SPORTS DIGEST: Tiger Woods to make 2024 debut in Genesis Invitational

By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

You don’t get a chance to see Tiger Woods on the golf course very often anymore so this weekend might be a good time to head out to the Riviera Country Club in the Pacific Palisades where Woods will tee it up with 69 other golfers in the Genesis Invitational.

Woods, who has never won at Riviera, is the tournament host and will tee off at 9:25 a.m. Feb. 15 with his good friend Justin Thomas and Gary Woodland. The same threesome will tee off at 11:54 a.m. Feb. 16.

Most of the top names in golf not playing on the Liv Tour also will be in attendance, including Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth and Viktor Hovland. 

Defending champion Jon Rahm will not be present. He joined the Liv Tour this year after shooting 17 under par to win the 2023 Genesis Invitational by two shots over Max Homa. 

Homa, Patrick Cantlay and Will Zalatoris, who finished third and fourth last year, also are back to compete for the $20 million in prize money. Rahm took home $3.6 million for his win last year.

But the spotlight for the first two days anyway will be on Woods, who hasn’t played a PGA Tour event since he withdrew from the Masters last April. He played with his son Charlie in the PNC Championship last December. They tied for fifth in a tournament that pairs players who have won major golf tournaments with a parent or child.

Woods took the opportunity of his 2024 debut to announce he has a new clothing line after ending his partnership with Nike after more than 25 years. Woods is now wearing TaylorMade Golf apparel in a line called Sun Day Red. Woods has famously worn red shirts on Sundays throughout his career.

The line has a new logo, too. Instead of the iconic Nike swoosh, the new logo is a drawing of a tiger with 15 stripes, one for every major tournament Woods has won during his career.

Asked what would happen if he wins another major, Woods said simply, “We’re going to have to redo the trademark.”

Whether or not there will be other majors in Woods’ career remains to be seen. He couldn’t finish the Masters last year and underwent ankle surgery shortly after that tournament, missing the other three majors.

He has said he would like to play about once a month this year, but has not committed to any tournaments other than the Genesis so far.

Also teeing it up Feb. 15 will be Chase Johnson, who received the Charlie Sifford Exemption for the tournament. 

Sifford was the first African American to play on the PGA Tour, joining the tour in 1961. During his years on the tour, he won two events, the 1967 Greater Hartford Open and the 1969 Los Angeles Open.

The exemption has been awarded annually since 2009 and represents the advancement of diversity in the game of golf, according to tournament officials.

Johnson played on the PGA Tour, Korn Ferry Tour and Advocates Professional Golf Association in 2023. He won the John Shippen Invitational last year, which earned him a spot in the field for the PGA Tour’s Detroit event last June. 

That was the second start of his PGA career and he made the cut for the first time in his career. He also played in the PGA Tour’s World Wide Technologies Championship and the Butterfield Bermuda Championship in 2023. He made his PGA Tour debut in the 2021 Memorial Tournament.

Johnson opens the tournament Feb. 15 with the 7:20 a.m. tee time with Nicolai Hojgard, a veteran of the European Tour from Denmark.

GOOD HIRE: The UCLA Bruins acted quickly and wisely in replacing Chip Kelly as their head football coach.

Kelly surprised many with the announcement Feb. 9 that he was leaving UCLA to become the offensive coordinator at Ohio State. 

UCLA Athletic Director Martin Jarmond said he would have Kelly’s replacement within 96 hours and, true to his word, he announced Feb. 12 that DeShaun Foster would replace Kelly.

The announcement was cheered by the people who matter most — UCLA’s players. Foster has served as running backs coach for the Bruins since 2017 after being a star running back for the Bruins from 1998 to 2001.

During his Bruins career, Foster was second in school history in touchdowns (44), third in rushing yards (3,194) and fifth in scoring (266 points). He was a second-team All-American in 2001 after leading the Pac-10 in rushing (138.6 yards per game), scoring (9.75 points per game) and all-purpose yards (154.75 per game). Against Washington that season, Foster recorded a then-school record 301 rushing yards, along with four touchdowns, on 31 carries.

Foster also played five seasons for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and one season with the San Francisco 49ers.

He returns to UCLA less than a month after taking a job as running back coach of the Las Vegas Raiders.

“I’ve always dreamed about being a head coach, and being at UCLA and being the head coach here at UCLA,” Foster, 44, said during a late-morning news conference Feb. 13 at Pauley Pavilion’s Pavilion Club before being overcome with emotion.

His obvious emotion at being named UCLA’s coach was a stark contrast to Kelly, who rarely showed any emotion during his six ordinary seasons in Westwood. Kelly was 35-34 during his six seasons with the Bruins after replacing Jim Mora after the 2017 season. 

He openly went after offensive coordinator positions in the NFL during the recent coaching carousel that league undertakes every year at the end of the regular season.

Instead he hooks up with Ohio State head coach Ryan Day, who played quarterback at the University of New Hampshire 1998-2001 when Kelly was the offensive coordinator there.

Day also coached on Kelly’s staffs in 2015 with the Philadelphia Eagles and 2016 with the San Francisco 49ers.

Kelly was 46-7 in four years at Oregon from 2009 to 2012, but couldn’t replicate that with the Bruins. He grew weary of the constant demands on a college coach with the advent of name, image and likeness and the transfer portal, which makes college coaching a 24/7, 365 day-a-year grind.

Foster is 16 years younger than Kelly and showed more enthusiasm for the job during his press conference than Kelly had in years.

“While undergoing a comprehensive search for our new head coach, DeShaun resonated from the start and throughout the whole process,” Director of Athletics Martin Jarmond said in a statement Feb. 12. “We are looking for a coach with integrity, energy and passion; someone who is a great teacher, who develops young men, is a great recruiter and fully embraces the NIL (name, image, likeness) landscape to help our student-athletes.

“DeShaun checks all of those boxes and then some. He is a leader of men and a true Bruin. I am excited to partner with him as we usher UCLA football into an exciting new era,” Jarmond said.

Foster’s job won’t be easy. The Bruins move to the Big 10 from the Pac 12 this year, joining USC, Washington and Oregon in a tough football conference that already included Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

The Bruins won’t face Ohio State and Kelly until 2025.

Foster must hire a staff, beat the bushes and transfer portal for more recruits and meet with boosters to bolster the Bruins’ name, image and likeness standing, which will further aid in the recruiting process.

It isn’t like Foster’s days as a college player when he was suspended from the team his senior year for driving a car owned by actor-director Eric Laneuville. He missed the last three games of the season; the Bruins lost two of the three.

Foster’s enthusiasm and the players having his back will go a long way in the offseason for the Bruins. How the first-time head coach will fare in the school’s first year in the Big 10 remains to be seen, but for now, all is good in Westwood.

POST MORTEM: The Super Bowl was a great game to watch, two top teams, two top coaches, Patrick Mahomes versus Brock Purdy at quarterback, etc.

Mahomes has proven himself to be the best of the new generation of quarterbacks with three Super Bowl wins in four tries. Purdy isn’t there yet, but he has more skills than you would expect a player drafted 262 overall would have.

The difference in the game came down to the Chiefs forcing the 49ers to kick a field goal on the first drive in overtime and the 49ers unable to do the same thing. It was predicted to be close and it was.