Golfers taking to the green at Riviera Country Club Thursday at the Genesis Invitational found many ways to pay tribute to the late Kobe Bryant, but it was his close friend Tiger Woods who, either by supernatural intervention or a major coincidence, paid the ultimate tribute with his "Kobe Bryant putt."
First putt of the week for @TigerWoods.
24 feet, 8 inches for eagle.
For Kobe. 🏀pic.twitter.com/cD0tdqTa41— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) February 13, 2020
With his competitors sporting Lakers headcovers and custom-made golf shoes in Lakers colors, Woods hit an 8-iron into the par-5 green on the first hole, leaving an eagle putt of 24 feet, eight inches, according to CNN. Those numbers, of course, are the very ones that Bryant wore throughout his two-decade-long NBA career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
"It's ironic, isn't it?" Woods told the Golf Channel. "I didn't know about the putt being that long."
Held just miles from the Calabasas, California crash site, the invitational paid special tribute to Bryant at the eighth hole, where the flag and signage were in the colors of the Lakers – purple and yellow. The sign itself read "Mamba" in honor of Bryant's nickname.
"No matter what we do, I think for a while we're going to always remember Kobe and what he meant, especially here in SoCal and the entire sports world," Woods said. "Very ironic that it happened to have those numbers on those holes and those exact measurements."
As a "diehard Lakers fan," Woods and Bryant had been friends for years. At the time of the Jan. 26 helicopter crash, which claimed the lives of all nine people aboard the aircraft, the golf icon had had been playing in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego. He had been walking off of the 18th green and through the blue-tented tunnel when he was pulled aside by caddie Joe LaCava, who told him of Bryant's death.
"I didn't know until [LaCava] told me coming off the 18th green," Woods recalled the moment he learned of Bryant's death at the age of 41. "I didn't really understand why the people in the gallery were saying, 'Do it for Mamba.' But now I understand."
"It's a shocker for everyone," he continued. "Unbelievably sad, and one of the more tragic days. For me, the reality is kind of just setting in because I was told just five minutes ago."
Speaking to reporters earlier this week, Woods admitted that he was still struggling to accept that Bryant is gone.
"It's hard to put into words what transpired and the fact that it's a reality," he said. "Part of me thinks that it's not real."
A public memorial for the victims of the crash will be held at the Staples Center on Monday, Feb. 24.