By DOUG FERGUSON, AP Golf Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — In the days after playing the PGA Tour for the first time in a year because of a fourth back surgery, Tiger Woods reported feeling sore.
“My feet,” he said. “I’m not used to walking.”
The next step starts Thursday when Woods returns to Riviera Country Club for the first time in 12 years.
The fusion surgery on his lower back appears to have been such a success that Woods is swinging freely and hitting it long. Competitive rust remains an issue, though he raised plenty of hopes when he tied for 23rd three weeks ago at Torrey Pines, sore feet and all.
Woods made his PGA Tour debut at age 16 at Riviera when he received a sponsor’s exemption. He played it nine more times, eight as a professional, six times as No. 1 in the world. He never won. This is the course he has played the most times on the PGA Tour without winning.
Most telling was one of his greatest stretches. Starting with the World Golf Championship at Firestone in August 1999 through The Players Championship in 2000, Woods played 11 times on the PGA Tour. He won or was runner-up 10 times.
The exception? Riviera, where he finished seven shots behind in a tie for 18th.
“I love the golf course. I love the layout. It fits my eye,” Woods said. “And I play awful. It’s very simple. It’s just one of those weird things. A lot of the holes, you hit nice, soft cuts. And I used to love to hit nice, soft cuts. And for some reason, I just didn’t play well.”
He figures to command plenty of attention, especially being grouped with Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas.
Woods says he is still learning what his body will allow him to do with his swing, adding that he wants to win “eventually” but there will be a process. His expectations have been tempered by time, and perhaps his own history at Riviera.
THE START: Woods had already won a U.S. Junior Amateur when Greg McLaughlin, the tournament director of the Nissan Open (and later president of the Tiger Woods Foundation) offered him a sponsor’s exemption.
Watching as he teed off was Sam Snead.
“It looks like he’s really going to be a force on the tour,” Snead said. By the time Snead died 10 years later, Woods already had as many Masters green jackets as Snead (three) to go along with 31 victories on the PGA Tour and seven majors.
In this year, Woods missed the cut by six shots with rounds of 72-75.
THE CLOSE CALL: Woods lost in a playoff at the Nissan Open in 1998, but it was held at the TPC Valencia that year.
The following season, he was poised to win at Riviera. Ted Tryba shot 61 in the third round to take a two-shot lead, with Woods and Ernie Els right behind. Tryba faded to a 1-over 72 in the final round. It came down to a battle between Els and Woods, one of many, most of them in Woods’ favor. But not this one.
They were tied at 13 under going to the par-5 11th hole when Els ran off three straight birdies. Woods had two pars and a bogey, falling four shots behind. Els, with two bogeys over the last three holes, wound up winning by two shots.
ONE BAD WEEK: From August 1999 through March 2000, the only time Tiger Woods failed to win or finish second on the PGA Tour was at Riviera.
It wasn’t that awful. He tied for 18th.
Woods started the final round just three shots behind David Sutherland. He played that Sunday with David Duval, who was No. 2 in the world. They both turned in a dud.
Woods took 118 putts for the week, and while he got within two shots early, he closed with a 72. It was only the fifth time in his last 36 rounds on the PGA Tour that he failed to break par.
“If I would have putted better, I would have been right there,” he said. “But you can’t have everything.”
THE LAST TIME: Woods arrived at Riviera in 2006 with a fever that wouldn’t break. Not helping matters was Friday, when rain appeared out of nowhere and several players — Woods included — didn’t have an umbrella. Woods was outside the cut until Steve Elkington, Kevin Na and Jesper Parnevik all dropped shots coming in and moved the cut line to 1-over 143.
Woods survived to play another day. He was scheduled to play with J.B. Holmes, a rookie basher who won the Phoenix Open by seven shots. Woods, however, never returned to the course. He withdrew, citing the flu.
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