SAN DIEGO – A year ago Tiger Woods was ranked No. 647 in the world when he arrived at Torrey Pines Golf Course. He came away from a career-threatening spinal fusion operation, had not won on tour in his last five active years and was happy that he was still playing after a new long layoff.
The operation to merge two vertebrae in his lower, he said this week, was "the last effort to give me quality of life" even if it did not allow him to compete again at the highest level of professional golf. That was why he had low expectations in 2018 and said he was "happy" to get the fine and the finish for the 23rd round at the Farm Insurance Open.
A year later, a lot has changed, including Woods' expectations. He made his season debut on Thursday, again on Torrey Pines, but this time there was a steady progress that culminated in his September victory at the Atlanta Tournament – his 80th PGA Tour title, but his first since 2013. He also had climbed to No. 13 on the world rankings.
Woods shot a two-sub-par 70 in the opening round on the South Course, making him eight shots behind the leader, Jon Rahm, in a tie for the 53rd, but he seemed anything but discouraged. He has overcome again in his thoughts.
"This year is totally different," he said. "I have a good understanding of what I can and can not do, there is not the uncertainty that I went into the year last year, after what I did at the end of last year, I know what I feel, so now it's all about Little better to finish and win a number of events. "
Woods has won eight titles at Torrey Pines as a pro – including the 2008 United States Open – and a Junior World Championships title as an amateur. However, it will be a big task to catch the leaders in a field with 12 of the world's top 20 players – especially after Rahm, the world number 7 and the tournament champion of 2017, have set a record for the renovated North Course with a 62. A shot behind is the world number 1, Justin Rose, who also played the North Course.
Woods said he knew what that meant when he was on his way to the course for the second round on Friday. "That forces me to shoot low, because everyone in the north today went low," he said.
Everyone in the field of 156 players plays one round on the South Course and one in the North for the 36-hole cut has been determined. The cut last year was one below par, the score Woods had on the way to the weekend playing for the first time since 2015.
On Thursday Woods made five birdies and three bogeys, with three of his birdies on par 5s: No. 6 (9-foot putt), 9 (15-footer) and 18 (12-footer). He drove the ball well until halfway through the back, when he missed three consecutive tee-shots on the right. He managed to save par from the right rough on the 14th and 15th holes, but he failed to go up and down from a greenside bunker on the par-3 16th and made bogey.
"All in all, it was a pretty solid day," he said. "I felt that I was riding pretty well, although I missed a few fairways, they were controllable, my feeling was a bit off, but that should be better."
His best shot of the day was a sky-high 6-iron on the 215 meter long, par-3 11th hole that came to rest 3 feet from the cup. He made the birdie putt to reach two below, but not until he had summoned a referee to explain that he had accidentally moved his ball while addressing it on the green.
"I was about to determine my position, and the ball moved," he said. "So I had to bring it back to where it originally was."
After his victory in the Touring Championship Woods played only three times competitively – in the Ryder Cup in Paris, where he was 0-4 and was tired after having played seven events in nine weeks; a Thanksgiving weekend practice match in Las Vegas against Phil Mickelson; and his annual charity tournament in the Bahamas during the first week of December.
He said that he had used the six weeks before the farmers spent a lot of time in the gym, trying to become stronger & # 39 ;, and to relax, often scuba diving and spearfishing fishermen close to his home in Florida – hobbies he said he had missed during the treatment of chronic back pain in recent years.
"Last year, towards the end of the season, I became very tired because I had not expected that much wave, and I did not train for it," he said. "But now I feel that my legs are where they should be, that's why I've been so diligent in training, but there are days when I just do not practice and I do not train." That's probably one of the lessons I've have learned through all of this, there are days when I just have to close it and just do nothing and just relax. "