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Tour Confidential: What to make of Tiger Woods’ rough week at the Genesis Invitational?

February 17, 2020

Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week we discuss Adam Scott’s victory at the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club, Tiger Woods’ struggles, the fallout of who’s in and who’s out at next week’s World Golf Championship event, and more reaction to the distance report.

1. After a blistering first nine at the Genesis Invitational and opening with a 69, tournament host Tiger Woods cooled off the rest of the week, recording rounds of 73, 76 and 77 to finish last (68th) among those who made the cut. Woods admitted “there’s a lot this week” when it comes to hosting duties and added that it’s always harder for him to get warmed up in cooler temperatures. Furthermore, he’s also decided to skip next week’s WGC-Mexico Championship. Any reason to sound alarm bells about Woods’ health, play or durability after one of his worst starts in the past two seasons, or can we chalk up his performance to just a tiring week for the burned-out host?

Sean Zak, senior editor (@sean_zak): Yes, there’s reason! 76-77 – Tiger’s two worst rounds on Tour in a rather long time. Riviera is tough, and there’s a bogey waiting on almost every hole, but Woods was bad with the putter and bad around the greens. His irons-game didn’t bail him out, either. He can play the host card if he wants — and he really doesn’t want to — but he’s looked much, much better in recent memory. So this was weird.

Josh Sens, senior writer (@JoshSens): I can’t say I share Sean’s concern. If Tiger had looked physically gimpy or spent Sunday wincing in his follow through, maybe there’d be cause for worry. I’m going to chalk this one up to an off week, on a course that has often given him problems in the past.

Josh Berhow, managing editor (@Josh_Berhow): I’m leaning toward this being an outlier for him. I think these hosting gigs mean a lot to Tiger — same as something like being a Presidents Cup captain — and I think being the gregarious emcee and dominant world-beater is just a lot to handle. Once his play started trailing off, it just festered. What hasn’t been great this year (driving and putting) was just that much worse.

Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): Once he was out of it, he was way out of it. I don’t think he lost interest or stopped trying, per se, but once four-putt-gate went down Saturday morning, that was pretty much it for Tiger. More than anything, it reminded me that the stars have to align more perfectly now than in the past for us to get Winning Woods. Off-weeks are a little further off. No alarm bells, but you can’t quite magic this one away, either.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer: This is the newish, middle-aged Tiger, taking his cues from Serena and friends: Once the set is lost, move on. Get used to it.

John Wood, PGA Tour caddie for Matt Kuchar (@Johnwould): Agree with Michael. I don’t think the cool mornings did him any favors, and for some reason, Riviera has been his kryptonite, even during his peak years. I’m sure he was all in on every shot, that’s who he is, but I’m sure he’s not worried at all. April is a long way off.

2. Adam Scott bounced back from a bogey-double bogey stretch on the front nine to shoot a one-under 70 and win the Genesis Invitational by two. Scott entered the final round tied for the lead with Matt Kuchar and Rory McIlroy, but Riviera got the best of much of the field. What was more surprising: Scott holding off the field and winning on the PGA Tour for the first time in nearly four years, or new World No. 1 McIlroy shooting two over to finish three back?

Zak: Rory wasn’t exactly playing phenomenal all week. It felt like he was humming along in second speed (perhaps that’s how you play Riviera), so it wasn’t surprising he played his worst on the toughest day. Scott’s rally was most surprising. Playing the final 13 holes in two under after going bogey-double, in his first event of 2020? He’s even surprised a bit.

Sens: Neither was especially surprising. It’s no secret that Scott is a playah, with more than a dozen wins on Tour and one of the game’s sweetest swings. It’s the putter, mostly, that has kept him from winning more than the one major he has. And Rory has proved that he’s hard to figure when he’s in the hunt. For reasons that are difficult to figure, he seems equally likely to slip into neutral as he is to simply blow away the field.

Berhow: It looked like Rory and Scott were both about to eject from the tournament after that disaster on the 5th hole, but turns out only Rory did. He got worse (bogeying the next) while Scott bounced back (birdieing the next). Only nine players shot in the 60s and none better than 68, so Scott’s 70 was a great number today and he played great down the stretch as others kind of backed off. Rory remains the ultimate question mark.

