2023 Genesis Invitational leaderboard: Tiger Woods thrills late as Max Homa, Jon Rahm start hot at Riviera
Woods may not be in the lead, but his momentum entering Friday will be immense
The biggest event of the year, and a 47-year-old with one leg who hadn't played a competitive event in seven months and had only shot one round in the 60s in the last 800 days, of course, stole the show.
Tiger Woods birdied his last three holes at the Genesis Invitational on Thursday in the first round to card a 2-under 69 and swipe the headlines from Max Homa and Keith Mitchell (both 7 under) who held the lead when play was suspended due to darkness, as well as world beater Jon Rahm, who is 6 under and in contention to win for the third time in 2023.
Woods' closing kick was nearly as remarkable as his speed off the tee, and he once again reminded us why he's the best to ever do it. We'll take a closer look at his round as well as the leaders of the event below.
T1. Max Homa, Keith Mitchell (-7)
I posed the question last week: Is Homa the third-best player in the world (behind Rory McIlroy and Rahm)? Scottie Scheffler delivered an answer ("hell no") on Sunday when he won for the fifth time in 53 weeks, but Homa's 64 begs a different question: Is Homa the fourth-best player in the world?
If you care about wins, the answer is that he might be. A second Riviera victory would be his third of the 2022-23 PGA Tour season and his second in his last three starts. There's still a long way to go, but the caliber of golf he's playing -- positive strokes gained approach in his last eight starts -- combined with his history at Riv -- three consecutive top 10s -- make him a scary proposition to deal with the rest of the way.
3. Jon Rahm (-6)
T4. Harris English, Matt Kuchar, Collin Morikawa, (-5)
T7. Rory McIlroy (-4)
Rahm has now gained strokes on the field in 34 of his last 36 rounds, and one of the others was one in which he was exactly field average. He is absolutely a problem for everyone involved, and if he somehow wins this week that would mean he lost to nine golfers in five PGA Tour events before the Florida swing.
I'm mildly concerned about his driving -- he was about field average there, only hit six of 14 fairways and struggled at times last week in Phoenix -- but that's very much nitpicking at this point with the way he's doing everything else. It would be surprising if he wasn't in the mix late on Sunday.
Rahm's answer after the round, by the way, to a question about whether he fears losing what he has right now -- whatever it is that has meant he's only lost to 19 players in his last nine starts.
"Momentum is a big thing in sports, but if you put the effort that needs to be put in throughout the year and weeks off and at home and you do the little things right, you give yourself a better chance of never really hopefully feeling that," he said. "There's a lot of us that put in quite a few hours on the golf course and off the golf course and doing the right thing to stay physically and mentally fit to keep that level of golf.
"I don't do it out of fear, I do it out of joy and being able to get questions like this where basically anytime I tee it up I'm in contention to win a tournament. That's what I do it for. I do it for the love of the game, the love of competing and the love of being a better person myself every single day. I've never thought making decisions out of fear is a proper way to do it and I haven't really made many of them in my life that way."
Tiger Woods, still the GOAT
Whew, we got through all the perfunctory stuff and have now arrived at the main event. I said before his round started that 73 would be a good score for somebody who hadn't played tournament golf in seven months. Like, there is video evidence of me saying this that you can go find on CBSSports.com. What a whiff! Woods' speed was up -- seven drives of 317 yards or more, nine drives of 177 ball speed or higher -- and so was his stamina. After a tepid first 15 holes, he closed with vigor.
- Up and down from 166 yards on the par-3 16th
- Drive of 322 yards, made putt of 24 feet on the par-5 17th
- Up and down from 150 yards on the par-4 18th
Bang, bang, bang. A 2-under 69 -- his first score of 2 under since the first round of the 2020 Masters, which was played in November. Woods was asked if he went to Riviera expecting to play well and win.
"That's the only reason why I tee it up," he said. "There will come a point in time where I can't do this anymore, but right now I feel like I still can, given the right golf course. The way this golf course was -- it is playing right now, you watch Rory and JT and myself, we're all hitting these little like cheater kind of flighted ones and rolling the ball out there. I'd have a little harder time if I guess Rory or JT, when it was wet and they can bomb it 320, but this golf course is set up where you can kind of scoot it, get it around and I was able to do that all day today."
Tiger also noted that he has a lot of ice in his immediate future. Not to be a wet blanket here, but it's unlikely that this continues for Woods. He gained nearly two strokes with his putter and was fairly wayward off the tee despite how far he hit it. What's more likely is that this round fits into the current Tiger template that we're going to see for a while. Some flashes and some valleys. Some yesteryear and some that are a peek at what the future looks like. This 69 was one of the great ones, but to do it four straight days might be too much to ask, even for Tiger Woods.
2023 Genesis Invitational updated odds and picks
Odds via Caesars Sportsbook
- Jon Rahm: 14/5
- Max Homa: 4-1
- Rory McIlroy: 6-1
- Collin Morikawa: 17/2
- Keith Mitchell: 12-1
- Justin Thomas: 14-1
It's not very often that you get a top 12 player in the world leading an event after Round 1 but also not the favorite of that event. Such is life in the long shadow of Jon Rahm. Two guys we haven't talked about who were in a different kind of shadow on Thursday are Thomas (-3) and McIlroy (-4). McIlroy gained nearly five strokes on the field from tee to green while Thomas' short game saved him. Their trio (including Woods) shot 9 under on Thursday in Round 1, and I think McIlroy -- given how well he struck it in Round 1 -- is on a pretty decent number going into Round 2.
Tiger goes birdie-birdie and needs one more at the last for a round in the 60s in his first start in seven months. Absolutely remarkable.
This was such a cool little shot.
Keith Mitchell joins Max Homa at the top of the leaderboard with a 7-under 64. Super impressive. He said in a post-round interview that 64 at Riv on any day is impressive (which I agree with). Mitchell has two top 25s in his last three starts.
Wow, Tiger gets up and down from 166 on No. 16 for birdie to get it back to even par. Terrific shot and buried the putt. Nice move late in the day, and he's right on the probably cut line with 20 holes left before the cut is made.
Rory chips in on the par-3 14th to get it to 3 under. Tiger sits at +1 after making par. Four holes to go to get it back to level or even under par. He's looked not bad so far all things considered.
Par for Tiger on No. 11, and he might start struggling coming home. His putting has kept him at level par, but it's starting to get chilly and I'm interested to see how his long game holds up coming to the house.
Tiger, coming off a bogey at the par-4 10th hole, leaves his second at the par-5 11th a little short. Up and down there to get back to red figures.
When you make a putt over 2 feet.