The 2024 Genesis Invitational tees off from Riviera Golf Course in Pacific Palisades, California this week, and Tiger Woods will join the field of 70 for what is listed as a Signature Event on the PGA TOUR. And while it might seem like sacrilege, are we sure Tiger should be playing in the event for which he also serves as host?
This week’s tournament is the third of the PGA TOUR’s eight Signature Events that are supposed to be limited to the best players in the world. To qualify players must finish in the Top 50 on the prior season’s FedExCup points list, be among the Top 10 FedExCup point earners not already exempt from this season, or have won a full-field tournament this year.
Woods is the host of the Genesis, an honor reserved for only the best ever at their craft such as Arnold Palmer at Bay Hill, Byron Nelson at TPC Craig Ranch, or Jack Nicklaus at The Memorial. And the TV ratings and galleries this week will show that no matter what shape his game is in, no one can draw eyeballs to the sport like the possible GOAT and Southern California native.
Tiger joins the field as a player despite not coming within miles of the requirements for the event on what’s being labeled a “tournament host’s exemption.” But his last win or even Top 10 on the PGA TOUR came before anyone knew what Covid-19 was. And while he has popped up at a few majors and other scattered events since 2020, he hasn’t been able to finish several without needing to withdraw due to pain or injury issues. Despite being just 48 and not looking it, it’s safe to say that Woods is not the golfer he once was due to injury. And that’s completely understandable.
The sponsor’s exemption is a tradition dating back to the beginnings of the PGA TOUR, and Adam Scott, Gary Woodland, and Will Zalatoris are the sponsor exemptions this week. Woodland is a former major winner with two Top 10’s last season. Zalatoris had to sit a long time due to a back injury after finally getting his first win as part of the FedEx Cup Playoffs 18 months ago, and has made two of three cuts this season. Players with that pedigree and recent run of form are why sponsor’s exemptions exist.
But does it make sense for Tiger to take a spot from another player in a limited field with a $20 million purse that might be worthy? If this was a 156-man field that was open to all and had Monday qualifying, of course should be allowed to play. Woods has lifetime PGA TOUR exempt status as a 20-time winner on the circuit, and with 82 career victories and 15 majors, he should be able to put a peg in the first tee box play whenever he feels like for a normal TOUR week.
But that exemption specifically doesn’t apply to invitationals, which is what the eight Signature Events are. Does it make sense for him to take on a similar role that Jack Nicklaus plays at The Memorial Tournament as he’s no longer competitive?
There’s a nominal cut at what the TOUR calls the three “player-hosted invitationals” that double as Signature Events, which are Riviera, Bay Hill, and Muirfield Village. Unlike the other five which are no-cut, on these weeks only the top 50 and ties advance to the weekend, and as a backup the old 10-shot rule is back in place. But against a field this strong, Woods has to be an underdog to play on Saturday despite these generous concessions.
While we’re sure the famously competitive Woods if he were to read this would put it on his mirror and use it as fuel, are we sure this is the right thing to do? Signature Events are supposed to be a place where golf fans know the elite players in the world will be competing for huge prizes. They’re for the best of the best. And that’s not the man that is a hero and idol to most of the field playing this weekend in Los Angeles anymore.
Woods also hosts the annual Hero World Challenge, an unofficial PGA TOUR event, and plays there — perhaps a more appropriate format than a Signature Event. If we’re trying to get the best players in the world competing with each other, having the fields only be players that have earned the privilege is the way to brand the event.
And that should apply to everyone. Yes, even Tiger Woods.
We hope Tiger is able to play at The Masters every year, where former winners not nearly as decorated as he such as Sandy Lyle and Larry Mize are a part of the fabric of the toonamint. And when we see him on Thursday, of course we’ll want him to play well and survive to the weekend at a course that has somehow befuddled him his entire professional career.
But he’s taking a spot from another PGA TOUR pro that could actually win. And that might not be good for the game by the man that has done more good for it than anyone.