Dethier: Before last year’s Tour Championship, people were piling on about McIlroy’s performance from final groups. Since then, we’ve seen McIlroy transform back into a stone-cold killer. It’s possible — likely, even! — that he can be both at the same time, or one version one week and another the next. Still, his 73 was more surprising than Scott’s closing 70.

Bamberger: I don’t think this is surprising, but the most interesting thing is that despite the gym visits and the club-fitting and all the rest, Sunday is nothing like Thursday or Friday or Saturday, which is why the game is so compelling. You can’t get your body to do what it actually can do. Same as it ever was.

Wood: Riviera is just the best course we play all year long for “regular” tour events. It has held up to technology better than any of the others who can be put in its class, so to me nothing is surprising there. It suits those who are playing really well, no matter what their strengths are. Rory would be the first to tell you he wasn’t sharp today, but watching him the past two days, he had a bundle of 8-15 footers crawl over edges, so besides the fifth hole today, he would have been in with a great chance to win. Adam just played some key shots today brilliantly, and bouncing back after his double on the fifth was phenomenal, as was his up-and-down for bogey on 15.

3. Woods’ semi-surprising decision to skip the WGC-Mexico left many wondering about his Olympic future. Woods has expressed interest in playing in the 2020 Games in Japan, but missing out on free World Ranking points won’t help his cause as he battles to notch one of the United States’ top-four qualifying spots. While Woods said he was a little rundown and “the idea is to peak around Augusta time,” what does his decision tell you about his Olympic dreams, or lack thereof?

Zak: It tells me that majors matter much more than the Olympics, which aligns Tiger with 95% of the PGA Tour, maybe more. I think if the Olympics is truly on his radar, we might see him play Memphis or something that makes more sense once a major or two have passed.

Sens: As Sean says, it tells us that the Olympics would be a nice feather in his cap, but it’s the major chase that matters most to him. It’s been that way from the beginning and remains so today.

Bamberger: Zaketh sayeth all. No point going if you’re not feeling competitive, free points be damned.

Berhow: I think he was honest in his assessment — Augusta is the only thing that matters to him right now and he just isn’t ready to play in back-to-back weeks. I’m sure he’d love to play in the Olympics, like he’s hinted, but he’s not about to jeopardize his health for the Masters just to get some points for an event he still might not be able to qualify for several months from now.

Dethier: The only worrisome thing here is the idea that he can’t trust his body to play multiple weeks in a row. Even his suggestion that he was rundown this week raises question marks, given he didn’t play last week — but there’s also some muttering from various non-Tiger players about the logistical headaches of playing in Mexico City, which are no doubt multiplied for Woods. If he’s going to play only a few times before the Olympics, he’d better make ‘em count.

Wood: Last I checked, Jack’s records that Tiger had tacked to his wall as a kid didn’t include an Olympic gold medal. Tiger would love to play and win in Tokyo, but it certainly isn’t his focus. If it happens, it happens. Don’t get me wrong, bring a part of Rio was one of the highlights of my caddying life, but golfers will always be judged historically on four tournaments a year, not one tournament every four years.

4. Speaking of the WGC-Mexico, Woods isn’t the only qualified player missing out. Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, among other headliners, are also taking a pass. Cause for concern for the PGA Tour?

Zak: Yes! But not just the PGA Tour, the European Tour as well. It’s a co-sanctioned event that deserves a big spot on the schedule — but is definitely skippable for those who wanna play Arnie’s event, the Players, the Match Play, etc. We’ve entered what I like to call “Burnout Season,” where players consider their schedule more than any other time of year.

Sens: As Sean says, it’s an issue, but not a new one for the Tour. A small handful of events have all the gravitas and draw the biggest names, while a number of events fight for relevance/attention.

Berhow: Is it a problem for the Tour that big-name players are skipping the events that were created to showcase the big-name players? Yes, it certainly is. But I don’t think it’s a WGC problem as much as it is a scheduling problem. It’s a tough week on the schedule with the Tour going from West Coast to Mexico to East Coast in a three-week span, and these guys skipping are well aware of how quickly the Masters is creeping up on us, so they have their events (mostly) set at this point. Something has to give.

