Tiger Woods will make his 2019 debut at the Farmers Insurance Open on Thursday, having replaced the trepidation of a year ago with an eagerness to capture an eighth crown.
Woods got his first look at the Torrey Pines course on Tuesday when he played a nine-hole practice round in the company of Jordan Spieth.
It was a happy return to the clifftop course overlooking the Pacific Ocean, where he won the last of his 14 Majors at the US Open more than a decade ago.
“I haven’t played on the Tour since September, so it’s been a while and looking forward to getting started, looking forward to getting out there and playing,” said Woods.
“This is a golf course property that I’ve always loved. Jordan asked me today as we were playing, he said, ‘How long have you been coming down here?’ I said, ‘Well, 10 years longer than you’ve been alive,'” the 42-year-old quipped.
“I’ve been coming out here quite a bit. This is the first PGA Tour event that I ever attended with my dad when this was the old Andy Williams tournament.
“To have won on this property and had the success I’ve had, it’s been a lot of fun and looking forward to getting out there this week.”
Twelve months ago, Woods didn’t know what to expect as he returned here in his attempt to come back from a near two-year injury absence. He eventually finished 23rd.
It took just three events to silence those critics when Woods fell one shot shy of forcing a play-off in the Valspar Chamionship.
Woods then led, albeit for two holes, during the final round of the Open Championship at Carnoustie while he drew record crowds to Bellerive when he got himself into contention a few weeks later at the PGA Championship.
Woods finally ended a more than five-year winless drought amid emotional scenes at the Tour Championship in suburban Atlanta.
“My expectations are now way different to a year ago,” he said Tuesday.
“I know what my body can and cannot do. So 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. Overall, it held up pretty good.
Woods revealed his back now feels so strong he spent part of his off-season deep-sea diving in the Bahamas and off the coast of Florida, using scuba tanks for the first time in years.
“One of the best things I did in the off-season was get back into diving again and be able to do some spear fishing and free driving is something that I truly missed,” he said.
“Even tank diving, I haven’t tank dived in years. I just couldn’t afford to have that weight on my back and compressing my disk and my disk was already screwed up.
“So whenever you put any weight on it, it made it worse. I haven’t tank dived in years and to be able to do that again, to be able to get in the water and free dive, 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’ only health issue is struggling with a head cold, something he picked up from one of his children.
Woods will play the opening two rounds in the company of Xander Schauffele and Tony Finau.
© Agence France-Presse (Additional edits by Marisa Kennedy)