As he used to do with foes on the PGA Tour, Tiger Woods toyed a little bit with his fans on when he’d make his first start of the 2019 PGA Tour season.
Ultimately, there was never much of a doubt.
Casting aside any concerns about how his rusty game might fare in the formidable, majors-like setup on the Torrey Pines golf courses, Woods kept his link with the Farmers Insurance Open alive when he committed on Wednesday to play in next week’s tournament.
He’ll return to the La Jolla cliffs where he’s won seven editions of the San Diego tournament and the 2008 U.S. Open.
Farmers Open Tournament Director Peter Ripa got the word from PGA Tour headquarters early on Wednesday morning that Woods entered. The commitment came later than in recent years, though earlier than in Woods’ prime, when he regularly waited until the Friday deadline.
Woods will begin his year in San Diego following a stunning end to last season, when he captured the Tour Championship in Atlanta to snap a victory drought of more than five years.
“It’s fantastic, exciting,” Ripa said.
“Players have choices for where they want to play, and for Tiger to choose San Diego … we’re going to be the center of the sports universe next week.”
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Woods’ first pro victory at Torrey Pines in 1999. He was a freshly turned 23-year-old and came from eight shots back heading into the weekend, on the strength of a third-round 61 on the South, to notch his eighth tour win.
He captured a Junior World title on the South Course in 1991, and the San Diego tour event was the first he ever attended with his father, Earl.
Woods, 43, also committed on Wednesday to playing in the Genesis Open, Feb. 14-17, at Riviera Country Club, where he’s never won.
Woods’ entry into the Farmers was long anticipated, and Ripa said he has seen a boost in ticket sales by about 20 percent when the 14-time major winner plays here. Woods missed starts here in 2012 and ‘16 because of injuries.
Pre-tournament ticket sales were outpacing last year, Ripa said, before Woods’ commitment.
Currently ranked 12th in the world, Woods will make his first official tour start since producing one of the most memorable wins – and scenes – of his career when he shot a final-round 71 at East Lake in September to beat Billy Horschel by two shots and capture the Tour Championship.
It was the 80th win of Woods’ career, putting him two shy of Sam Snead’s all-time tour record for victories.
The win capped a year in which Woods, coming off back fusion surgery, grew more proficiency as the season wore on. He barely made the cut at Torrey Pines, needing a two-putt from 100 feet on Friday to reach the weekend in an eventual tie for 23rd, to sixth in the British Open and a runner-up placing in the PGA Championship.
Since Woods’ last victory at Torrey Pines in 2013, he has struggled to contend on the North and South courses that have been toughened with narrower fairways and much deeper rough than in the years when Woods won five titles in six years from 2003-08.
Dealing with injuries and the effects of back surgeries, Woods has, in his last four starts at Torrey, tied for 80th, withdrawn, missed the cut, and tied for 23rd.
Woods enters a Farmers field that Ripa has calculated, via the Official World Rankings points, as the strongest in the event since at least 2005. Ten of the top 15 players in the world are entered, including No. 1 Justin Rose, and the marquee names are plentiful: Rory McIlroy (in his first Farmers start), Jordan Spieth, defending champion Jason Day, San Diegan Xander Schauffele, Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Patrick Reed.
San Diego native Phil Mickelson, a three-time Farmers winner, has yet to commit and has until Friday to do so. If he skips Torrey, it will end a run of 28 consecutive times he’s played in the tournament.
Mickelson likely will reveal his schedule plans after he plays his first round of the year on Thursday at the Desert Classic in La Quinta.
After significant rain in San Diego this week, the Torrey Pines courses are expected to play long in the fairway and soft on the greens. Next week’s forecast doesn’t predict any rain, with temperatures in the mid to high 60s.
Shane Lowry tied the course record with a 10-under 62 in the first round of the Abu Dhabi Championship in United Arab Emirates, an impressive showing for a player who lost his card on the PGA Tour last year.
Lowry rolled in 10 birdies to take a three-stroke lead in the European Tour’s first event of 2019, with Louis Oosthuizen in a three-way tie for second place with Mike Lorenzo-Vera and Richard Sterne.
Down to 75th in the rankings and now 3.5 years without a win, Lowry is adjusting to life back as a full-time European Tour player after failing to successfully juggle his commitments on both sides of the Atlantic in 2018.
The Irishman said he is reaping the rewards of a lengthy spell of practice in Dubai at the start of the new year after not playing competitively since November.
Associated Press contributed