The biggest name at this week’s Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club is neither playing nor retired. He’ll just be hanging around. He’s even holding a news conference on Tuesday.
Tiger Woods was scheduled to play at Los Angeles’ lone PGA Tour stop for the first time in 10 years. It’s no coincidence that his celebrated return coincided with his company now running the tournament and his charity benefiting from it.
But all that fell apart when he pulled out of the Dubai Desert Classic a little more than a week ago, citing back spasms. He was hopeful to play at Riviera, a course that has confounded him more than he’s conquered it.
On Friday, he announced he was skipping both the Genesis and the Honda Classic the following week near his home in Jupiter Island, Fla.
“My doctors have advised me not to play the next two weeks, to continue my treatment and to let my back calm down,” Woods said. “This is not what I was hoping for or expecting. I am extremely disappointed to miss the Genesis Open, a tournament that benefits my foundation, and The Honda Classic, my hometown event. I would like to thank Genesis for their support, and I know we will have an outstanding week.”
The tournament has done just fine without Woods the past decade and there is no reason to think it won’t this year. While this one storyline is now missing, there are still a few to which you can pay attention.
1. Jordan Speith is back in top form. Speith’s winning performance at Pebble Beach would certainly indicate that he may be back in the form he had in 2015 when he won five times, including the Masters. Last year, he won only twice so there was the thought he was a one-year wonder, especially after his back-nine collapse at the Masters. Those are lofty expectations for anyone to live up to.
But his lights-out performance Saturday at Pebble Beach, leaving him with a six-stroke lead, allowed him to coast to an uneventful two-under on Sunday to win by four strokes.
Prior to Pebble Beach, he had three top 10 finishes, including a pair of thirds. He does know how to play Riviera having finished 12th in 2014 and fourth in 2015.
2. Lefty regains spot as fan favorite. At 46, Phil Mickelson is the elder statesman on Tour. Still, he's showing that he hasn't completely lost his game, even though he hasn't won since the 2013 British Open. He's had three top-25 finishes in four starts this year and won at Riviera in in 2008 and 2009 and was third in 2012.
Next to Woods, he still attracts the biggest galleries. Mickelson was born in San Diego and lived most his life there until moving to Arizona a few years ago. His public flap about state income taxes and his connection to an insider trading case (he was never charged, only had to pay back some money) hasn’t dulled his popularity.
He was doing OK at Pebble Beach before blowing up with a 77 on Sunday. He’ll need to put his game back together quickly to compete at Riviera.
3. Is Justin Thomas the real deal? He’s not very flashy and pretty unrecognizable, but Thomas has won three times on the PGA’s convoluted non-calendar year season. He started by winning the CIMB Classic in October and then followed with back-to-back wins this January in Hawaii.
Then, after a couple weeks off, he fell out of the No. 1 ranking by missing the cut in Phoenix. He didn’t play in Pebble Beach, which leaves the question: Which Thomas will we see at Riviera?
4. Jason Day finding his form. It’s tough to say that the world’s No. 1 ranked player is easing into his year but that’s what’s happening with this likable Australian. After a 12th place finish at the Tournament of Champions and missing the cut (playing with Woods) at the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego, Day regained his stride with a fifth-place finish at Pebble Beach. He finished seven shots in back of Speith but did shoot a round of five under on Sunday.
5. The weather. Always a factor in February, the weather may be the big story this week. According to weather.com, it’s going to be pretty messy once the tournament starts. The pros are going to have picture perfect weather until Thursday’s first round, when there is a 50% chance of rain. It goes up to 90% on Friday and then 60% on Saturday and a pretty abysmal 70% on Sunday’s scheduled final day.
Times correspondent Mike James contributed to this story.