- Associated Press - Thursday, January 27, 2011

SAN DIEGO (AP) - Tiger Woods‘ twirled the driver in his hand after another tee shot went where he was aiming, right down the middle of the first fairway on the South Course at Torrey Pines.

It’s a place Woods had not been in a while. His caddie thought it might have been as far back as 2007.

“That’s not true,” Woods protested during his pro-am Wednesday. “I hit this fairway in the playoff. Remember when I raised my arms to celebrate because I hadn’t done it all week?”

The reference was to the 2008 U.S. Open, when Woods made three double bogeys on No. 1 and still managed to get into a playoff against Rocco Mediate, beating him in 19 holes the next day for his 14th major.

That seems so long ago.

Woods remains stuck on 14 majors. He hasn’t played at Torrey Pines since that summer. He returns for the Farmers Insurance Open, which starts Thursday, with everyone curious about how he will play on a public course he has owned for years.

For Woods, a new year never looked so appealing.

“I’m looking forward to getting out there and playing, and basically feeling the heat again,” Woods said.

Woods makes his season debut at Torrey Pines, where he has not lost a tournament since 2004. Then again, he has not played the last two years while trying to recover from two different setbacks. The first was reconstructive knee surgery, the second was the implosion of his personal life after revelations of his extramarital affairs.

He has rarely been this excited about a new season, mainly so he can get the last one behind him.

Woods failed to win anywhere in the world for the first time in his pro career while going through a divorce. The only time he seriously contended on the back nine of a tournament was the last one he played _ the Chevron World Challenge in early December, where he blew a four-shot lead in the last round and lost to U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell in a playoff.

Woods winning at Torrey Pines wasn’t as predictable as death and taxes, but it was headed there. He has won his last five times dating to 2005 and including the U.S. Open. He has never finished out of the top 10.

But now? After falling to No. 3 in the world? After so much speculation that he has lost his intimidation, and that he can no longer make all the putts that carried him to 82 victories worldwide?

Can he ever be the same?

“Absolutely. Yeah,” Mickelson said. “I hope not, but I think he will.”

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