Tiger Woods was posing for pictures with a trophy Wednesday at Torrey Pines, and the tournament had not even started.
He has made winning look routine, particularly on this public course along Pacific Bluffs where he already has won eight times as a pro, including a U.S. Open.
The trophy Woods received on the eve of his title defense at the Farmers Insurance Open was for being voted PGA Tour player of the year for the 11th time.
Woods doesn’t take winning for granted, even if others don’t appreciate how difficult it is.
That includes his daughter.
Woods told a story of 6-year-old Sam being curious about the Torrey pine on the trophy, which reminded his daughter of the Bonsai tree she had seen in “Karate Kid.”
“She thought that’s what it was,” Woods said. “I said, ‘No, they’re a little bit bigger than that.’ I had to go online and show her the pictures and everything. I had all these trophies lined up and she said, ‘You need to get one of those.’”
Woods tried to explain that it wasn’t that simple, that he had to play better golf than 155 other guys to earn it.
“She said, ‘OK, go do it,” he said.
And so he did. Woods had an eight-shot lead on the back nine before the final round in a fog-delayed tournament was so backed up that it took forever to finish and Woods lost patience.
He won by four shots, and then surprised tournament officials when he wanted to take the trophy home on the plane instead of the tradition of shipping. He did not want to walk in the door as the winner at Torrey Pines without that trophy.
“They put it literally in the middle of the living room,” Woods said. “Everybody was dancing around the trophy.”
The music cranks back up on Thursday — another dance, his 19th year as a pro.
The tune hasn’t changed.
Woods conceded there are things he can’t do at 38 that he could when he was 24, such as produce the same speed when he rotates through the ball. But he’s also stronger and a lot smarter in dissecting a golf course.
“You’re still able to be successful, but you do it a different way,” Woods said. “You evolve as you age, and I think I’ve done that so far.”
The talk about Woods hasn’t changed, either.
Even though the Masters just under three months away, any mention of Woods starts with the majors.
The playoff win at Torrey Pines in the 2008 U.S. Open was the last major he won. He has been stuck on 14 for the past five years, squandering good chances at the U.S. Open in 2012 and the British Open last year.
This would seem to shape up as an important year because three of the majors are on courses where he has won — Augusta National, Royal Liverpool and Valhalla. The U.S. Open is at Pinehurst No. 2, where Woods has finished third and second.
“I view it as every year is a big year,” Woods said. “Every year that I get a chance to compete and play in tournaments and major championships for as long as I decide to do it … every year counts. Looking back from the beginning of my career to now, I know that I don’t have 20 years in my prime. I don’t see being 58 and being in my prime. Most guys don’t dunk from the foul line at age 58, so it’s a little different. But the outlook is still the same.
“I still prepare the same,” he said. “I still work my tail off to be ready to compete at this level and beat everyone that I’m playing against.”
Woods and Phil Mickelson are the star attractions, as usual, at Torrey Pines. This was the first PGA Tour event that both watched when they were boys — Mickelson is from San Diego, Woods from about 90 minutes north in Orange County.
Mickelson started his year last week in Abu Dhabi where he was runner-up despite a double-hit out of the bushes that led to triple bogey. Mickelson is excited about everything this year — his new driver, his putting, off-course activities and a chance at the career Grand Slam at the U.S. Open.
The South Course? That doesn’t excite him as much. Mickelson is a three-time winner of this event, but not since Rees Jones began redesigning the South for the U.S. Open.
Mickelson can relate with Woods when it comes to advancing age. He turns 44 in June.
“The difficult for me is that as I get older, it’s a lot more work to be physically able to perform the way I would like,” he said.
“I’ve got to watch what I eat, I’ve got to work out, manage arthritis and I’ve been fortunate that the treatment on that’s been phenomenal. I haven’t had anything holding me back from working on my game or what have you, but I’ve got to spend a lot more time in the gym making sure that ligaments and tendons and muscles and joints and everything are strong and healthy.
“It’s just more effort to be able to play golf at the highest level.”
There was one other reminder for Woods. He received his trophy at the same time 20-year-old Jordan Spieth received a crystal as rookie of the year.
Spieth had a tremendous year, and he looked over at the bronze Jack Nicklaus Award to be given to Woods.
“Now it’s time to chase this other award,” he said.
Woods smiled. He didn’t look as if he was willing to let it go that easily.