Sport Golf

Wednesday 19 December 2018

All eyes are on Tiger at Riviera as he chases return to 'winning time'

Tiger Woods Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images
Tiger Woods Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images

Brian Keogh

Dustin Johnson may be the top dog in the game right now but it's top cat Tiger Woods who will suck up all the attention in the Genesis Open at Riviera.

The Californian didn't need a marquee draw with young guns Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas to pump up the volume of his first appearance at the storied Los Angles venue since 2006.

But with many doubting that the 14-time Major winner can ever regain the intimidation factor of old, Woods (42) appears to be relishing the prospect of proving the doubters wrong.

While he's befriended all the young stars from McIlroy and Thomas to Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler et al, there's no doubt he would love nothing better than to show them his game face.

"I don't care how they react," he said when asked how the current generation might respond if he was a factor coming down the stretch.

"I'm trying to win a tournament. I'm sure they'll feel the same way, but it's winning time."

The Woods death stare has worked wonders in the past as Adam Scott told

"No doubt in my mind Tiger worked all those little bits of gamesmanship and also he knew he was intimidating to people and he'd play up on that," the Australian said.

"Tiger has always been very friendly to me but at the right moment he wouldn't say hello."

Time will tell if "winning time" has arrived again for Woods but it's overdue for the four Irishmen in the field this week.

McIlroy is second favourite with the bookies behind Johnson and while he hasn't tasted victory since the 2016 Tour Championship, he likes the course.

It's the poa annua greens that worry him, as he said two years ago.

"I saw a stat the other day, that there was more three-footers missed here than there was anywhere else last year," he said. "You hit 12 greens around here, you've done pretty well. So there will be a lot of those holing-out-type distances for pars that will be important."

Given the putting woes he suffered en route to missing the cut in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, he will be drawing on the memories of opening rounds of 67, 69 and 67 rather than the closing 75 that relegated him from fifth after 54 holes to 20th two years ago.

After opening with an eagle in that final round, he three-putted the fourth and seventh and struggled to find the firm greens.

Keen to quieten murmuring about his putting, McIlroy needs a win to build confidence, although he won't be fazed by the high-profile playing partners over the first few days.

"I wouldn't have minded a nice, quiet couple of days," he quipped. "But no, it's totally fine. Anytime you have a chance to play in a group like that, you relish it and embrace it."

World No 64 Shane Lowry might settle for the two-way tie for second place he needs to qualify for next month's WGC-Mexico Championship by making the world's top 50 before the first cut-off date next Monday.

The Offaly man will have another chance at next week's Honda Classic but time is pressing for him and for Graeme McDowell, now 219th in the world, as he seeks to recover from three missed cuts in a row to start the year.

Veteran Pádraig Harrington (46) completes the Irish quartet at a venue where he has failed to shine since he was seventh in 2007 and tied third behind Phil Mickelson the following year.

Irish Independent

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