Tiger Returns to Pebble Beach

Tiger Woods is playing again in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. The $6.4 million PGA Tour event, fondly called the "Crosby Clambake" after its late founder, Bing Crosby, starts Thursday on California's Monterey Peninsula.

As per tradition, the tournament will use multiple courses. The sites include Pebble Beach Golf Links, Spyglass Hill and the South course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club, which in 2010 replaced Poppy Hills in the rotation.

Woods will be paired with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo in the pro-am portion of the 72-hole tournament for the first three rounds; each of the above courses will be played by the two-person pro-am teams over the initial 54 holes, with the low teams making Sunday's cut at Pebble Beach.

Last year's pro-am winners, D.A. Points - who also won the tournament by two strokes over fellow pro Hunter Mahan - and actor-comedian Bill Murray will return to defend their title.

Murray didn't initially respond to Points' call to confirm a reprise of last year's successful tournament. After Points followed up with a text message, Murray - who has played in the event for years - answered, "Gee, I didn't think you'd be so emotional. Of course we're playing together. I didn't think there was a chance we weren't."

Woods said he's excited to be playing with Romo, a natural athlete who carries a near-scratch handicap. "He's been calling me quite a bit, sending me video of his golf swing, 'What can I do, what can I do?' " Woods told reporters Tuesday. "He's competitive and he's been grinding hard. It's been cool to see.

"He's one of those gifted athletes that whatever he picks up, he can do," Woods added. "He understands how to play and on top of that he can really move the ball."

Woods, who ranks second behind Jack Nicklaus on the all-time list with 14 major titles, has finally overcome the physical issues that plagued him for the past two years. His improved health showed when he won the limited-field Chevron World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club in early December. And just last month he finished two strokes behind winner Robert Rock in the European Tour's Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

The secret to his improved play is that instead of spending hours rehabbing difficult leg injuries he's been able to do golf-specific exercises. "I've been able to train again," Woods said. "Rehabbing and training are two totally different scenarios. I've been rehabbing pretty much the entire last couple of years, and I haven't been able to train. I've made huge progress there, hence I'm able to so the things (instructor) Sean (Foley) wants me to do with my golf swing."

Woods has observed a noticeable improvement since playing in last October's Frys.com Open, where he finished tied for 30th at 7-under 277. "For a long time there, there was always some kind of limited ball counts or I had to get back to treatment, I had to do icing . . . all those monotonous things just to tee it up and be able to do it again the next day," he said.

"That's no longer the case. That's one of the reasons I've made such huge progress since the Frys. My body's feeling explosive. Consequently, I'm hitting the ball farther."

Woods, now 36, recognizes that he's not as young as when he took the golf world by storm in the mid-1990s. "Yeah, there's no doubt,'' he said of the aging process. "It is what it is. I don't recover quite as well. I know that I'm sore quite often, just about every day when I'm playing with my kids.

"They're not very tall yet, and bending down there and playing with them and building things, that's pretty low to the ground. So I do get sore. I don't ever remember being like that.

"I appreciate being healthy more," he added. "When we're all younger, we feel more bulletproof or invulnerable, in a sense, because we heal so much faster. That's no longer the case. The more you age, the longer it takes to heal, so you try not to get hurt. But there are also ways of training. I'm training way better now than I did then."

He also understands that virtually all players today are fitter than when he started on the PGA Tour. "When I first came out here, I was the only guy in the gym . . . nobody else," he said. "Then it was Vijay (Singh). Now, everybody's in the gym. Everybody has their own personal trainer who travels with them or they have a program that they follow.

"The game is way more athletic. We're getting guys who grew up doing other sports who are transitioning to golf. One day we're going to get a guy who's like a Bo Jackson or Michael Jordan, they'll be that explosive and that good, but decide to play golf.

"We have a pretty darned good athlete out here in D.J. (Dustin Johnson) who can dunk the ball," Woods added. "But what happens when you get one of those truly superior athletes who decides to play golf, devote himself and has the mental aspects and acuity to play. That's when it's going to be cool to see.

"I'll be shrimping it down the fairway doing it a different way. I'll be the Corey Pavin of my generation," he joked. "But the cool thing about the game is you can play it so many different ways. You don't have to be a power player. You can hit it shorter and still get the ball in the hole. You just have to be more efficient."

Tee times will be posted for the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on Wednesday. For Woods' and the other starting times, visit http://www.pgatour.com/tournaments/r478/tee-times.html.