Tiger makes his return to the TOUR
January 25, 2017
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
- Tiger Woods kicks off his season paired with Dustin Johnson and Jason Day. (Stan Badz/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO – Lights illuminated Torrey Pines’ driving range as Tiger Woods warmed up for Wednesday’s pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open. He was playing in the day’s first group, at 6:40 a.m., and the sun had yet to rise along the California coast.
Woods will tee off four hours later in Thursday’s first round, but he’ll be under the spotlight once again. He’s playing alongside two of the world’s top players for his first PGA TOUR round since August 2015. Reigning PGA TOUR Player of the Year Dustin Johnson and World No. 1 Jason Day will have front-row seats for Woods’ return.
That’s exactly how he wants it.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better pairing,” he said.
This isn’t Woods’ first tournament since he finished 10th at the Wyndham Championship 17 months ago. He played his Hero World Challenge in December, finishing 15th in the 17-man field. He led the field in birdies, but also made enough mistakes to finish near the bottom of the leaderboard.
A lot is different this time. There are 156 players here this week, including seven of the top 10 players in the FedExCup. The Hero was held at Albany Golf Club, a modern course with wide fairways and hardly any rough. Torrey Pines’ two courses have been inundated with rain, leaving the fairways soft and the rough thick. The weather is much colder this week than it was in the Bahamas. Temperatures were in the 40s when Woods teed off Wednesday.
“I had rain pants on, I had four layers on and I was still cold,” Woods said. “I used to be able to handle this, this kind of cold weather, but now I’m a Florida softie. I’m used to practicing in shorts and no shirt in my backyard all the time.”
But unlike Albany, where Woods had never played a tournament, Woods is now returning to one of his favorite hunting grounds. His first victory here came in the 1991 Junior World Championship. He’s won the Farmers Insurance Open seven times and won the 2008 U.S. Open here.
Woods’ lengthy layoff has increased the curiosity of even his fellow players. The first tee of Torrey Pines’ North Course was crowded with cameramen and reporters when Woods teed off Wednesday morning. Fans wielding cell phones recorded Woods’ tee shot. After he teed off on No. 18, former FedExCup champion Billy Horschel walked over from another fairway to give Woods a hug. Phil Mickelson’s caddie, Jim Mackay, did the same to slap Woods on the back. TOUR rookie J.J. Spaun, who was walking the North Course on Wednesday, followed Woods’ group for several holes.
“I think everybody will be excited about (his return). I'm excited to see how he's progressed since the Bahamas,” said defending champion Brandt Snedeker. “Anytime he shows up to an event, especially here, the crowds are immensely bigger. He's got a rapport with this place, kind of like I do, but on a grander scale.”
There will be plenty of opportunity to analyze the state of Woods’ game. This is the first of four tournaments in a five-week span. He’ll fly to Dubai next week for the European Tour event there. After a week off, he’ll play back-to-back events at the Genesis Open and Honda Classic.
Woods already has been busy this week, as well. He was at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles on Monday for the media day promoting the Genesis Open, which Woods’ event management company will run. On Wednesday, a multi-year deal with TaylorMade was announced. Woods is using the company’s metal woods this week, and will add the irons and wedges at a later date.
He said he’s hitting the ball longer than ever, but has lost ground relative to his competition. There will be no temptation to keep pace with Johnson and Day, who ranked second (313.6 yards) and 15th (304.2) on the TOUR in driving distance last season.
“I can’t carry the ball 320 yards out here. Those guys will bomb it out there. That’s fine,” Woods said. “I’ll just play my game and the name of the game is low score.”
Whether Woods can win that game remains to be seen. But there will be plenty of interest, regardless of the result.