LA JOLLA, CA. – In many ways, it all seems so familiar.
Tiger Woods at Torrey Pines. Eight wins here on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, nine if you count the World Junior title that Tiger counts.
He fits the scenery here as naturally as the Torrey pines themselves.
But it’s so different now.
When Woods tees it up with Jason Day and Dustin Johnson Thursday in the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open, it will be his first official PGA Tour event since the 2015 Wyndham Championship 17 months ago.
He’ll be the short knocker in his grouping and he knows it. He just signed to play TaylorMade woods and irons, a move prompted by Nike’s exit from the equipment game. He won’t actually put TaylorMade irons into his bag for a while, sticking with his Nikes until new irons are made to his specs.
Woods is 41 years old now and he’s had three surgeries on his back. He wore rain pants and four layers of warmth at the outset of his pro-am round Wednesday just past dawn when temperatures were in the 40s.
This is the first of a scheduled four tournaments in five weeks, a surprisingly ambitious schedule for a guy who has always picked his spots and who isn’t sure if his rebuilt back can handle the combination of competitive golf and travel.
Asked Wednesday if he’s capable of playing at the level he did in 2013 when he won five times – the last year he was reasonably healthy – Woods didn’t hesitate.
“I don’t know,” he said. “We all know I haven’t played a full schedule in a very long time so this is an unknown.”
Woods has rarely conveyed doubt but this is different. He is different.
“I’ve been away for so long,” Woods said.
Where he sounds like the old Tiger is when he talks about working toward a goal – the first week in April at Augusta.
That’s the long view at the moment, building toward another Masters.
Consider this: Of the last 12 majors played, Woods has been absent from six of them, missed the cut in four, finished 69th in the 2014 Open Championship and was T17 in the 2015 Masters.
It will be nine years this June since Woods won his last major championship – the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
He looks and sounds excited to be back.
“It’s hard to remember when I was this excited because I haven’t played in a few years,” Woods said.