Tiger Returns to Familiar Turf

Tiger Woods will be making his 2011 season debut this week at the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego. The $5.8 million PGA Tour stop tees off Thursday at Torrey Pines, a place where Woods has enjoyed remarkable success over the years.

Woods has won seven tournaments (including six in this event and eight overall if you count his victory in the 1991 Junior World Championships) at the municipal course, with his most recent also his latest major title, the 2008 U.S. Open against Rocco Mediate in a playoff.

Much has changed since then for the erstwhile No. 1-ranked player in the world. After enduring ligament damage to his knee and seeing his personal life unraveled by a sex scandal at the end of 2009, he went winless in 2010 for the first time in his 14-year career and, in late October, lost his long-held No. 1 position in the World Golf Rankings to England's Lee Westwood. Not only that, but German Martin Kaymer's win in Abu Dhabi last weekend moved Woods down to third in the rankings behind the two Europeans.

Woods has prepared for 2011 by polishing his swing with instructor Sean Foley, with whom Woods began working last August in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.

Observers are rightfully sensing that Woods is chomping at the bit to return to tournament play. "I'm really looking forward to competing," Woods said on his website. "I've been working hard on my game, and I'm excited about 2011."

He's also in a better place now that his work with Foley is taking root. "I feel a lot more comfortable about the changes we have made," Woods said.

After he tied for 28th in last year's PGA Championship, Woods recorded a tie for 12th at The Barclays, had a T-11 at the Deutsche Bank Championship, T-15 in the BMW Championship, T-6 in the WGC-HSBC Champions, finished fourth at the JBWere Masters and, in his last tournament, was runner-up to U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell in the Chevron World Challenge after he surrendered a four-stroke lead entering the final round.

"Hopefully, my good play at the end of last year will carry over," he said on his website.

What better place for Woods to return to form than the North course at Torrey Pines? "Torrey Pines is a very special place to me," Woods told FOXSports.com's Robert Lusetich in an email.

"It's a place my Pop took me to watch golf, and it's a course that we later played often together," he said in reference to his late father, Earl Woods. "I think of my Pop every day, but I have very distinct memories here."

Though some have written Woods off because of his loss at Sherwood Country Club to McDowell, Foley told Lusetich such thoughts are premature (http://msn.foxsports.com/golf/story/Tiger-Woods-Torrey-Pines-a-perfect-comeback-combination-012111). The instructor said that Woods was still getting comfortable with his new swing at year's end.

"What I remember about that final round is that when Tiger really needed to hit the shots, on 18 and again in the playoff, he hit them," Foley said. "What you had was Graeme capping off a Cinderella story of a year by making back-to-back 30-footers. I mean, how often is that going to happen?"

Another member of Woods's camp, long-time caddie Steve Williams, also believes his boss is ready to go. "I can tell you he's motivated," Williams told Lusetich. "He took a lot of pride in where he'd gotten in golf and he's determined to get back to the top.

"To get back to winning you have to play spectacular golf on Sundays coming down the stretch," Williams added. "Tiger did that for a lot of years. The challenge now is to go and do it again."

Woods is going to be part of a stellar field at Torrey Pines, one that includes long-time rival and reigning Masters' champion Phil Mickelson.

Also slated to play are former major winners Lucas Glover, Stewart Cink, Y.E. Yang, Mike Weir, Vijay Singh, David Duval, John Daly, Ben Curtis, Angel Cabrera, and newly appointed U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III.

Others include up-and-comers Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Australia's Michael Sim, Anthony Kim, Hunter Mahan, Bill Haas and Venezuelan Jhonattan Vegas, who burst onto the international scene with a thrilling sudden-death victory on Sunday in the Bob Hope Classic.

The golf world has changed a bit since Woods dominated the game. Most notably, the power has shifted from America to Europe, which now boasts six of the top-10 players in the world. The year 2011 could be a watershed period for Woods, who once was thought to be a shoo-in to overtake Jack Nicklaus and his all-time mark of 18 major titles.

It will be interesting to see if Woods can work his way back to the winner's circle. If that happens this weekend at Torrey Pines, he certainly won't get lost finding it.