‘Great round’ at Riviera capped by Tiger Woods’ stunning rally with three straight birdies

tiger woods

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — As she stood at Riviera Country Club’s rope line on Thursday, she shielded her eyes from the sun and gazed to the secluded seventh tee box in the distance. She asked, probably a bit louder than she should have, “Who else is in Rory’s group?” Then someone quietly said, “Tiger.”

Despite her embarrassment, she wasn’t horrified by the gaffe. Perhaps it was the glare, or the fact that Tiger Woods wasn’t wearing a red shirt, or that he was limping, or that he hadn’t played on the PGA Tour for 844 days. There’s a lot of progress in golf these days, and people recognize Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, and Scottie Scheffler from a distance just as easily as they do.

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — A young woman stood on Thursday at Riviera Country Club’s rope line shielding her eyes from the sun as she gazed out toward three figures standing on the seventh tee box. “Who else is in Rory’s group?” she asked, probably a bit louder than she should have. A few snickers and indignant harumphs followed, and then someone quietly said, “Tiger.”

A large crowd gathered in front of the iconic clubhouse and lined the first hole, but it wasn’t a zoo as some had expected. The gallery thinned as Woods gingerly made his way down the steep wooden steps after his tee shot found the right rough.

When Woods walked around the historic course, there was certainly a buzz, but nothing near the level of his heyday. The Riviera’s grassy amphitheater was only about half full when Woods birdied the 18th hole for his third straight two-under-par 69, five shots ahead of leaders Max Homa and Keith Mitchell.

Even so, it was a Thursday in the big city. If Woods is anywhere near contention on Sunday, Dodgers-in-the-World-Series pandemonium could rule the day.

For now, being tied for 27th place (with a couple of groups still to finish Round 1) is an extremely promising return for the man who hadn’t played a competitive round since bidding a Friday farewell while missing the cut in last July’s Open Championship at St. Andrews. Woods joined McIlroy and Thomas as the trio birdied the easy, par-5 first hole, but he made only one birdie against three bogeys over the next 14 holes. Then, when we might expect him to be tired and sore, Woods rallied by rolling in birdies of five feet at the par-3 16th, 23 feet at the par-5 17th and seven feet at the fourth hole.

Woods joined McIlroy and Thomas as the trio birdied the easy, par-5 first hole, but he only made one birdie and three bogeys over the next 14 holes. In the final round, Woods rallied by making a five-foot birdie on the par-3 16th, a 23-foot birdie on the par-5 17th, and a seven-foot birdie on the famed 16th.

After Woods striped his drive straight down the middle past Thomas on the ninth, Woods and Thomas had a similar exchange, and Thomas leaned heavily on Woods as they laughed.

I was thrilled to see Tiger put together a stirring closing stretch. But seeing him enjoy the day with his friends after so much time away might have been even better. Woods characterized the round as more of a camaraderie than a score. “The ebb and flow of needling, encouraging, and sharing stories. Since I hadn’t been out here, I have missed some of the happenings on tour, which is kind of fun.”

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