By Jack Savage
LOS ANGELES — When the pro-ams rolled on during the early portion of the week at the Genesis Invitational, there was a palpable buzz in the air that felt different. That difference being Tiger Woods. Participants spoke about what it meant to see Woods here, at “his course,” as the host of the event.
“Being here, being in a tournament hosted by Tiger makes it really special,” said Joaquín Niemann, the winner of this year’s tournament.
The 23-year-old Niemann became the youngest winner in the event’s 96-year history, leading the tournament wire-to-wire. He spoke on what it meant having Woods hand him the trophy on 18.
“It was awesome having Tiger there,” Niemann said. “I haven’t seen him since probably a year. Everybody knew what happened here one year ago, which was pretty sad. Being able to see him doing as well as he’s doing is awesome.”
Almost a full year has gone by since Woods was in a car accident, and yet there he was throughout the whole week, fulfilling his responsibilities and obligations as host.
“It talks pretty well how good he is in any aspect of golf and life. He’s awesome, he’s one of my idols. I always watched him on TV and I still do,” Niemann said. “Having Tiger on site receiving the trophy is something special.”
Congratulations to the 2022 tournament champion, @joaconiemann pic.twitter.com/l4txggOSq1
— The Genesis Invitational (@thegenesisinv) February 21, 2022
Aaron Beverly, the tournament’s Charlie Sifford Memorial exemption recipient, sat next to Woods as they spoke to the media, and it was clear in the way Beverly spoke about him that he has the utmost respect for Woods.
“To be sitting here next to Mr. Woods, and to be honest with everybody, he’s really cool,” Beverly said. “I had dreams of one day playing against him and competing against him, and hopefully on the 72nd hole, I’m making the putt and I’m fist pumping.
“My dreams never got so far to be sitting and doing a press conference with him, but it’s definitely a moment in time I’ll never forget and very special.”
Woods made his first PGA Tour start back in 1992 on this course, at Riviera Country Club, as a 16-year-old kid, and all these years later is now the host of the whole thing. It’s a full-circle moment. The course itself is known as being a favorite among those on the tour and especially now with Woods’ face and foundation attached to it, this event holds even more weight.
“I love Riviera,” said Jordan Spieth, three-time major winner. “I think it’s arguably in the conversation as the best golf course in the world. It’s more so that than anything else really, but obviously the fact that it’s an invitational and Tiger’s taken it over and all that added stuff, too, I would have said that before it became a TGR Foundation event.”
Everyone knows how special Riviera is to Woods, no more than fellow Southern California native, and last year’s tournament winner, Max Homa.
“It’s been cool,” Homa said. “Just, you know, having Tiger’s name attached to our home tournament is really awesome, obviously this event means a lot to us.”
Even though he isn’t playing, the impact Woods has on the tournament is enormous, the golfers said.
“Now that Tiger is involved, I just feel like — it was already going to be a big deal for everybody, but you add that name to it and like it blows up extremely,” Homa said.
While Woods spoke about his future and informed the world he will no longer be playing full time, the participants of this year’s Genesis Invitational were just happy to have him back around the guys.
“It’s great seeing him here,” said Justin Thomas, currently the eighth ranked golfer in the world. “I know he loves it, catching up with all of us and all the other guys. Anytime you get to have him around, especially with all he’s been through the last year, it’s definitely great for everybody.”
From Spieth to Niemann, it was hard finding anyone who didn’t reference how great it was to have Woods back throughout the week. That speaks to Woods’ impact on the game and everyone involved: Whether that be as a 15-time major champion, or simply an event’s host, his impact is immeasurable.
Jack Savage is a sports reporter at Medill. You can follow him on Twitter at @jackksavage.