Update: You can watch Tiger Woods tee off with Jason Day, Dustin Johnson at 1:40 pm EST on PGA Tour Live.
Tiger Woods is gearing up for a busy start to 2017. Thursday he will re-join the PGA Tour, after an 18-month hiatus recovering from back surgery, to play his first of what will be four tournaments in five weeks, at the Farmers Insurance Open in California. On Wednesday he announced TaylorMade as his new equipment sponsor.
“I’ve sat out long enough,” Woods said at a press conference at L.A.’s Riviera Country Club, which will host his third stop, the Genesis Open and benefit the Tiger Woods Foundation. I’ve “gotten my body in a pretty good state where I can handle that work load.”
His first tournament, the Farmers, is a natural choice for Woods to try to find his tour footing. It’s played at Torrey Pines, a venue where he has racked up eight professional wins, including a U.S. Open. Though Torrey is one of Woods’ favorite places to compete, it won’t be a cakewalk. The Farmers is the first big tournament of the season and the field is full of heavy hitters. For his first round, Woods is paired with world No. 1 Jason Day and world No. 3 Dustin Johnson. “I’m looking forward to competing against these guys and getting out there,” Woods said. “I’ve missed playing.”
Woods did play in one competition late last year, his own, the Hero World Challenge, which is not a PGA Tour event. He finished in the back of the pack, 15th in an 18-man field. While certainly not the result he was looking for, Woods said he was surprised at how easily he was able to get himself back into the rhythm and flow of a round of tournament golf.
Though not in competition, Woods said he has been hitting the course quite a bit, between four and five times a week. “I’m excited about playing this week, I feel like I’m playing well,” He said. “I just need to get some tournament rounds under my belt.”
After the Farmers, Woods will head to the Middle East for the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, take a week off, and head back to California for the Genesis Open at Riviera.
“I’ve always loved playing Riv,” Woods said about the venerable L.A country club. “I’ve just never played well.” In his scores of PGA Tour victories, Woods has never won there.
Riviera was the site of Woods’ first PGA Tour appearance as a 16-year-old amateur. “I’ll never forget that tee shot I hit when I was 16 years old, because I’ve never felt a golf cub that heavy in my life,” he said. “Now to come back here some 25 years later, to come full circle, and actually run this event is a truly important and special event in my life.”
Recalling that first tee shot at Riviera, Woods said, “I smoked it right down the middle of the fairway with my three wood, knocked it on the green, and made birdie. I thought, ‘This is great, this is how you want to start off your PGA tour career, right?’ ” But it wasn’t a smooth sail to an early victory. “The next hole, I snap hooked it right against the fence. That is not how you want to continue this PGA tour career,” Woods said.
“One of the things I look back on that week, I think I shot 72-75,” Woods reminisced. “I thought I played fairly well and I probably could have gotten maybe two or three shots better out of my round per day, but I was 17 back of Davis.” Davis Love III tied Fred Couples, who won the tournament that year in a playoff. “I still would have gotten smoked.”
“So I realized I have so far to go. I’m not that good. To compete against these guys out here, there’s no chance,” Woods said. “I’ve got to get a lot better. “Twenty-five years later, here we are.”