Torrey Pines a welcome sight for Tiger's openerJanuary 23, 2013
LA JOLLA, Calif. -- Tiger Woods first came to watch golf at Torrey Pines when he was in "single digits."
He was referring to his age but the burgeoning child prodigy likely was also talking about his handicap at the time. The youngster spent the day watching what he called "Cali" guys like John Cook and Corey Pavin and Andy Bean compete at the PGA TOUR event then hosted by legendary crooner Andy Williams.
A little over a decade later Woods first played in the Farmers Insurance Open, and he wasted precious little time making Torrey Pines seem like his own personal playground. He tied for third in his debut and picked up the first of what has swelled to six victories in the tournament the following year.
Not counting the 2008 U.S. Open -- which he also won here at Torrey Pines -- Woods has played 47 rounds on these two scenic layouts nestled along the Pacific coast. All but three have been at even par or better and 10 have come without making a single bogey. Woods' stroke average for those rounds is an almost unbelieveable 68.62.
"That's just phenomenal," said Brandt Snedeker, who won last year's Farmers Insurance Open in a playoff with Kyle Stanley. "I mean, that's stupid. ... Any time Tiger has a record, I put an asterisk by it, because it's Tiger's record. It's not normal. ... He's found a way to putt these greens the best of anybody."
And those words come from a man who knows a thing or two about putting. Snedeker, who won the FedExCup last year, led the PGA TOUR in its primary measure of prowess on the greens -- strokes-gained putting.
Woods is back in southern California this week to play in the Farmers Insurance Open for the 13th time in his career. Only once has he finished outside the top 10 and only twice outside the top five.
"He's so great for the game of golf," Snedeker said. "... He adds a little bit more electricity to the tournament. There are certain guys when they walk into a room, people gravitate towards them. I remember being out here Greg Norman, my rookie year, was playing a few tournaments a year. He had that same magnetism as Tiger does, Phil does, and these guys really move the needle on the game of golf."
Woods has the goods, too. He is a cumulative 159 under at Torrey Pines during his career. His last appearance, though, saw Woods post two of his three rounds above par on the South Course and shoot just 1 under to tie for 44th.
At the time, though, Woods was just beginning to reconstruct his swing under the guidance of his third instructor, Sean Foley. But as he returns this week after a year's absence, those tweaks appear firmly cemented in Woods' repertoire after 2012's three-win season that brought his career total to 74, which is second all-time.
"It's nice to be healthy to be able to train and practice and do all of the things that I know I can do," Wood said earlier this week. "It's definitely a very different feeling, so it's nice to be back."
The courses at Torrey Pines with which Woods is so well-acquainted is playing firmer and faster right now than it normally does in January. Rain could be on the horizon, though, especially on Friday, as temperatures drop from the mid-70s into the upper 50s by Sunday.
"The golf course is on the quick side," Woods said. "Obviously, haven't had a lot of rain here. The fairways are quick. The greens are a little bit firm, and for this time of the year, it's drier than we normally play it. So it will be a wonderful test."
Torrey Pines isn't the only course where Woods has such a phenomenal record. He's won seven times at Bay Hill and another seven at Firestone Country Club. Then there are those five wins at Muirfield Village, and four of Woods' 14 majors have come at Augusta National, too.
"I feel comfortable here, there is no doubt," Woods said. "There are few courses that are like that where I've had my share of success where either I've won or been in contention to win."
The memories are nice, but preparation is key. The Farmers Insurance Open is Woods' first PGA TOUR event in 2013, a year where he says he "absolutely" can add to his major haul in pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' record 18. He played in Abu Dhabi last week and missed the cut after being penalized two strokes for taking an illegal drop.
Woods, who only had one top 10 in the majors last year, said his focus in 2012 was on his ball-striking but once that was shored up, the offseason brought an emphasis on his short game. He's anxious to see how efficient he can be and how everything meshes together this year.
"I would have to say the majority of the year I hit it pretty good, but my putting and short game weren't quite there," Woods said. "I spent so much time on ball-striking that that finally came around. So towards the end of the season, I was able to spend more time with my chipping and putting and that's come around.
"So now I've got to marry up both of those two combos and hopefully I can do it this year and do it on a consistent basis."
If history is any indication, Torrey Pines will be a good place to start.