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It's showtime for Tiger Woods

After a tumultuous and winless 2010, the former No. 1 golfer hopes to get back on course, beginning this week at one of his favorite places, Torrey Pines.

January 26, 2011|By Diane Pucin
  • Tiger Woods says he's looking forward to 2011 after going winless last year.
Tiger Woods says he's looking forward to 2011 after going winless… (Donald Miralle / Getty Images )

Reporting from La Jolla — Tigers Woods has a thinner waist, an easier smile, an active Twitter account and a pop in his golf swing.

Whether that all translates into an immediate win for the world's third-ranked golfer will be more evident some time Thursday afternoon after Woods plays his first real golf of the year in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. He tees off at 9 a.m. on the 10th tee of the North Course with Rocco Mediate and Anthony Kim.

But Woods came to talk Wednesday before playing a pro-am round and was relaxed.

"This year I feel great," he told reporters. "It's great to be back. I feel more fresh. I had a chance to train and get ready and practice and prepare, so I'm looking forward to the season."

He was even able to joke about the way golfer Ian Poulter refers to him on Twitter.

It used to be No. 1 and then No. 2. Now it's No. 3 because that's where Woods is ranked — his lowest ranking since October of 2004.

"I'm having fun with it," Woods said, referring to Twitter. "It's a way for me to connect with the fans on a different level. I don't tweet as much as Poults does. I'm still getting the hang of it a little bit, but bear with me."

Woods is still getting the hang of his golf game too.

His focus was shattered last season amid a much-publicized divorce brought on by his extramarital affairs. For months he was more tabloid fodder than sports fodder.

The result on the course was forgettable: his first winless season on the PGA Tour and an abrupt halt to his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' revered record of 18 major tournament wins. Woods, already 35, remains stuck at 14.

But it isn't only Woods who wants to see his golf game reinvigorated and his winning restarted.

The PGA's television contracts are up for renewal in 2012, and according to the Nielsen Co., golf's television ratings were down about 30% last year when Woods appeared in only eight events carried on NBC and CBS.

Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem didn't hide the fact that having Woods succeed would help.

"Having him return to his competitive level that he enjoyed for 14, 15 years has a positive effect," Finchem said. "Tiger out for a big chunk of the first part of the year and then not playing at his normal level had an effect on our ratings."

There was another downside for Woods.

Because he finished 68th on the money list last year instead of his accustomed first place, he didn't get his first choice of pro-am tee times Wednesday. He had to wait until 11 a.m. and spend more time on the course waiting for the amateurs to locate lost balls.

But he was able to make a joke about losing his privilege. "I got to sleep in a little bit," he said. "I did get up at 3:30 this morning not knowing what to do."

Woods did speak with optimism about his game.

In particular, he pointed to one shot at his own tournament last December, the Chevron World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club, that made him eager for this new season.

"I think the whole year last year, golf-wise, came down to one golf shot and that's what I'm so proud of," Woods said. "The 72nd hole of Chevron, that's what I'm so proud of. "I needed to hit the eight-iron with that kind of shot and I pulled it off. Under the most intense pressure I hit the shot I needed to hit when I needed to hit it.

"Even though I lost the four-shot lead, as far as my golf swing goes, that one was it. It was cool because I needed to hit that fade. I needed to hit the eight-iron flush. I needed to hit it through the wind. I did all those things and hit it to 2 1/2 feet. Those are fun moments."

Phil Mickelson, whose gallery Wednesday for the pro-am rivaled the 400 or so fans who followed Woods, said he expects to see Woods on the leaderboards this season.

"I saw his game getting back to where it was," Mickelson said. "His speed was back up. He was hitting it long, his touch was coming back and I expect he'll be the Tiger we've known for over a decade. Unfortunately."

Mediate, who will have an up-close look at Woods' game Thursday and Friday, also expects Woods to be a contender again. And quickly.

"My opinion," Mediate said, "if he starts driving his ball where he's looking, the game is over. If you put him in the fairway, as good as he putts, as good as his short game is, good luck. If he can get the ball on the fairway, Tiger will become Tiger again."

In his professional career Woods has won at Torrey Pines seven times, including at the 2008 U.S. Open, when he battled on a broken leg through 19 extra holes before beating Mediate.

Since then his life has been full of turmoil — physical and emotional. He has had operations on his knee and the public flogging of his personal reputation.

Now, Woods said, his mind is uncluttered and that is helping his game.

"I think in order to play at a high level," Woods said, "it helps to have a clear mind. I've played at the high levels before without a clear mind, but it helps to be consistent. It helps having your life in balance.

"Certainly my life is much more balanced than it was."

diane.pucin@latimes.com

mepucin/twitter.com

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