LOS ANGELES — Tiger Woods is a busy man with a complex job description. After tracking Woods Monday at the Genesis Invitational, that’s hardly a revolutionary conclusion, but it’s still an important one: the tournament host has an awful lot going on.
Just after noon, Woods made his first public appearance of the week, strutting out of the Riviera clubhouse, dressed head-to-toe in black — including long sleeves and a vest, looking just like the locals do on a 65-and-sunny (read: chilly!) afternoon. These days, Woods would rather be warm than cold. Over the next 40 minutes, he worked intently on his putting stroke, particularly his posture at address. Matt Killen, a Nashville-based performance coach who works with Justin Thomas and J.B. Holmes (plus Woods, though not as often), walked him through a number of mini-adjustments. Woods was frowny. Serious. This was work.
Still, the putting session was likely the most natural part of Woods’ day. Next he went in for lunch and to make some brief appearances, shaking hands, posing for photos, deciding whether to ignore autograph-seekers altogether or to make a select few happy and the rest that much more despondent. That’s a calculus he has to make quite often.
This is the first year that the Genesis is being played under its new status as a limited-field invitational. That puts it on the same level as the tournaments of Jack Nicklaus (Memorial) and Arnold Palmer (Bay Hill) which puts that much more pressure on Woods the host to measure up.
On a related note, after lunch came the second edition of the Celebrity Cup. While Woods’ Tour competitors were grinding elsewhere on the range, he and rival “team captain” Bubba Watson were doing interviews about the state of their respective celebrity teams. “I can’t even lie, they look so bad,” Watson said of his players in one interview, cracking up as he said so.
Consider the range of personalities that Woods, Celebrity Cup Host, then had to negotiate. The pensive Alex Rodriguez, who arrived with no golf glove but four different 4-irons in his bag and a putter shaped like a baseball bat. The tense, serious Kelly Slater. Smack-talker Michael Pena. Andy Buckley, the guy from “The Office,” who arrived wearing a “Dunder Mifflin” golf polo. The one-of-a-kind Watson himself.
Then consider that the skills that got Woods to this point — being very, very good at golf — have little or nothing to do with the specific skills required to be a gracious host or an entertaining emcee. Mark Zuckerberg’s coding ability doesn’t make him a surefire A+ CEO, and Woods’ bulletproof golf game doesn’t mean he’ll be good at hosting a golf tournament. Bantering with Bubba Watson over a celebrity six-hole showdown has little to do with beating him on the golf course.
But he is, anyway. He’s good at this. There he was, willing that bright-white smile into action. Chopping it up with Larry Fitzgerald, another intense pro athlete with impressive longevity. Razzing Oliver Hudson after a cold shank into the net on the range. Brushing it off when he got nearly stampeded on his way to the first tee, autograph hounds bumping into him, stepping at his heels, nearly overwhelming his security detail.
It says something that Woods, just a few feet away from Chris Pratt, answered a phone call on the first tee as the action was about to begin. Taking that call suggests a lot of balls in the air. It begs the question, too: Who’s more famous: Tiger Woods or Chris Pratt? Finally, who could possibly be so important that Woods would field their call?
In the end, Michael Pena stood over an eight-footer on No. 18 with two putts to win the match. He made the first putt, holding up his arm in celebration, then turned to Woods and reenacted a medley of his prime fist-pumps. It was a reminder that these dozen golfers, each of them in-demand celebrities, were here for Tiger Woods. The guy’s got some serious pull.
Amidst cheers, Woods and his teammates got together for a photo and some celebratory champagne. After a few minutes of chatter, they began to head up towards dinner. Woods seemed unsure of one thing: Go eat? Or go practice?
As he ascended the steps towards the clubhouse, the swarm followed him as best they could, everybody gawking, looking for one final Instagram, maybe a last-ditch chance at an autograph. Woods and his teammates went inside to collect their Celebrity Cup trophies. What does Chris Pratt do with a Celebrity Cup trophy? How ’bout Tiger Woods? One thing is for sure: he’s on to the next trophy now, the one that would come with win No. 83 this weekend.
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