Tiger Woods is set to start his season — and his year, not to mention defend his title — at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, a venue where he’s experienced historic success. And before even teeing off, he’s already received a trophy.
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem presented Woods with the Jack Nicklaus Award for earning 2013 Player of the Year honors on Wednesday. It was the 11th time in his career that he’s received the distinction.
Woods will be gunning for his ninth title at Torrey Pines (seven wins at the Farmers Insurance Open and one U.S. Open victory) and his 80th — yes, 8-0 — win on the PGA Tour, which would be two shy of the record set by Sam Snead.
Now, of course in Tiger’s season-opening press conference, it didn’t take long for the topic of his drought at the majors to be breached — or rather, it was implied that 2014 is a big year for the 14-time major champion, according to multiple reports.
“I view it as every year’s a big year,” Woods said. “Every year that I get a chance to compete and play in tournaments and major championships for as long as I decide to do it, every year’s a big year, every year counts.
“Looking back from the beginning of my career to now, I know that I don’t have 20 years in my prime. … But the outlook is still the same. I still prepare the same, I still work my tail off to be ready to compete at this level and beat everything that I’m playing against.”
The majors set up well for Woods in 2014. With the exception of the U.S. Open at Pinehurt No. 2, they’re all held at venues where Woods has won before — the Masters at Augusta National, per usual, then the Open Championship at Hoylake and the PGA Championship at Valhalla.
Prior to arriving to Torrey Pines, Woods spent time with his girlfriend, skier Lindsey Vonn, who was rehabbing her knee after her recent surgery. It’s likely a fair bet that Tiger won’t be attending the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi now that Vonn is out of commission.
Woods is a good person for Vonn to lean on as she recovers since he’s endured similar injuries, including four on his left knee.
“As far as seeing what she’s gone through, I’ve been through it, only a slightly different version,” said Woods. “I’ve never had to do it twice like this. I’ve had knee surgeries through the years but only had to shut it down for periods of a couple months or a month, whatever it is, and I can be back.
“But to do it again in successive years, that’s tough. I only had to do it once like that. … I sat out for nine months, I believe, almost to the day before I played again.”
Woods also realizes he’s not getting any younger, as he recently turned 38 at the end of December.
“The thing is, I’m still able to generate the same amount of clubhead speed as I did when I was younger. It’s just that I can’t do it every shot anymore,” Woods said with a smile. “I don’t have the rotational speed that I used to and that’s a fact of aging. I am infinitely stronger than I ever used to be and more explosive in a lot of exercises that I do, but I just can’t rotate like I used to.
“But I’ve made up for it in other areas. My body looks very different than it was when I first came out on Tour, and then understanding how to manage myself around a golf course, how to attack a golf course, how to pick it apart and dissect it.
“That’s something that has happened over time. … You’re still able to be successful, but you do it a different way. You evolve as you age, and I think I’ve done that so far.”
As for the golf course, Woods mentioned that the conditions are much tougher at Torrey this week than they usually are for the regular Tour stop.
“The rough is thick, it’s a little more lush than we’ve seen it with these green conditions,” he said. “We’ve seen it like this when it’s wet but not when it’s like this. This is very similar to an Open.”
Woods tees off with Jordan Spieth and Jimmy Walker at 1:40 p.m. ET on the South Course on Thursday.