LA JOLLA, Calif. — Tiger Woods returned to Torrey Pines on Tuesday sans the baggage that has been threatening to undermine the fondness he has developed for the place over the years.
He used to come here to win, as he’s done eight times as a professional, not to wonder whether his back would accommodate him, whether his glutes would fire, or whether he was now a relic.
Whether happier days are will return is as yet unknown, though Woods, 43, will tee it up in the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open on Thursday with expectations that differ dramatically from a year ago, two years ago, three years ago.
“Way different,” Woods said. “I know what my body can and cannot do. Last year was very fluid and it was like trying to hit a moving target. It was quite interesting to try and figure it all out as the year progressed and it evolved.
“This year I have a great understanding of what I can and can’t do. There’s not uncertainty that I had going into the year last year, after what I did at the end of last year. Playing seven out of nine weeks was quite a bit. Body held up better than I thought it would, even though I got pretty tired at the end.”
Last year was the first he played in the aftermath of spinal fusion surgery and it was a work in progress that ended with his winning the Tour Championship in his last PGA Tour start.
The moving target now is likely to be the fairway, and if he does not find a way to home in on it this week, it could more reminiscent of recent years than the dominant ones for Woods
“The rough’s up after the weather they had last week and it’s going to be important to really hit the ball well,” he said.
Woods admits to an inability to practice to the extent he once did and he spent his offseason working more on training, “trying to get stronger,” he said. “Last year, towards the end of the season I got really tired, because I didn’t expect to play that much golf at the end and I didn’t train for it. This offseason, I spent a lot of time in the gym and I’ve gotten a lot stronger and I feel like my legs are there where they need to be.
“Probably my feel is something I’m going to have to figure out. Just like anytime I come back and start the season, it’s getting into the flow of he round quickly, how fast I can feel the flow of the round. The times I’ve struggled, it’s been two, three holes and that’s too long. It’s going to be on that first hole.”
However momentum factors into golf, whether it even does at all from one week to the next, Woods is claiming it as an asset from one year to the next.
“Fresh start, yes,” he said, “but there is some momentum from last year because there’s a better understanding of what I can do. It’s hard to describe. Going into this event last year, I really didn’t know. I hadn’t played out of rough in years. That was a big uncertainty.
“And he fact that I was able to get through, I didn’t have any zinging down my leg like I did before. I didn’t have any problems at night recovering for the next day. Those are big accomplishments. This year is totally different. I know what I can do. I know what I’m feeling, so now it’s about finishing a little bit better and winning some events this year.”