Tiger returns to Phoenix

Tiger Woods never started his season in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, until this week.

Perhaps he has tickets for the Super Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium and was going to be in the area anyway, so he decided to make his first appearance at TPC Scottsdale since 2001.

Even though Woods tied for 17th, and last, in the Hero World Challenge in December, the early reviews on the swing changes he made in the offseason with new instructor Chris Como were very positive, and he can’t wait to get going.

“It will be great to return to Phoenix,” Woods wrote on his website. “The crowds are amazing and always enthusiastic.”

Sometimes too enthusiastic.

Woods embraced the stadium-like atmosphere when he made a hole-in-one on the raucous 16th hole in 1997 and he exhorted the alcohol-fueled crowd with the “raise the roof” sign.

However, two years later, a fan who was heckling Woods was wrestled to the ground by security guards and then arrested when a gun was discovered in his backpack.

In 2001, another fan lobbed an orange onto a green while Tiger was putting, and Woods hasn’t been back to play in Phoenix since.

Tournament chairman Danny Calihan said Woods did not ask about security measures before committing to play this week.

“Our security procedures are pretty strong, and we’re pretty proud of them,” Calihan said. “No backpacks or purses are allowed. You need a clear, plastic bag for everything. In our discussions with Tiger, (security) never came up.

“The speculation is just that he wants to play more events. He wants to get to some places where he hasn’t played in years past. It fits his schedule very well this year.”

Woods usually starts his season on the Middle East swing of the European Tour, but he didn’t make that trip this year. He said he would add at least one event on the West Coast swing of the PGA Tour.

After playing only seven tournaments on the PGA Tour last season because of two back injuries, one of which required surgery, Woods also will play next week in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, where he is an eight-time winner.

“My guess is Tiger is going to Phoenix so he can build confidence in his own game and get some self-confidence because he hasn’t played for a long time, (and then) build himself back up to the more difficult courses,” said Jack Nicklaus, who holds the record Woods covets most.

The Golden Bear won 18 major titles in his career, while Woods has been stuck on 14 since winning the 2008 U.S. Open in an epic playoff with Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines.

Nicklaus, for one, thinks Tiger can still catch him.

“I had lulls in my career, too,” said Nicklaus, whose last major title came in the 1986 Masters at the age of 46. “I had several periods where I had three and four years that I didn’t win anything of a major championship, and I came back from that, and I think Tiger may do the same. …

“Tiger has had a great career, and I don’t think his career is over. We’ll see what happens from here.”

Woods, who played for the first time on the PGA Tour in the 1992 Nissan Los Angeles Open at Riviera on a sponsor’s exemption when he was 16, will be playing in consecutive weeks on the West Coast for the first time since 2004.

Even though he grew up in Southern California, he has never played in what is now the Humana Challenge (formerly the Bob Hope Desert Classic) in La Quinta and has not played what is now the Northern Trust Open at Riviera since 2006.

Even personal requests from the late Bob Hope and Los Angeles Lakers legend Jerry West, who was tournament director of the Northern Trust for several years, couldn’t get Woods to show up at those tournaments.

And he doesn’t like playing at Pebble Beach in the winter because the weather can be cold and the course soggy, even though he often made the trip down the coast to play the famed links course the Monterey Peninsula when he was a student at Stanford.

Woods also moved his World Challenge from Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif., to his new home in Florida last year.

That caused one Los Angeles writer, Jill Painter Lopez, to ask Tiger in an article: “Was it something we said?”

So perhaps when it came time for Tiger, now very much established in Florida, to add an event on the West Coast swing, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he chose Arizona.

–Story courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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