Ah, the comfort of home, or as close to it as Tiger Woods may get when he tees it up at Torrey Pines, where he is the defending champion of the Farmer’s Insurance Open and where he has won eight times including his last major title at the U.S. Open in 2008.
Torrey and Tiger go together like the cream in your coffee; add some sugar and you will get an idea of how sweet a place it is for Tiger. When it comes to Torrey Pines, Tiger has redefined the importance of home-field advantage.
As any golfer knows, the more confident you are, the easier it is to play a course. The more you know its nuances and approaches, the more likely you are to play well.
Maybe it’s the cool beach breeze that refreshes Tiger. The 7,600-yard Torrey Pines South Course provides a tough challenge with its narrow fairways lined with some of the roughest rough on the tour. The air can be heavy due to rolling fog banks and the ocean breeze can be steady and deceptive.
Yet, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, Tiger seems to know there is no place like home. Who knows how many times he played Torrey Pines while growing up in the small town of Cypress just a few miles to the north. Tiger’s comfort level cannot be overstated. He knows how to approach each hole, how to deal with the prevailing winds, the dramatic changes in elevation from hole to hole, the cliffside bunkers and the two-tiered greens.
Even though Tiger resides in Florida, he is a Southern California kid and never is that more apparent than at this La Jolla seaside course. It used to be the Masters that was Tiger’s personal domain and even though he has won at Augusta four times, it pales in comparison to his dominance at Torrey. Tiger has won 14 times in his home state but no other California courses—not Pebble, not Riviera, not La Quinta—are as welcoming to Tiger’s game as Torrey Pines.
As he moves into 2014 in search of that coveted 15th major title, he is coming off of a year in which he won five times and was voted by his peers as the Player of the Year. He ended the year as the top-ranked golfer in the world.
2014 is shaping up to be one of the most competitive seasons of golf in recent history, with rising young stars meeting peaking pros and a few wizened veterans who refuse to go down for fight. Last year’s Rookie of the Year Jordan Spieth, a surging Zach Johnson, Masters Champ Adam Scott, an emboldened Phil Mickelson and a resurgent Rory McIlroy will all give Tiger a run for his money and his next major title.
Tiger is smart to choose Torrey Pines as his inaugural event, but the question is not whether he would start his season here, but why anyone would dare go against him. Said Nick Watney to the Golf Channel about Tiger after last year’s tourney, ''I don't know if anybody would have beaten him this week.'' He could have said any week at Torrey Pines.
Hitting the fairways is imperative at Torrey Pines, but Tiger’s vaunted stinger off the tee cuts through the cool air like a hot knife. Recovery rather than driving accuracy has been Tiger's best weapon, as illustrated by his rank of second in scoring average. Rather than using a driver, we may see him pull out his three-wood, substituting accuracy for distances, thus setting up easier approach shots to the green.
In his previous 13 appearances at Farmers Insurance Opens Tiger is -166, a juggernaut with no obstacle standing in his way.
Historically, his seven wins in the same tournament rank just behind Sam Snead who won the Greensboro Open eight times on two different courses. Tiger is in a three-way tie with himself having also won eight times at Bay Hill and Firestone Country Club.
And, of course there is the legend of the one-legged Tiger, beset by injury, winning a 19-hole playoff against Rocco Mediate to win the 2008 U.S. Open for his 14th major.
Torrey Pines thus becomes the perfect setting for Tiger to set the tone for 2014. Last year after his win here, he was being awarded major titles before even competing in the events.
He may not have won a major but he made a major statement. Too bad the U.S. Open isn’t being played at Torrey Pines again.
Woods is so darn good at Torrey Pines, he could probably play it in his sleep. With the comfort factor and his accomplished history, it may actually look that way to his competitors as he makes a run at win number nine in La Jolla.