SAN DIEGO (AP) - Tiger Woods hates the question, even though the answer should be simple enough.
Is he back?
Woods was asked that when he ended his 749-day drought by winning his World Challenge at the end of 2011. The question came up in various forms last year after each of his wins at Bay Hill, Memorial and the AT&T National at Congressional. And it was inevitable after winning for a record eighth time at Torrey Pines.
Woods will be “back” when no else is in front of him.
The answer he gave Monday after a four-shot win in the Farmers Insurance Open was that he “never left.” But that’s not entirely accurate, because Woods was the undisputed No. 1 player in golf for the better part of five years and now he’s not. Everything he did last year, Rory McIlroy did better.
You can believe Woods when he says he is excited about the year.
Torrey Pines was his fourth win in his last 16 starts on the PGA Tour. Perhaps a better indication of his game is consistency. He has finished in the top 10 in six of his last seven tournaments around the world, which doesn’t sound like that big of a deal except that he hasn’t had a stretch like that since he “left” at the end of 2009.
So where is he now? It’s too early to say.
Golf is off to a quirky start this year. Four weeks into the season, one tournament finished on Tuesday because of wind and another tournament finished on Monday because of fog. It becomes even more stilted with the schedule of the two biggest stars.
The Pebble Beach National Pro-Am tournament director told the San Francisco Chronicle that Woods will not be playing next week. Woods‘ caddie told the Los Angeles Daily News that he tried to talk him into playing Riviera but to no avail. So Woods has 23 days off until playing the Match Play Championship. That’s not a surprise. McIlroy, meanwhile, is in the middle of a four-week break and he won’t show up until Match Play, either.
It’s tempting to make bold declarations about the rest of the year based on how Woods played last week, though the finish left just as many questions. And remember, it was only a week ago that Woods missed the cut in Abu Dhabi. Give it time.
Still, there was something inevitable about this win, beyond the location. Woods took over the tournament during a four-hole stretch in the second round when he rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt, hit 5-iron to 5 feet for eagle, had a two-putt birdie and then one-hopped his wedge off the flag for another birdie.
His lead went from two shots after 36 holes, to four shots after 54 holes, to six shots at the close of business Sunday with 11 holes left.
“After last week, I think he was irritated and I think he was a little upset at how he played,” Hunter Mahan said Monday morning. “I think he wanted to make a statement, and there’s not many guys in golf who can go to a tournament and make a statement, but he is. I think he’s making one this week, and I think he’s going to do everything he can to make this a double-digit win for himself and just kind of reclaim his dominance on the tour.”