Tiger Woods at Torrey Pines is no longer the favorite

Published 9:01 am Thursday, January 26, 2017

Tiger Woods was walking up the middle of the 18th fairway when he noticed someone walking briskly toward him, causing Woods to stop suddenly.

And then he smiled.

It was Billy Horschel, arms outstretched to embrace Woods.

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“It’s good to have you back,” Horschel said.

Oddly enough, they were together at the Farmers Insurance Open the last time Woods was at Torrey Pines, under much different circumstances.

Woods’ game was a mess in early 2015, and on the practice range before the first round, Horschel appeared to be showing Woods different positions in the swing. Woods withdrew later that morning with tightness in his back and walked away from competition for 10 weeks to work on his game until returning at the Masters.

His game never really improved until a tie for 10th in the Wyndham Championship. And then he had two more back surgeries and was gone again.

Now he’s returned, no instruction necessary.

Woods makes his latest PGA Tour comeback on Thursday when he tees it up at Torrey Pines alongside Jason Day and Dustin Johnson, who bring the kind of credentials that for so long only belonged to Woods.

Day is No. 1 in the world (Woods occupied the top spot for a record 683 weeks).

Johnson is the PGA Tour player of the year (Woods won the award a record 11 times).

And now the question is whether Woods can keep up with them.

“You always want to play against and with the best players,” Woods said. “I’m trying to remind myself: ‘Hey, I haven’t played in a while. Hey, it’s just the first two days and get yourself in contention, build your way up.’ It’s not Sunday. I’ve got a long way to go to get to that point where I have a chance to win this event.”

Winning might be a surprise, even given his track record at Torrey Pines.

Woods has eight victories at Torrey Pines, including a major when he won the U.S. Open in 2008 on a shattered left leg. Think about that. What he has done at Torrey Pines alone is more than all but four players in the 156-man field at Torrey Pines have done in their entire PGA Tour careers.

But that was then, before his three back surgeries.