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Tiger Woods returns to Riviera Country Club for Genesis Open

Ventura County Star, Calif. — Bob Buttitta Ventura County Star, Calif.

Feb. 13--PACIFIC PALISADES -- Just like the students at his Learning Center in Anaheim, Tiger Woods is doing some homework over the next two days before teeing off in the first round of the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club.

When Woods steps to the tee Thursday, it will mark the first time since 2006 the Southern California native has played the historic course.

During Tuesday's news conference, Woods said he knew the course has changed a bit since he was last here, so he dug out one of his old yardage books to give himself a little guidance.

It didn't help.

On the par-4 12th hole, Woods said he used to hit 1-iron off the tee and a pitching wedge into the green, but since the hole has been significantly lengthened, he will have to hit driver and then a 6- or 7-iron into the green.

"So the old yardage books are out the window," Woods said. "This is a whole new game, everything's bigger now. The bunkers are deeper, they seem to be bigger. The greens have gotten more pin locations than I remember; they've added a few sections around here.

"So I've got to do a little bit more homework (Wednesday) in the pro-am."

On Tuesday morning, Woods played the back nine with Justin Thomas and Bryson DeChambeau, two of the young stars on the PGA Tour. Thomas, who like Woods lives in Florida, hitched a ride with Woods on his plane for the flight out to Los Angeles.

During the flight, Thomas asked Woods when he played in the tournament as an amateur. Woods replied it was in 1992, when he was 16. Thomas relayed to Woods that was year before he was born.

While Woods is dealing with the challenge of beating players like Thomas and Jordan Spieth, he's hoping there will be a day soon when he can show today's young players how great a player he can be.

At the Farmers Insurance Open three weeks ago, there were times when Woods looked a bit like the player who dominated golf in the early 2000s.

"I think now they're starting to see me as a competitor because I'm starting to come back again," Woods said. "For a while there that wasn't the case. I'm just a person that they could bounce ideas off of ... and they would pick my brain. But now it's more of a playing competitor."

Woods says the Genesis Open put him on the path to professional golf when he was given a sponsor's exemption to play in 1992. But as a PGA Tour professional, Woods has conspicuously avoided Riviera. When he has played, he hasn't won -- an oddity for a player who has 79 career victories, including 14 majors.

After back-to-back runner-up finishes in 1998 and 1999, Woods posted only two other top-10s. He last played at Riviera in 2006, when had to withdraw because of the flu.

Woods doesn't have an answer for his struggles at Riviera.

"I love the golf course, I love the layout, it fits my eye, and I play awful," Woods said with a smile. "It's very simple. It's just one of those weird things.

"... It's still one of the most classic golf courses you can ever find. It is so much fun to play and I'm really looking forward to playing this year."

Woods said he was pleased with his performance at the Farmers Insurance Open, but he realized he needed to work on his performance off the tee.

Since his back is not an issue at this point and he's able to swing harder than he has in several years, Woods said part of solving his problems off the tee is tweaking his driver just a bit.

"Now that my swing speed's up again, I went back to a shaft I used in 2015 when I played Wyndham," Woods said. "I went with a shaft that's a little more stout. Because it's more stout, it doesn't have much play. I needed a little more loft, so I added a degree of loft on it."

Because he was played fairly well and got through his last tournament with no pain, expectations for Woods are starting to grow.

Woods cautions that this is only his third event since he's returned from back surgery.

"I'd eventually like to win tournaments. I'm trying to... go through that process, get to that point," Woods said. "I was telling JT (Thomas) last night when we were flying out here that it's interesting that I'm making little subtle changes in my posture and my game and my swing because I'm starting to understand my body a little bit more with this back. That's different than it used to be.

"Those are things that I could never have figured out on my own, not in a tournament setting. Because in a tournament setting, things are ramped up and I could feel some of the things were off and was able to work on them. The more tournaments I play in, the more I'll be able to get a better understanding of that. But also I don't wan't to play too much. This is still all new to me and I just want to be real smart about it."

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