By John Strege
SAN DIEGO -- Tiger Woods has returned to collect his annuity, $1.098 million for winning the Farmers Insurance Open again. He has won seven times at Torrey Pines, eight when you count the U.S. Open he won there in 2008, nine when you count the Junior World Championship he won there in 1991, and no reason to doubt a 10th.
It is as close to a given as golf will allow, Tiger winning at Torrey Pines, which raises the question: Should he win again on Sunday, what does it portend? Nothing?
It will mean, at least, that he is playing well on a course with which he is most comfortable, and he will run his PGA Tour victory total to 80, two shy of Sam Snead's tour record of 82. That counts for something, but nothing in his quest to overtake Jack Nicklaus in major championships, his principal goal.
"Everyone wants to talk about the majors you've won, like everyone wants to talk how many slams Fed [Roger Federer] has won," Woods said here on Wednesday. "People don't realize how many tournaments you've won. That's something that gets overlooked as consistency over a long period of time. Sam won into his 50s and won on the tour. To be able to do it for virtually 30 years, that's unbelievable. For me to do in under 20 years is something I'm proud of."
His victory here last year was the first of five that earned him another PGA Tour player of the year award (he is shown here holding the Jack Nicklaus Trophy, awarded the player of the year) but he failed to win a major championship for the fifth straight year, leaving him stuck at 14 and four behind Nicklaus.
Nothing, then, can be inferred from Woods winning again at Torrey Pines, least of all how he'll fare in the major championships, notwithstanding a setup the he said more resembles a major than it typically does in January.
"It's closer to an Open than how we normally play it," he said. "I haven't see [the greens] this firm maybe since the Open. It's hard to imagine watching wedges and 9-irons, balls bounce as high as the top of the flagstick, but that's what was happening out here this morning. If they keep the golf course like this it's going to be one hell of a test as the week progresses. It's going to be awfully difficult to get the ball close and make birdies."
The state of his game on the eve of his first appearance as a 38-year-old is good, he said. "I'm hitting it well. I have to option now as my swing has evolved working with Sean [Foley] that I can start elevating it again, which is nice.
"I know that I don't have 20 years in my prime. I'm 38. I don't see being 58 and being in my prime. But the outlook is still the same. I still prepare the same. I still work my tail off to be ready to compete at this level and beat everyone that I'm playing against.
"I feel I'm still in my peak years. I'm still playing well. There have been a number of guys who have gone on even in their early 40s to win major championships. I feel like I've got a number of years ahead of me and I'm really looking forward to that."
(Getty Images photo)