LOS ANGELES — It’s always been a little strange to watch people get emotional about Tiger Woods’ clothes. When we found out in December that Woods and Nike were parting ways after 27 years together, I understood the split had news value. I suspected it would stun people within the golf industry, and it did. But I was surprised at how much people cared about a brand partnership. One of my friends even joked that it was like hearing your parents announce they’re getting a divorce. (At least, I think it was a joke.)

When Woods showed up at Riviera Country Club this week clad in his new Sun Day Red brand, sporting a logo that looks like you’re watching an emaciated skeletal cat sprint through the zombie underworld, I felt similarly unmoved. Nike didn’t hit iconic shots or win majors, Woods did. But Woods did say something that made me briefly ponder whether even I was being too cold. He was asked whether he might be able to get back the rights to his iconic TW logo, the one he wore splashed across his hat for two decades, and he replied with surprising curtness.

“I don't want it back, I've moved on,” Woods said. “This is a transition in my life. I've moved on to Sun Day Red.”

I kept thinking about his answer as I watched him play his first round on Thursday, a sloppy 1-over 72 that was his first official start on the PGA Tour since the 2023 Masters. Lining every fairway, there were hundreds of Tiger Woods fans, many of them sporting some version of that TW logo he no longer wanted any part of. They held up their phones and craned their necks, trying to capture every shot and store some version of it in the cloud or in their mind, but really what they were longing for was a version of Woods that no longer exists.

He is not chasing that version of himself anymore.

What this new version will look like probably needs more time and reps before it takes shape. There are times when Woods looks stiff, and every bit of 48-years-old, like on the 18th hole on Thursday when he shanked an 8-iron sideways into the trees from the right side of the fairway.

“Definitely, I shanked it,” Woods said. “My back was spasming the last couple holes and it was locking up. I came down and it didn't move and I presented hosel first and shanked it.”

There are also times when he does magical shit that makes you believe he could still make this final chapter of his golfing life compelling and memorable. He made five birdies and six bogeys, but a par he made on the back nine turned out to be as memorable as any. On the 13th, he blew an iron well left of the green, leaving himself a nasty chip from a sidehill lie. It looked like he had no chance to get up and down.

However — because he is Tiger Woods — he chose to hit a buttery flop shot that went nearly 40 feet into the air. You could hear the gallery gasp as they watched the ball climb. It landed softly and nestled just behind the pin. He tapped in for a four.

“I'm just making adjustments on the fly like that and the feel for a round and how to make those adjustments, I haven't done that in a while,” Woods said.

His hands, he says, are more important now than they’ve ever been. It’s one of the reasons, Woods says, he doesn’t have a coach at the moment. A coach would have thoughts on technique, but because of the state of his body, he has to rely primarily on feel.

“I don't have the same speed I used to have, I don't have the ability to practice the same amount of hours, but I still do work on making sure that I can hit the ball on the middle of the face,” Woods said. “One of the reasons I don't have a coach right now: What my body does day to day, week to week just looks kind of different. I can't really model myself or fit any kind of model -- a lot of it's my hands and my feel. I built this golf swing the last few years, four, five years based on my hands and what that feels like. What that looks like, I don't -- sometimes it doesn't look pretty, but I can still hit the ball flush.”

There is an element of Woods showing up at Riviera Country Club each February that has started to feel like golf’s version of the 1993 movie Groundhog Day. Each year, he walks gingerly around the property, having undergone a vaguely-explained medical procedure in the offseason. He cracks a few jokes, reminisces about his first PGA Tour debut here at 16, and expresses gratitude that he can be around the guys again. He’ll mention that he missed the trash talk, the needling. He believes he can win, otherwise, he insists that he would not be in the field (even though he is the tournament host).

This year, however, feels slightly different. He’s in less pain, but he’s still not quite healthy. He’s going to play more than he has in recent years, but no one knows how much. The optimist and competitor in him are trying to negotiate with his pragmatist side.

“As far as the physical ups and downs, that's just part of my body, that's part of what it is,” Woods said. “That's all right, I accept it and accept the challenges.”

He is in transition. He has moved on, and nostalgia doesn’t interest him. A memo even circulated within the PGA Tour this week informing employees that no historical footage of Woods in Nike gear was to be shared on tournament social channels going forward. Every image of him from now on will have to feature him wearing Sun Day Red.

The past, no matter how many people still want to cling to it, will have to remain the past.

Kevin Van Valkenburg is the Editorial Director of No Laying Up.

Email him at kvv@nolayingup.com.