SAN DIEGO -- Tiger Woods has seven professional victories at Torrey Pines, home of this week's Farmers Insurance Open, none more epic than his 2008 U.S. Open victory at Torrey South on a badly injured leg. He'll try to parlay that good mojo into win No. 8 after his sputtering start to 2013 at last week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. Woods made three back-nine birdies in round two but was penalized two strokes for taking an incorrect drop and missed the cut.
"I don't recall ever having [a penalty] like that," he said at his press conference Tuesday after playing an early practice round on the South.
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Woods, 37, has come to Torrey Pines amid all sorts of circumstances. But unless those circumstances include completely rebuilding his swing -- he shot 74-75 on the weekend to finish T44 in 2011, his only start since '08 -- he has thrived.
"Something about that place just turns him on," the player-turned-TV commentator Billy Ray Brown told Golf Magazine before the '08 U.S. Open.
The victim of Woods's first professional victory here, at the 1999 Buick Invitational, Brown would know. He thought he had Woods beat when the younger player hit his approach shot into the heavy rough on 17, but Woods somehow got up and down, gouging out a tremendous piece of sod in the process.
"We go to 18 and we're dead tied," Brown said. "I was first to play and I ripped it and I went, Oh, man, you betcha. There's a fairway bunker that for most mortals came into play, and Tiger hits this drive -- it sounded like something I hadn't heard all day, like a cannon exploding -- that hit its apex over that bunker and went another 30 yards. He hit it 90 yards past me and he hadn't done it all day long. We had been nip and tuck. He has so much extra in the tank."
Forced to go for the green, Brown caught his 3-iron fat, his ball drowning in the pond short of the green. Woods hit the green with an 8-iron. Game over.
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When it comes to Tiger and Torrey, everybody's got a story. The other runner-up finishers to Woods here: Carl Pettersson ('03); Luke Donald, Charles Howell III and Tom Lehman ('05); Nathan Green and Jose Maria Olazabal ('06); Howell again ('07); Ryuji Imada ('08); and Rocco Mediate ('08 U.S. Open).
"Yeah, I feel comfortable here, there's no doubt," Woods said Tuesday. "There are a few courses that are like that, where I've had my share of success, where either I've won or been in contention to win: this, Firestone, Augusta. I just feel comfortable on those venues, and I feel like my record over those three courses has been pretty good." (Woods also has authored seven professional victories at Firestone and Bay Hill. He's won the Masters at Augusta National four times.)
Depending on your take, Woods is either on the downside of his career or about to go on his greatest run yet. He has 74 Tour wins, second to Sam Snead's all-time mark of 82, and 14 major titles, second only to Jack Nicklaus's 18. Woods's most recent major title: the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey. "I do look at that week often," he said. "I remember several things. Number one that comes to mind every time I look at it or see highlights of it is just the pure pain that I was in."
Woods has a slim lead over Donald for second position in the World Ranking, but Donald is not here this week. Plenty of other big names are, including native San Diegan Phil Mickelson, defending champion Brandt Snedeker, 2011 Farmers winner Bubba Watson, and Hyundai TOC champion Dustin Johnson.
Any of those players, plus several others -- including Howell, who is coming off yet another runner-up finish at the Humana -- could win this week. The Tour is deeper than ever, and that, as much as the manifold changes in Woods, has been the biggest transformation in golf over the last five years.
As for Woods's goals, the first, as always, is to win. The second is to show improvement over 2012, when he won three times but faltered on the weekend at the majors, especially at the U.S. Open at Olympic Club. "I would have to say the majority of the year I hit it pretty good," he said, "but my putting and my short game weren't quite there. I spent so much time on ball-striking that that finally came around. So toward the end of the season I was able to spend more time with my chipping and putting, and that's come around. So now I've got to marry up both of those two combos and hopefully I can do it this year and do it on a consistent basis."
For Woods, there could be no better setting for such a marriage than the cliffs of Torrey Pines.