Tiger Woods: Why Torrey Pines Won't Be Kickstart He Needs To Start 2011

Adam LazarusSenior Analyst IJanuary 27, 2011

Tiger Woods: Why Torrey Pines Won't Be Kickstart He Needs To Start 2011

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    Donald Miralle/Getty Images

    Tiger Woods makes his 2011 PGA Tour debut today, when he hits Torrey Pines for the annual Farmers Insurance Open, the San Diego-hosted tourney that has gone through so many name/sponsorship changes over the years that it's hard to count. 

    Woods won this event (back when it was called the Buick Invitational) six times from 1999-2008. 

    And even though he suffered through his worst season as a professional last year, he still has to be considered one of the favorites this week.

    But even if Tiger manages to lap the field at Torrey Pines, where he won that epic '08 US Open in a playoff over Rocco Mediate, that won't be enough to ensure that "Tiger's Back!"

    Here's why. 

No. 10: Wet, Slow, Receptive Greens

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    Torrey Pines in January is not a great test of championship golf. Because the temperatures are cooler, the greens have not had a chance to dry out yet. They will be extremely receptive and he'll land many more approach shots than he would at Augusta or at Congressional.

    Furthermore, those softer greens will not be a great way for Tiger to improve his championship-level putting, something which cost him dearly in 2010. They will be much slower and not a very fine test for Tiger as he aims to win a fifth green jacket in April. 

No. 9: Wide, Slower Fairways

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    The fairways at Torrey Pines are not nearly as tight and narrow as Woods will see later in the year at the four major championships he will compete in later this year.

    In 2010, Woods driving accuracy was probably the poorest we have ever seen since he turned pro in 1996. 

    With the conditions softer and slower, he won't have to be quite as precise to keep his drives on the fairway. Now when he gets to a point later in the season, when those fairways have dried out and the ball will run more, he will need better precision than he showed in 2010. 

No. 8: Consistency

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    14 majors is not the only reason why Tiger Woods is the game's greatest, still active, player. 

    Although it's not as impressive as Jack Nicklaus mark of 18 majors PLUS 28 second or third place finished, Tiger has an incredible win-place-or-show mark: six runner-ups, three third-place finishes in majors and countless more in the regular Tour stops.

    What made Tiger great was his ability to be in contention virtually every time he stepped on the tee. But he did not win a tournament last year in 12 tries. 

    He very well could win this week at Torrey Pines, but to truly be back to full capacity, we need to see him do it week after week. 

No. 7: Phil Isn't At His Sharpest Either

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    Say what you will about the Phil Mickelson-Tiger Woods rivalry, or lackthereof.  Reporters and talking heads like to compare that rivalry to the "rivalry" between a hammer and a nail. 

    But it's still the best superstar vs. superstar showdown we have in professional golf. And if Tiger finishes far above Lefty on Sunday then people will likely use that as proof that he's got his game in order.

    But Phil never plays his best golf this early in the season. Like Tiger he is geared up to win majors and the occasional PGA stop like the Players or Bay Hill. 

    Not only that, Phil did not necessarily finish up 2010 in top form. He did not win after taking the Masters in April, and following the fourth place finish at the US Open, he struggled at times in the season's final two majors. 

    Let's wait until early April to compare Tiger to Phil and vice-versa. 

No. 6: Media

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    The media around Tiger is always crazy, much more so than any other player in the game.

    Still, aside from Augusta, where credentials and unruly fans can be screened out, the majors feature much more scrutinizing eyes. 

    At the year's first stop, when the sports world is much more interested in the Super Bowl, Tiger won't field nearly as many nagging questions about the scandal and his rebounding. And fewer fans heckling him from the gallery. 

No. 5: Health

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    It's hard to believe, but Tiger is now 35 years old. But behind the scandal and the (comparatively) poor play he showed in 2010, his health was a major issue. 

    Who knows how long that knee will hold up considering how much torque he puts on his legs for power. And last year there were some concerns about his neck, as he showed discomfort in several mid-season rounds. 

    Tiger has had some time to rest up. "I think it's nice to have an offseason where I wasn't in pain and recovering from something," he told ESPN.com's Bob Harig

    If he wins this week in San Diego, that will be a good sign that he is back. But he's only played two PGA events since early September. Six months from now, when the Tour is a real grind, will be a better litmus test.

No. 4: Swing Changes

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    The last time Tiger made a serious change to his swing was in 2004, when he replaced longtime coach Butch Harmon with Hank Haney. At the time the move was curious because Harmon was the man who coached him to utter dominance from 2000-2002. 

    But Haney rebuilt his game and Tiger returned to his routine slaying of the field from 2005-08. 

    Last May, however, Haney and Woods parted ways whatever reason

    When Haney and Woods made the decision to tweak his swing, it took over a year to see noticeable results. He failed to win a stroke play PGA event in 2004 and it was not until April 2005 that he was "back."

    Sean Foley and Woods have only been together since August. It's unlikely that things will be fully ironed out within the span of five months. 

No. 3: Recent History

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    Tiger won this event back in 2008, and it did kick start him to a fantastic half season: before knee surgery cut that year short in mid-June, he won three more events, including the Arnold Palmer and the famous US Open playoff triumph over Rocco Mediate.

    But the past two winners at Torrey Pines haven't fared nearly as well the rest of their respective seasons. 

    Nick Watney followed up as champion in February 2009, and has not won since. And he was cut from the PGA and US Open that year, to go along with a 19th at the Masters and a  27th at the British Open.

    Last year, Ben Crane took home the Buick title at Torrey Pines and he only finished in the top 10 four other times in 25 starts. He too was cut from two majors and finished 25th at Augusta and 39th at the PGA.

No. 2: The Field

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    Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

    Phil Mickelson is in the field, and so is Dustin Johnson. But, aside from Phil and Tiger, none of the world's Top 10 players will be at Torrey Pines.

    No Martin Kaymar (2nd) or Graeme McDowell (4th) who won the PGA and US Open, respectively. And the British Open champ, Louis Oosthuizen, won't be in town either. Nor will the world's top ranked player, Lee Westwood. 

    Not even Jim Furyk, Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, and Paul Casey, the remaining Top 10 players, will hit Torrey Pines this week. 

    Finishing high amongst a depleted field will not signify that Tiger has fully rehabbed his game. 

No. 1: The Farmers Insurance Open Isn't A Major

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    Much like Tiger himself, no one really cares about the regular tour stops: other than perhaps the Players or Bay Hill. Only the Masters, US Open, British Open, and PGA are important in the grand scheme of the golf season.

    So even if Tiger posts a ridiculous overall score like 25 or 30 under par for the tournament, "let's see him win a 15th major" will be the phrase that concludes the ESPN, NBC, and Golf Channel commentary. 

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