LOS ANGELES: Tiger Woods finds a lot of things to love about Riviera Country Club, but his record here isn't one of them.
"I love the golf course, I love the layout, it fits my eye -- and I play awful," Woods said Tuesday as he prepared to tee it up in the Genesis Open starting Thursday on the classic course nestled in the hills of Pacific Palisades, west of downtown Los Angeles.
"It's just one of those weird things."
Woods and Riviera go way back. He made his first PGA Tour start as a 16-year-old at Riviera in 1992, playing on a sponsor's exemption and missing the cut.
He went on to pile up 79 US tour titles and 14 major championships, but in 10 appearances at Riviera his best finish was second place in 1998, which he followed with a tie for second in 1999.
It's the only tournament he has played so often and never won. He last played the tournament in 2006, and he might have remained estranged from Riviera if he hadn't taken over as tournament host last year.
His scheduled return in 2017 was foiled by yet more back trouble.
A year ago Woods was in such pain he couldn't even sit through a pre-tournament press conference, let alone compete.
He's now playing without pain after spinal fusion surgery in April.
But Woods says that in addition to trying to solve Riviera, he also has a lot to learn about his post-fusion body and his game.
"I'd eventually like to win tournaments," the 42-year-old said of his goals in this latest comeback. "I'm trying to get through that process, get to that point."
Long way to go
A tie for 23rd at the Farmers Insurance Open three weeks ago was a promising start, despite Woods's struggles off the tee at Torrey Pines.
As at Torrey, Woods is the star attraction this week in a field that features world number one and defending champion Dustin Johnson, four-time major-winner Rory McIlroy, PGA Tour Player of the Year Justin Thomas and reigning British Open champion Jordan Spieth.
And as at Torrey, he was careful to temper expectations.
"I've been away from the game a pretty long time," he said. "I have a long way to go."
Nevertheless, there was an echo of the fiery competitor who once seemed certain to eclipse Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 major titles when Woods talked about contending with today's rising stars.
Woods said he'd have no qualms giving the cold shoulder to young players he has mentored once it's "winning time".
"Once I get into contention I can handle myself," he said. "I just need to get there."
Tournament play is the key, Woods said.
"I'm starting to understand my body a little bit more with this back that's different than it used to be," he said.
"Those are things that I could never have figured that out on my own not in a tournament setting because in a tournament setting, things are ramped up. I could feel some of the things were off and was able to work on them."
That included "cleaning up" his swing, and making a few adjustments to his driver after he found just 17 of 56 greens at Torrey Pines.
However, Woods acknowledged that he was leery of a physical setback that could derail his plans for a Masters campaign in April.
He won't commit to playing in next week's Honda Classic in Florida until he sees how his body responds to his second tournament of the year.
"I just want to be real smart about it," Woods said.
After Torrey Pines, Woods said, he was sore -- not his back, but his feet.
"I'm not used to walking," he said. "I'm used to being in a cart playing 36 holes.
"It's a good sore, it's just different."