SAN DIEGO — On a delightful Tuesday by the Pacific Ocean, with the sun beaming and the breezes on the soft side, Tiger Woods took to one of his favorite stages in golf alongside Jordan Spieth.
It was here at Torrey Pines that Woods got his first taste of professional golf as he and his father would attend the Andy Williams San Diego Open. Then he built what would be a career for most of his colleagues by winning this tournament, now known as the Farmers Insurance Open, a record seven times. For good measure, he captured the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey.
He’s been coming to Torrey for so long, he basically knows every inch and blade of grass, every hump and bump from tee to green, every break on the putting surfaces of the massive property.
“How long have you been coming down here?” Spieth asked during the 10-hole practice round ahead of Thursday’s start of the Farmers Insurance Open.
“Well, 10 years longer than you’ve been alive,” Woods replied.
That made for a good laugh between the two. But while coming here once might have felt like old hat for Woods, who turned 43 last month, there’s something different about this trip. Unlike last year, when he came to Torrey full of doubt and lacking expectations in his return to the game following spinal fusion surgery, Woods is healthy, happy and full of optimism ahead of his 2019 debut. And he expects to win this year, just as he did last year when he captured The Tour Championship in the season finale.
“I know what my body can and cannot do,” Woods said of his heightened expectations. “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.
“This year I have a great understanding of what I can and can’t do. I know what I’m feeling, so now it’s about finishing (the year) a little bit better and winning some events this year.”
Other differences include his new lineup of clubs in his bag alongside his trusty Scotty Cameron putter. He has replaced two of his driving clubs with the TaylorMade M5 driver and M5 3-wood, and his irons are the upgraded version of his TaylorMade P7TWs.
There are zero concerns about his surgically repaired back that sent him to the depths of pain and despair just a few years ago, when there were many days he couldn’t walk, sit or stand. Now, after the spinal fusion surgery gave him a second lease on life, he’s back to testing the depths of the sea.
“I’m able to go diving again and I’m able to do some spear fishing and free driving, which is something that I truly missed,” said Woods, his peppered his offseason full of workouts in the gym to build up his strength with numerous dives into the waters in the Bahamas and off the Florida coast. He’s even scuba diving.
“I just couldn’t afford to have that weight on my back and compressing my disk and my disk was already screwed up,” Woods said. “To be able to do that again, to be able to get in the water and put the fins on and load the body up and drop down like that, that was something I truly missed. I love being in the water.”
Woods is ranked No. 13 in the world – he was 656th in the world golf rankings at the start of last year’s tournament. This offseason, he spent more time in the gym – and in the water to refresh his mind – than he did on the golf course, so he might be a tad on the rusty side after not playing for eight weeks.
But he looks at the Farmers Insurance Open as a fresh start as he tries to deliver a compelling and thrilling encore to his remarkable 2018.
“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,” Woods said. “Now, this year it’s totally different.”