By RANDY YOUNGMAN
LA JOLLA – Tiger Woods hasn’t won at Torrey Pines since the 2008 U.S. Open, which must seem like an eternity to him considering his successful track record on the scenic municipal course overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Put it this way: Woods virtually owns Torrey Pines.
He has won eight tournament titles at Torrey: six Farmers Insurance Opens (nee Buick Invitational), the ’08 Open and the 1991 Junior World Championship when he was 15.
In one stretch, he won five consecutive tournaments in which he teed it up at Torrey Pines, culminating with his amazing Open victory in a 19-hole playoff with Rocco Mediate while competing with a torn ACL in his left knee and two stress fractures in his leg.
But that was five years ago. Since then, there have been extenuating circumstances that have limited Woods to one tournament appearance, so the 2013 Farmers Insurance Open will be only his second tournament here since the Open.
He missed the event in 2009 while recovering from reconstructive knee surgery.
He missed the event in 2010 in the aftermath of the sex scandal that cost him his marriage and his No. 1 ranking and led to a 2-and-a-half-year victory drought.
And after finishing tied for 44th in the 2011 Farmers – the only time he finished out of the top 10 in 12 career appearances in the event – Tiger missed the event in 2012 to play for a huge appearance fee in the Abu Dhabi Championship, a European Tour event.
But he’s back at Torrey Pines to play his first PGA Tour event in 2013, back where his late father, Earl, took him for his first round on a regulation course when he was 10, and feeling much better about his game than he did two years ago in the Farmers.
“It’s nice to be healthy and to be able to train and practice and do all of the things that I know I can do,” Woods said after playing in a Farmers pro-am two days before the main event. “It’s definitely a very different feeling, so it’s nice to be back.”
Woods won three times in 2012 to snap his 30-month victory drought, increasing his career total to 74 wins, second all-time to Sam Snead’s PGA Tour record of 82.
He says he still thinks about last win at Torrey Pines because of the pain he had to endure during Open week – “I don’t know how I quite got through five days of pure pain,” he said – and is nostalgic about the course because his father drove him here to watch his first pro tournament.
“I first came down here during the old Andy Williams (San Diego Open Invitational) … when I must have been single digits in age,” said Woods, who celebrated his 37th birthday in December. “I went out and watched some of the Cali guys. I watched (Mark O’Meara) and (John) Cook and Corey (Pavin).
“My dad took me to two events that year. It was here as well as the LA Open (at Riviera Country Club).”
Asked whether he would return to Riviera for the first time since 2006, to play in the Northern Trust Open (Feb. 14-17), Woods was noncommittal.
“I’m going to play a few tournaments coming up,” he said evasively.
Which one next after Torrey Pines?
“I don’t know,” he said.
What will it take for him to play Riviera again?
“I don’t now. We’ll just see,” he said.