By Ann Liguori
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LOS ANGELES (WFAN) — Tiger Woods has returned to Riviera Country Club to play in the Genesis Open, the historic Los Angeles golf course where his own legendary PGA Tour career started with a sponsor exemption when he was just a 16-year-old, skinny high school kid. This is the first time he’s played in the PGA Tour event here in 12 years, never having won in the 10 times he did play.
It’s his second PGA Tour event in his latest comeback bid since returning from a 9-month layoff. In January, he played the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, where he finished 3 under par, tied for 23rd.
To say Woods, at 42 years of age, is a new man would be an understatement. Seemingly gone in his latest comeback from four back surgeries and a DUI arrest are the bravado, the “me against the world” persona, the intimidation factor and the isolation on and off the course from the rest of the competition that were so much a part of his world when he dominated the game and won 14 major titles.
In fact, the transformation of Woods since he was an assistant captain at the Presidents Cup at Liberty National in September has been remarkable to see. He sounds humble in news conferences. He’s paying a lot more attention to his fans. For a while now, he’s enjoyed getting to know the other guys on the tour, mentoring them and interacting. He’s embraced the elder statesman role, yet he wants to win as badly as ever and is competitive as ever.
“I think now (the young players) are starting to see me as a competitor because I’m starting to come back again,” Woods said Tuesday. “For a while there, that wasn’t the case. I’m just a person that they could bounce ideas off, or what did I used to do, and how do I feel these things, what do I do in certain situations, certain shots, and they would pick my brain, yeah. But now it’s more of a playing competitor now. Yeah, we still have a whole bunch of fun, but also they know I’m playing in a tournament and so are they.”
At the Presidents Cup, he said he didn’t know if he would play again. He hadn’t been given the OK from doctors then. Since getting the all-clear, he says he hasn’t felt any back pain and has been playing pain-free for the first time in a long time. In fact, he said the only part of his body that hurt after playing Torrey Pines was his feet. “I’m not used to walking,” he said. “I’m used to being in a cart playing 36 holes.”
Even the branding of his own Tiger Woods Foundation has changed, Woods announced Tuesday.
“The name of the foundation going forward is going to be TGR Foundation,” Woods said. “It’s something that I think is important because the foundation and the work we do, in my opinion, is bigger than my name. And I want something to live in perpetuity that doesn’t have to do with me. It’s about the kids and having an opportunity to get their education, to have the support that we give them and the resources that we try to provide for them to make something of themselves.”
The Tiger Woods Foundation was founded in 1996 by Wood and his father, Earl. The foundation’s key focus is guiding underserved youth in school, their communities and the working world. Woods is satisfied with the name change to the TGR Foundation because he feels many kids today don’t even know who he is.
“To me, that’s very important,” he said. “It’s not about the name on the building; it’s about the people in it and how safe they feel and the curriculum that we’re teaching them that they feel is now applicable to what they see in real life. Because a lot of these kids probably won’t have any idea that I play golf or I used to play golf. … We’re trying to set up something for the future that’s going to affect millions of lives all around the world.”
When I asked Woods if it bothers him that perhaps some of the younger kids don’t know who he is, he replied, “No, it doesn’t bother me at all.
“I think the work we’ve done has been fantastic,” he added. “We’ve helped hundreds of thousands of kids throughout the country. We’re now with our digital platform, going overseas with it. So, we have the opportunity now to really affect the lives of millions of kids in a positive way, and that’s what I’m so proud of.”
And that, my friends, is part of the Tiger transformation I’m talking about, a transformation Woods can be proud of.
Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori