SAN DIEGO — The tournament that Tiger Woods used to dominate now feels more like a big practice ground with splendid views of the Pacific.
Woods always says he doesn't enter a tournament unless he thinks he can win, and he has done that 79 times on the PGA Tour. There was nothing Wednesday to suggest he felt any differently at Torrey Pines, even though he is coming off an 82 at the Phoenix Open, the highest score of his career.
But while he is playing at Torrey Pines, where he is an eight-time winner as a pro, his mind was clearly on the Masters.
“The whole idea is to make sure that I'm ready for Augusta, so I got a lot of rounds to play between now and then,” Woods said Wednesday after a pro-am round at the Farmers Insurance Open that was cut to nine holes because of fog.
How many rounds he gets in depends largely on this week.
Woods has plunged to No. 56 in the world and is not eligible for the World Golf Championship at Doral next month. He typically would play the Honda Classic and Doral in consecutive weeks in south Florida, take a week off, play Bay Hill and then have two weeks off before the Masters.
If he doesn't qualify for Doral, he would have only three tournaments — all of them with 36-hole cuts — before Augusta.
“If I happen to play well enough to get into Doral, then great,” Woods said. “I got four more rounds there. If I don't, then still trying to peak for Augusta. … But I have to go out and earn my way there (Doral). I'm just going to have to play better than I did last week.”
The road to the Masters has never looked like such an uphill climb.
Woods missed consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour for the first time in his career, though the tournaments were six months apart. He took four months off to completely heal from back surgery and regain his strength, and he chose to change his swing under a fourth coach, Chris Como, who was with him at Torrey Pines on Wednesday.
Against an 18-man field at his unofficial Hero World Challenge at Isleworth — the course he has played more than any other — Woods tied for last and put on a shocking displaying of chipping. With two months to practice before the Phoenix Open, he tied for last with a club pro at TPC Scottsdale with a chipping performance that was even worse. Typical with Woods, everyone seemed to have a solution for him, not that he heard any advice.
“My phone's been off the last couple of days,” Woods said with a smile. “I've just been working on my game, just Chris and I.”
He made a detour to San Diego on Tuesday by going to Colorado to watch girlfriend Lindsey Vonn finish third in the world super-G. Woods looks out of his element in the snow, though at least he wasn't missing any teeth.
He should really feel at home at Torrey Pines, where he has won this PGA Tour event seven times and won his third U.S. Open — and last of his 14 majors — in 2008. There was a time when Woods never finished out of the top 10. But he tied for 44th in 2011, the year he wound up missing two majors to heal from leg injuries, and then last year he missed the 54-hole cut with a 79 in the third round.
A poor finish this week — he has gone 10 straight tournaments out of the top 15 — would send him to his lowest world ranking since he won his first PGA Tour event in Las Vegas in 1996.
Woods made it clear that his attempt to go back to his old swing would take time, and he mentioned for the second straight week that he was stuck between the old swing pattern under Sean Foley and the new pattern he wants to develop under the eye of Como.
Woods is 39, with five surgeries behind him. He has been on tour for nearly two decades. The competition is younger and hungrier. Woods has an entirely different lifestyle, a single father whose schedule is determined on which weeks he keeps his two children.
As for golf, he attributes his poor form to being caught between the patterns. It is most noticeable with the chips, which are either fat or thin. Woods said he was in his backyard chipping, hitting full shots and “just trying to commit to the pattern.”
“That said, when I get out here and I have to hit a shot, I'm caught right in between,” he said. “I'm battling through those times. … My good is really good. Unfortunately, my bad is really bad.”
He plays the opening two rounds with Rickie Fowler and Billy Horschel, starting Thursday on the North Course at Torrey Pines. That's where Woods played his pro-am on Wednesday. On his final hole, the par-5 ninth, he hit a fairway metal well right of the green, leaving him over a mound and across the green to the flag.
Woods never hit the shot. He had an assistant retrieve the ball and he was done for the day.