Tiger Woods believes conquering Riviera Country Club is simple, in theory.
Of course, actually doing that is a very different matter.
Woods will be playing in this tournament, now called the Genesis Open, for the 13th time, his 11th as a professional. He’s never won, the longest losing streak for any event he has played since turning pro in 1996.
“There’s no secret to this golf course,” he said Wednesday after playing an early-morning pro-am round and avoiding most of the rain that is forecast to intensify Thursday. “It’s right in front of you. ...
“We wish we could play more venues like this that are so simple and straightforward, but that’s what makes it just a classic golf course. … You have to hit the ball well.”
Until last year, Woods had not played in the event since 2006, and before that rarely played well enough to contend. But in 1999, he was battling Ernie Els to the last hole.
“I had an opportunity,” Woods said of that year, “when I was one back with one to go and I put it over there in some beer tent to the right. Hopefully I can do a little bit better this year.”
Still, Woods, whose TGR Foundation has run the event since 2017, holds Riviera in high regard despite his lack of success on the par-71 layout.
“It is certainly a love-hate relationship,” he said. “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.”
(He finished second after losing a playoff to Billy Mayfair in 1998, but the tournament was held that year at Valencia Country Club.)
Woods said he’s working on getting more height on his shots and controlling the spin on the ball because there’s a premium on hitting the greens at Riviera.
Through the years, according to ESPN Stats and Information, Woods has hit a lower percentage of greens in regulation during this tournament than any other he has played at least five times.
Bryson DeChambeau reaffirmed Woods’ belief in the necessity for solid shots to the greens.
“Iron play is the most important thing out here,” he said.
Woods, 43, and DeChambeau, 25, have had a strong relationship since he turned professional in 2016.
“The reason why I’m playing in this event is because of the history, the people, L.A., I’m from California, and because of Tiger, you know?” said DeChambeau, who already has won five tournaments as a pro and moved up to No. 5 in the world.
“He’s meant a lot to me over the past year … and quite honestly, the reason why I keep getting better every single day is because of him.”
Woods, who got his first victory since 2013 last fall at the Tour Championship, also has taken inspiration from an older player. He talked about how he and Phil Mickelson, 48, have pushed each other throughout their careers. Mickelson won the WGC Championship in Mexico last March and at Pebble Beach last weekend.
“What Phil has done has been extraordinary,” Woods said. “He’s just been so consistent. …
“And for him to — trust me, I recognize this — it’s not easy to pick up club head speed, which he has done, as he’s gotten older. ...
“To see what he did last year in Mexico at 47 years old gave me confidence that I could somehow do it maybe last year, and I was able to finally end my season just like he did with a win earlier in the year.”
The PGA Tour has elevated the Genesis Open to an invitational tournament for 2020, which means the field will be reduced from 144 to 120 players. The winner will receive a three-year exemption on tour rather than the two years for winning a regular tour event, and prize money will be increased from the current $7.4 million to $9.3 million.
The change will put the event at the same level as the tour’s two other invitationals associated with icons of the sport: the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Memorial Tournament, hosted by Jack Nicklaus.
“We’re all honored to be included in this category … and to be able to do it here in SoCal, it doesn’t get any better than that,” Woods said.
The marquee group for the first and second round features Woods, Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy, scheduled for a 12:22 tee time Thursday, as long as the rain isn’t as severe as predicted. Just ahead of them will be another big-name pairing of Matt Kuchar-DeChambeau-Jon Rahm.
On the 10th tee, Phil Mickelson-Xander Schauffele-Jordan Spieth are scheduled for a 7:22 a.m. start. One group ahead of them will be three long hitters who launch their drives into spots that George C. Thomas wouldn’t have even imagined when he conceived of Riviera nearly a century ago: Cameron Champ-Dustin Johnson-Bubba Watson. Johnson won here in 2017. Watson won for the third time last year.