BY DOUG FERGUSON
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Tiger Woods has played only 23 events on the PGA Tour since his last victory.
He also has gone more than four years without winning.
That shows just how much back problems have sidelined Woods since that victory in the Bridgestone Invitational in August 2013 when he was No. 1 in the world. His next comeback starts Thursday in the Farmers Insurance Open, and Woods checks in at No. 647.
There’s a reason for the ranking. This will be only his second PGA Tour event since he tied for 10th at the Wyndham Championship in August 2015, so long ago that Jon Rahm — the No. 2 player in the world — was just starting his senior year at Arizona State.
“I just really haven’t played tournament golf in, well, basically since Wyndham in 2015,” Woods said. “It’s been a long time and so I just want some starts, I want to start feeling what it feels like to be out here and hit shots, grind out scores. It’s been a full year that I’ve played on the Tour so I’m really looking forward to it.”
Different about this comeback is that Woods believes his back has been built — through fusion surgery in April — to last more than three rounds.
The interest is just as high.
The Farmers Insurance Open has 156 players, and 155 of them are sure to be practically ignored for at least two days.
“The more attention you guys have on Tiger, the better for me,” said Rahm, the defending champion at Torrey Pines. Coming off a playoff victory last week in the California desert, Rahm can reach No. 1 in the world if he were to win.
The return of Woods dwarfs everything in golf this week, including the LPGA Tour season-opener in the Bahamas and Masters champion Sergio Garcia defending his title in the Dubai Desert Classic.
Woods has tempered his own expectations because he has been away from top competition for so long. Even so, he has a strong history at Torrey Pines. Woods has won the PGA Tour event seven times , and that doesn’t include his 2008 U.S. Open victory in a 19-hole playoff over Rocco Mediate.
The most recent memories haven’t been all that great.
Woods returned to golf at Torrey Pines after a 16-month break because of two back surgeries, and he didn’t come close to making the 36-hole cut. The previous time, he withdrew after 11 holes when he said the cold morning fog that led to delays kept his glutes from activating . And the year before that, he made the cut with one shot to spare, but then shot 79 the next day to miss a 54-hole cut.
Woods, however, is more inclined to look forward. This is the start, and he already has mapped out a schedule.
“I’m just trying to build toward April,” he said. “I’m looking forward to playing a full schedule and getting ready for the Masters, and I haven’t done that in a very long time. That’s usually been my schedule and my outlook … to try to get ready for Augusta. And there’s no reason to change that.”
Rahm picked up his first pro title a year ago with a 50-foot eagle putt on the 18th hole that led to a three-shot victory. He since has won three more times around the world and is on the cusp of reaching No. 1 at age 23.
The Bahamas was the scene of Woods returning to any competition when he tied for ninth in the Hero World Challenge.
Now it’s the women’s turn.
The Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic is back on Paradise Island, where Brittany Lincicome won last year over Lexi Thompson in a playoff. The field includes Shanshan Feng of China, the No. 1 player in women’s golf who won twice late last year during the Asia Swing.
This will be as close as the LPGA gets to a domestic event for six weeks. It heads to Australia and Asia before returning to Arizona in March.
Sergio Garcia is back to defend his title in the Dubai Desert Classic , and even as the Masters champion, he might not be the star attraction.
Woods isn’t the only player on the comeback trail.
Rory McIlroy, who has fallen out of the top 10 in the world, sat out the last three months to make sure his injuries were fully healed. He tied for third last week in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and now goes to a course where he has won twice .
Dubai is for McIlroy what Torrey Pines used to be for Woods. He has never finished out of the top 10.
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