By DOUG FERGUSON
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Jon Rahm could hear the cheers from all over Riviera, the sound typically associated with someone making a charge. Except they came from the opposite side of the course that featured players too far away from the lead.
What they meant was not nearly as mysterious as to whom they belonged.
“You’re fully aware where Tiger is anywhere,” Rahm said after his own masterpiece Saturday in the Genesis Invitational, a 6-under 65 for a three-shot lead.
Woods is cheered wildly just walking to the tee, though this time his golf was the source. He had a 67 that didn’t allow him to pick up any ground — in fact, he fell a further shot behind and was 12 back going into Sunday.
“Today was better,” Woods said. “I felt like I made some nice adjustments with my putting and that was the thing that held me back yesterday. I’ve driven it well the last three days, my iron play was been good. And the firm conditions I like, that’s kind of right up my alley with iron play. Just wish I could have putted a little bit better yesterday.”
What stood out was the day. It was his best score on a Saturday in an official event since the fall of 2019.
It’s a small sample size to be sure — 12 tournaments since he won the Zozo Championship in Japan in 2019 — but his legs are a bigger issue than how he swings the club.
Woods shattered bones in his right leg and ankle from a car crash in Los Angeles two years ago. He returned 14 months later to play in the Masters and made the cut, a remarkable feat. And then on the weekend, he limped his way to a pair of 78s.
A month later at Southern Hills for the PGA Championship, he again made the cut with some dazzling play down the stretch on Friday. But the wind shifted, a cold front arrived in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and he shot 79 and withdrew.
Woods made the cut on the number at Riviera and started on the back nine. He opened with a 15-foot birdie putt, missed a good chance on the par-5 11th and then raised the putter in his left hand as his 25-foot birdie putt from the fringe on the par-3 14th dropped for another birdie.
The biggest moment was on the par-5 opening hole after he made the turn. Caught between clubs and feeling a little wind in his face, he hit a cut with a 5-iron that landed toward the front of the green and rolled inches by the cup before settling 3 feet away for what amounted to a tap-in eagle.
He finally dropped a shot on the seventh when his approached rolled off the steep ledge, leaving a tough pitch. But he finished better than Friday, when he bogeyed three of his last four holes.
“I thought I could make a run where I could reach out and touch the leaders,” Woods said before conceding that he was too far back.
Rahm is playing at another level right now, a level with which Woods is familiar. The Spaniard has not finished out of the top 10 since August, and he is going for his fifth win over his last nine starts.
Woods said he was sore after his fourth straight day walking — starting with the pro-am on Wednesday when he stopped playing after 16 holes — and he speaks of the recovery after a round and the preparation before it.
That part isn’t fun. Saturday was. And while the chill in the morning air hasn’t been great, the fast conditions at Riviera are right up his alley.
“I’ve been pretty one dimensional on how to hit my tee shots,” he said. “I’ve kind of gone to my little stock shot because I just haven’t played enough where I feel like I can hit different shots. … The way the golf course is playing, as fast as it is, a flat cut can go a very long way here, so I’ve been able to hit that shot. Then with the firm greens, I thoroughly enjoy that for my iron game, and finally made some putts.”
Sunday will be his first 72-hole event since the Masters, and only his second since his car crash that happened not far from Riviera. Woods already is looking ahead to his return to Augusta National, but he wants to wait until after this week to see about adding any tournaments before then.