It was one-fifth contrition, four-fifths intention. Tiger Woods was on a seat in the press room, and if it wasn’t particularly hot, there was a mention of “feeling heat again.”
Presumably he meant from being in competition and not in the line of journalistic fire.
Woods comes back to golf today, to the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, his tournament — he’s won it a half-dozen times — at his course. That U.S. Open title of 2008 made it seven victories at Torrey.
Golf comes back, into our consciousness once more. Tiger — paired with Rocco Mediate and Anthony Kim no less, hardly a random computer selection — and Phil Mickelson are entered.
So is Jhonhattan Vegas, who Sunday, while the NFL conference championship games were going on, won the Bob Hope Classic.
The names are here. Are their games here? Woods hasn’t been in a tournament since his little Chevron World Challenge six weeks ago, when he blew a lead down the stretch and then was beaten by Graeme McDowell in a playoff. Mickelson was in the event at Abu Dhabi last weekend, before that he hadn’t played for a couple of months.
Woods is 35 now, perhaps feeling like 65 after his tough year of 2010, when he went through a divorce, when he lost several endorsements, and when he failed to win anything — anything — for the first time seemingly since the invention of golf, but definitely since before he entered Stanford. The best guess is when he was age 11.
“I went down a path I should never have gone,” conceded Woods, apparently alluding to his self-professed infidelities, “and now the determination is keeping my life in balance.”
Woods said for the first time in six years he didn’t spend an offseason recovering. He meant from the injuries and operations. Others might choose to remember the agony of having his reputation trashed by celebrity magazines and websites designed exactly for that purpose.
There was reflection, of recalling how on a knee desperately in need of surgery, he went 91 holes at Torrey to outlast Mediate in the ’08 Open. “It was stupid to play through that much pain,” he averred.
There was intensity. “The expectations are the same,” Woods insisted, “to win whatever event I enter.”
There was nostalgia. “I came down here with my dad [in the early 1980s] when it was the Andy Williams tournament,” said Tiger, who lived in Orange County about 80 miles up U.S. 101. “I remember watching Craig Stadler, Mark O’Meara and John Cook. They were all Southern California guys.”
Tiger believes he will again be the Tiger of the past. “It helps to have a clear mind,” was his observation. His 8-iron to within three feet of the pin on the 72nd hole of the Chevron, the first week in December, Woods said, was the one shot of ’10 he could be proud of.
“I’m just trying to get better,” said Woods, repeating his mantra.
An oddsmaker has Tiger the 11-4 favorite in this Farmers. A surprise? Not to Mickelson.
“I saw his game getting back to where it was,” said Phil, “and I expect that he’ll be the Tiger that we’ve known for a decade.”
With a chuckle Mickelson added, “Unfortunately.”
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Farmers Insurance Open
Site: San Diego
Courses: Torrey Pines, South Course (7,568 yards, par 72) and North Course (6,874 yards, par 72)
Purse: $5.8 million; Winner’s share: $1,044,000
TV: Golf Channel (today, 12-3 p.m., 5:30-8:30 p.m.; Friday, 9 p.m.-midnight, noon-3 p.m., 5:30-8:30 p.m.; Saturday, 9 p.m.-midnight, 10-11:30 a.m., 6:30-8:30 p.m.; Sunday, 10-11:30 p.m., 6:30-8:30 p.m.) and CBS (Saturday, noon-3 p.m.; Sunday, noon-3:30 p.m.)