created the Charlie Sifford Memorial Exemption, which is given to a player chosen to represent diversity in golf.
This year’s recipient is 46-year Tim O’Neal, who will be making his seventh PGA Tour start. The 46-year-old O’Neal played collegiate golf at Jackson State University and actually had the opportunity to play a round with Sifford in 1999.
“I played 18 holes with Charlie and had a chance to talk to Charlie a little bit. Very nice guy,” O’Neal said Tuesday. “He still hit the ball really good. I’m very honored and humbled to be able to receive this exemption. Very excited to be here.”
During Tuesday’s press conference, O’Neal was asked what he might have in common with Sifford, and Lee Elder, another African American golfer who helped pave the way for other players of color to have a chance to play golf for a living.
“Perseverance. Those guys, they stuck with it,” O’Neal said. “There are things they had to go through on and off the golf course to play. They stuck with it and they grinded it out, and some of those guys made it and they played well.”
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