Bamberger: Absolutely. If you can’t get your marquee players to your marquee events, then your marquee events are not marquee events, are they? That’s not good for anybody or any tournaments, except the four majors. And, of course, the Players.

Dethier: Whoops, I already touched on this one above, but I think these guys are inclined to stick with what’s easy. Those guys listed have raked in more than enough cash in appearance fees and sponsorship deals to not have to play a tournament that’s even a mild logistical headache. Something has to give, I guess.

Wood: There are simply TOO MANY TOURNAMENTS. When the world events started, everyone assumed it would be crazy to skip a no-cut, limited-field event. But for the elite of the elite, these events are great tournaments, but they aren’t “can’t-miss” events. Schedule and course are still the keys to deciding where and when to play.

5. The fallout from the USGA and R&A’s distance report trickled down to Riviera, as several big-name pros were asked about the findings. McIlroy was the most candid when he said, “I think the biggest thing that came out of the report for me, a lot of the stuff about the ball going too far and technology, it really pertains to 0.1 percent of golfers out there. So look, if they want to try to contain what we do as touring professionals, I’m all for that.” How much does one of golf’s biggest stars (and biggest hitters) openly encouraging bifurcation influence the debate?

Zak: I think it probably changes the minds of more casual fans who enjoy watching pro golf on TV. They give Tour pros so much credit for their thoughts on golf at large, so a beloved figure like Rory speaking out has to clue in a number of casual constituents. But does it matter? Does any of this matter?

Sens: I think it does matter. The gears of change in golf grind slowly, but if players of Rory’s stature get behind it, a limited-flight event featuring the game’s best isn’t beyond the realm of imagination. We all might be old and gray before it happens. But just because the governing bodies say they’re opposed to bifurcation doesn’t mean it can never be.

Berhow: Many pro golfers are very good at not rocking the boat or speaking their minds, so when one pro as accomplished and thoughtful as Rory speaks about something like this, of course it has to influence some thinking. That’s good. Opinions are good. They help us get to a common goal.

Dethier: I didn’t hear this as quite as clear an endorsement as others did, but I do think there are players — including Tiger — who would favor bifurcation. With that said, the USGA made it clear that’s not what they’re into. I don’t think it happens in the foreseeable future.

Bamberger: I would urge dropping the word bifurcation. The emphasis should be on shorter courses with shorter walks between greens and tees, and a nice variety of par-3, par-4 and par-5 holes. The ordinary, semi-fit, younger male golfer should be playing holes that are, on average, about 70 yards shorter than Rory’s on par-5s, 50 yards shorter on par-4s and 30 yards shorter on par-3s. Also, more doglegs.

Wood: He’s right. That’s all.

6. Augusta National has reportedly completed work on a tunnel beneath Washington Road that connects the club to its new Global Broadcast Village. Put on your engineering cap and give ANGC an idea for another project that would help enhance the Masters experience.

Zak: Turn Rae’s Creek into a lazy river and let fans mosey their way on through Amen Corner. Kidding, obviously, but I think it would be nice to get closer to that 12th green and 13th tee box. Yeah, sure, it’s hallowed golf property that you, me and just about everyone else will never touch, but that area is unused property! Unless you’re Spieth and Greller …

Bamberger: I follow Zak, except for his word “kidding.”

Sens: Given that a caddie-racing track on 12 is probably out, I’m coming up empty here. Does chainsaw work qualify as engineering? If so, cut down all those pines now pinching the seventh fairway. It would be an improved fan experience for fans who care about design.

Berhow: There’s a massive open space to the right of the eighth and ninth fairways and left of the 18th fairway. I think it might have been an old driving range? Why that doesn’t have a mini-stage and a jam band playing all day on Saturday is beyond me. (This is actually a terrible idea.)

Dethier: Cut the rough, everywhere.

Bamberger: Excellent, Dylan. Bring a chainsaw, too. Work with the USGA and the ball manufacturers to make a game ball. Move up the 13th tee.

Wood: The tournament practice range is one of the best in the world. What I’d like to see is a few stalls recreating the side hill and downhill lies you’ll experience on key shots, like the second to 13 and the wedge into 15. Guys would love to hit a couple of those before heading out.

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