"I love the golf course, I love the layout, it fits my eye - and I play very bad", Woods said Tuesday as he prepared to tee it up in the Genesis Open starting Thursday on the classic course nestled in the hills of Pacific Palisades, west of downtown Los Angeles.
Woods hasn't played here since withdrawing with a cold after two rounds in 2006. His putting and chipping are better.
Cantlay, the No. 1 amateur in the world when he was at UCLA, birdied all the par 5s and kept it smart the rest of the way around a firm Riviera course for a 5-under 66 to share the lead with Tony Finau. So Woods, tied for 64th, is only six shots back, which hardly is a daunting deficit.
McIlroy said he wasn't surprised to learn he was grouped with Woods and Justin Thomas and joked that he would have preferred a "quiet couple of days". "He's obviously not driving it well".
It was a tough course with tough conditions, so a 72 with some of Woods' mishits is pretty solid. "It just brings a different buzz to the tournament and it's really good for the game of golf, so it's cool for me to be playing in a tournament that he's playing in and be able to compete against him, a guy that I grew up just in awe of basically".
In between was mostly a decent day with Woods converting seven putts inside 10 feet, a mixture of pars and birdies, in a 72.
A tie for 23rd at the Farmers Insurance Open three weeks ago was a promising start, despite his struggles off the tee at Torrey Pines. Watson hasn't cracked the top 20 this year in three tournaments, but with long odds I think Watson has some value.
While the constant movement and noise can be a distraction, McIlroy said he didn't mind.
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"JT was asking me this on the flight: 'What did you used to do when you were about my age?' Well, I used to get up in the morning, run four miles".
"Results wise last week at least wasn't what I wanted but I still saw a lot of good stuff in there".
He answered with a flawless tee shot on the 13th and a 15-foot birdie putt, and he kept his round together with a series of putts from the 6-foot range for pars and birdies - a par save from the bunker on the 16th, a slippery birdie putt on the par-5 17th, a par save from above the hole left of the 18th green and a hard two-putt birdie on the par-5 first hole from 50 feet that he rapped as though it were a 5-footer.
"I was 1 under early - first hole - and all of a sudden I went double bogey-bogey", Woods said.
"I didn't convert any, but sort of happy that I hung in there".
For the day, Woods hit 8 of 14 fairways, but just 7 of 18 greens.
In his first practice round this week, Woods hit a 3-wood at the 10 that landed on the green and bounced over it. Too many bogeys out there.
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. "And I play very bad". And so do losses, even ones that occurred long ago.