Before 'Hello world,' Tiger really started PGA Tour career at Riviera

ByJASON SOBEL via <a href="" title="ESPN" class="espn_sc_byline">ESPN </a>
February 15, 2017, 12:41 PM

&#151; -- That first shot was darned near perfect.

All of 16 years old and a hundred and nothing pounds, the wiry wunderkind named Eldrick Woods, already known to the golf world simply as Tiger, stood on the elevated first tee box at Riviera Country Club surrounded by tournament officials and cameramen and various other gawkers and onlookers. He then belted the first drive of his PGA Tour career right down the fairway.

He made it look easy. It wasn't. With so many eyeballs affixed to the reigning U.S. Junior Amateur champion, Tiger foreshadowed what would become a running theme throughout his career.

"I've never felt a golf club that heavy in my life," he recently recalled. "I teed it up fine, but as I took the club back, I've never felt a club weigh so much."

It has been almost 25 years since that day, a quarter-century since Woods teed it up in a PGA Tour event for the first time.

The tournament, then called the Nissan Los Angeles Open, has undergone three name changes since then. It's now the Genesis Open -- and that kid who could barely take the club back when he was 16 is serving as host of his hometown event for the first time this week.

Early recollections of Woods' developmental breakthrough often turn to the third of his three U.S. Amateur victories, a calculated match-play comeback. Or his professional debut, before which he famously proclaimed, "I guess, hello world, huh?"

The journey, though, was expedited by that first round against the world's best players on Feb. 27, 1992.

His opening drive led to a quick birdie, but he'd soon understand how fleeting success can be on this level.

"This is great, this is how you want to start off your PGA Tour career," Woods thought to himself. "Next hole, I snap-hooked it right against the fence. OK, that's not how you want to continue this [on the] PGA Tour."

He'd post a 1-over 72 that day, but the score wasn't indicative of his emerging talent or his comfort level.

"If he was nervous, you couldn't tell," recalled Bob Friend, one of his playing partners that day. "Tiger carried himself like a senior in college, a four-time first-team All-American. Very calm, very cool, a lot of moxie, a lot of poise. He was a gentleman the entire time. You play with some guys who haven't played in a pro event and they're standing in your through line or their bag is in the wrong place. But he was great with all of that."

If Woods seemed like any normal competitor in a PGA Tour event, the size -- and sensibility -- of his gallery was far from it.

"The first tee at Riviera, you couldn't have gotten another person in there; the first fairway was lined on both sides," said Dicky Thompson, who played three years on tour and now works at a Lowe's Home Improvement store near his home in Peachtree City, Georgia. "For me and Bob, we weren't used to playing in a situation like that. We were usually lucky to have anyone there. It was usually just family and friends. ... That was hard to adjust to."

"The biggest issue was the media," Friend explained. "You had a lot of people who had never covered a golf tournament out there covering this kid. They were a disaster. They were all over the place. A guy stopped right in front of me as I was reading a putt. I was like, 'Yo, buddy. Could you move?'"

Despite being only a sophomore at nearby Western High School, Tiger remained unnerved by the circus around him. In fact, he used a little downtime during the round to crowd-source his fellow players.

Friend, who is now working in real estate after a lengthy PGA Tour career, vividly remembers the group waiting to hit their tee shots on the 13th, when Woods approached to ask him a question.

"So, you guys think I can make it out here?" he asked.

"We said, 'Yeah, you're going to be all right,'" Friend recalled with a laugh. "It was one of those things, like: Duh."

Of course, he wouldn't make it out there immediately. Woods followed that opening 72 with a 75 the next day, missing the cut during a week that later saw Fred Couples defeat Davis Love III in a playoff.

Woods was recently asked to reflect on that week and what he learned as a result.

"I realized I have so far to go and I'm not that good," he said. "I'm good in high school golf and good in junior golf, but to compete against these guys out here, there's no chance. I've got to get a lot better."

He then paused for a few seconds, reminiscing quietly before finishing his thought.

"And 25 years later," he continued, "here we are."

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