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San Diego — Tiger Woods is feeling stronger than ever with his fused back, and the evidence goes beyond the speed of his swing or how hard he can go after a shot out of deep rough.

Woods says he is diving again.

He says he was doing free dives and spearfishing during his time off, and even went diving with a tank, which he had not done in years.

“I just can’t afford to have that weight on my back and compressing my disk, and my disk was already screwed up,” said Woods, who had fusion surgery in April 2017. “So whenever you put any weight on it, it made it worse. I (hadn’t) tank dove in years, and to be able to do that again, to be able to get in the water and free drive, put the fins on and load the body up and drop down like that … that was something I truly missed. I love being in the water.”

Woods has been certified as a master diver, according to the National Association of Underwater Instructors.

Long before surgeries on his knee and his lower back, he once regaled Darren Clarke and Thomas Bjorn about his diving adventures. Years ago, he was explaining to Clarke that it was best to witness ocean life without a regulator because bubbles can scare off the fish. The flip side, Woods told them, was that more sharks are apt to come around. This got Bjorn’s attention.

“Just be careful down there,” Bjorn told him. “Our future earnings depend on you.”

Green repairs

Three weeks into the year on the PGA Tour, one new rule might be put to the test on the greens at Torrey Pines.

And it has nothing to do with leaving the flagstick in the cup.

Rules 13.1c allows players to repair damage on the putting green to restore it as nearly as possible to its original condition. That includes fixing ball marks, scrapes and indentations caused by equipment or the flagstick and shoe damage.

It wasn’t an issue on the Bermuda greens of Hawaii or the overseed in the California desert. But Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach and Riviera have poa annua greens, which can get bumpy in the soft conditions of California in the winter.

One of the questions that arose was just how much damage players can repair, without creating a line to the hole.

“At Kapalua, I fixed ball marks, but I was only tapping them down because it was Bermuda,” Xander Schauffele said. “Out here, you might do a little more than a simple tap down. … This place, late in the day, it feels like you’re playing a game of Plinko.”

Schauffele was quick to note one part of the new rule: Damage can be repaired without unusual delay.

“It could, depending on how these players take the rule to heart … if you’re trying to fix a 40-foot putt, it’s going to be tricky with pace of play,” Schauffele said. “Rules officials will be on us. The time clock hasn’t changed. If you want to spend 35 seconds tapping down the line, you’re going to have to pull the trigger in less than what you normally do.”

Jason Day, a two-time winner at Torrey Pines, doesn’t think it will be an issue. His only experience this year was at Kapalua, which featured only a 33-man field.

“Before the rule was changed, you would have maybe two or three times a year where you’re like, ‘Oh, there’s a spike mark there in front of your ball,’ so you just kind of worry about the spike mark,” Day said. “I don’t necessarily think you’re going to be tapping it the whole way and trying to make a line. I think there’s going to be a few taps. Other than that, I think they’re going to putt. I don’t necessarily think it’s going to be a time-consuming thing.”

No Phil at Torrey

Torrey Pines has Woods in the field, along with an inaugural appearance by Rory McIlroy and the return of Jordan Spieth for the first time since 2015.

Missing will be Phil Mickelson, who said last week he would skip his hometown tournament for the first time in 28 years. Mickelson is a two-time winner, but not since the South Course was overhauled by Rees Jones ahead of the 2008 U.S. Open.

“That’s one of the hardest courses we play,” Mickelson said last week. “It’s 7,600 yards, the fairways are tight, there’s a lot of rough and unless I’m playing my absolute best, that’s not really a great place for me.”

In the last 10 years, Mickelson has only one top-10 finish, when he was runner-up in 2011. He missed the cut three times.

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