Jon Rahm could hear the cheers from all over the Riviera, the sound usually associated with someone making a charge. Except that came from the other side of the course where players were too far from the lead.
What was involved wasn’t nearly as mysterious as they were made out to be.
“You absolutely know where Tiger is anywhere,” Rahm said after his own performance Saturday in the Genesis Invitational, a 6-under 65 for a three-shot lead.
Woods is cheered wildly just walking to the tee, although this time golf was the source. He had a 67 that didn’t let him pick up any ground — in fact, he dropped another shot and was 12 back going into Sunday.
“Today was better,” Woods said. “I felt like I made some nice adjustments to my putting and that’s what got me through yesterday. I have driven it well for the last three days, my iron play was good. With the tight conditions I like, that’s kind of right up my alley with iron play. I wish yesterday was a little better.”
It was the thing that stood out the day. It was his best score on Saturday at an official event since fall 2019.
It’s a small sample to be sure – 12 tournaments since he won the Zozo Championship in Japan in 2019 – but his legs are a bigger issue than how he swings the club.
Woods broke bones in his right foot and ankle in a car accident in Los Angeles two years ago. He returned 14 months later to play in the Masters and made the cut, a remarkable achievement. And then on the weekend, he limped his way to a pair of 78s.
A month later at Southern Hills for the PGA Championship, he made the cut again with some dazzling play down the stretch on Friday. But the wind changed, a cold front came in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and he shot 79 and withdrew.
Woods made the cut on the number at Riviera and started on the back nine. He opened with a 15-foot birdie putt, missed a good chance on the par-5 11th and then raised the putter in his left hand as his 25-foot birdie putt from the fringe on the par-3 14th fell for another birdie. .
The biggest moment was on the par-5 opening hole after he made the turn. He caught between clubs and felt a bit of wind in his face, hit a cut with a 5-iron that landed towards the front of the green and rolled inches at the cup before setting up 3 feet away for what amounted to an eagle tap .
He finally dropped a shot on the seventh when he rolled off the steep ledge, leaving a tough pitch. But he finished better than Friday, when he birdied three of his last four holes.
“I thought I could make a run where I could touch the leaders and touch them,” Woods said before admitting he was too far back.
Rahm is playing on a different level right now, one that Woods is familiar with. The Spaniard has not finished outside the top 10 since August, and is looking for his fifth win in his last nine starts.
Woods said he was sick after his fourth straight day of walking – starting with Wednesday’s pro-am when he stopped playing after 16 holes – and talks about the recovery after a round and the preparation to was before.
That part is not fun. It was Saturday. And while the chill in the morning air isn’t great, the fast conditions at Riviera are just right.
“I was pretty one-dimensional about how to hit my hot shots,” he said. “I’ve kind of gone to my little stockshot because I haven’t played enough where I feel like I can hit different shots. … The way the golf course is playing, as fast as it is, a fair cut can go a long way here, so I was able to hit that shot. Then with the tight greens, I really enjoy that for my iron game, and I ended up making putts.”
Sunday will be his first 72-hole event since the Masters, and only his second since his car accident not far from Riviera. Woods is already looking forward to returning to Augusta National, but wants to wait until after this week to look at adding any tournaments before then.
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