Out Of The Lair

The biggest story of the week, by far, is the return of Tiger Woods to the fray in his first outing of 2011.

The benefactors of this event are the citizen’s of the greater San Diego, California, area and specifically those citizens and golf fans attending the Farmers Insurance Open at the storied Torrey Pines Golf Course up in La Jolla. It’s storied, among other reasons, because the last time Tiger played there in 2008, he played on a broken leg and won the US Open. Throw into the mix the fact that it took a grueling 18-hole, Monday playoff with a doggedly determined Rocco Mediate, and, well, as Jim Nantz says, you have “one for the ages!”

I mean, can you imagine? He knows that something is seriously wrong with his leg, but he’s told no one. He gets through limited practice rounds and into the flow of the four days of the tournament. All the while, he must have been telling himself, “Hold on. Just get to Sunday. Once you get to Sunday, it will disappear once you’re into the round. And once it disappears it will be over. You’ll be on the other side of it.”

And then, grimacing and straining, limping to a stop and bending over to let the pain recede, he gets through it all, gets to the end, only to find out that he has to play another 18 holes. It helped that it was going to be with Rocco Mediate, but then Rocco plays the round of his life and won’t let go of Tiger until Tiger makes that clutch putt on 18 to win. To win! How did he do that! As the European players say when they are trying to acknowledge greatness, “Legend.”

The other reason Tiger likes Torrey Pines is because he won the four PGA Tour events prior to the US Open there. The place is like his own personal ATM machine.

And there is one last reason that place tugs at his heartstrings; it’s where he and his “Pops” played a lot of golf when he was a kid. Tiger so revered his father, Earl, it’s almost like Torrey Pines is a shrine to their relationship. He says he thinks of his Dad every time he plays there.

Tiger begins on the North Course tomorrow morning and he’s paired with none other than Rocco Mediate. Those Tour officials, they’re a crack-up. And the third player is the rebounding Anthony Kim, another LA kid with a long history with Tiger. They go off at 9:00 AM Pacific time on the back nine.

So to the ramparts, La Jolla! The greatest show on the PGA Tour is back!

Okay, okay. There are a couple of other guys worth mentioning.

We’d have to start with that guy, Phil. Just back from a less than satisfying tournament in Abu Dhabi, he’s at least in his own backyard and he can sleep in his own bed. And he’s surrounded by his family. His wife and kids and parents and in-laws mean everything to him. He’s already announced that when he plays Riviera in two weeks, he’s going to commute in his jet back and forth to LA each night—ninety miles as the crow flies—so that he can be with them. Let’s hope they are able to help him knock off the rust and jet lag from Abu Dhabi.

And then there’s good-hearted, easy-smiling, Jhonattan Vegas, winner of last week’s Bob Hope Classic. It’s really hard to win back-to-back on the Tour—wins take so much and take so much out of you—but with his prodigious, accurate driving and elegant putting, he could be a threat again. Particularly if Tiger’s presence takes some of the limelight off of him and he can just play.

We also have Gary Woodland who was in the playoff last week with Vegas, was impressive all week long, and has surely been giving a great deal of thought about what to do if he got close again. So close! Failure is one of life’s best teachers.

And this also marks the return of the prodigious, Dustin Johnson, to the Tour. He played in the season-opening Hyundai in Maui, but then had to withdraw from the Sony in Honolulu to go home and attend to family matters. He of the famous “bunkergate” at the PGA Championship last year, all the world is waiting to watch him soar.

And one of my favorites, Jason Gore, because he’s such a good guy and he is getting really grizzled working to get back on the Tour. He Monday qualified to get in this week and shot 65 to win it. When you are so focused that you can win a Monday qualifier with a whole bunch of other Tour players with the same idea, you’re ready to play. Watch for him this week.

But the truth of the matter is that the PGA Tour is so deep and so talented, you could throw a dart at the tee sheet blindfolded and that guy could win.

We cheer for our champions to pull it off again, but we’re never sorry to see worthy surprises proving the majesty of human beings. At its core, it’s why we watch, it’s why we play the game.

It begins tomorrow on the Golf Channel, 3:00 to 6:00 PM (Eastern), both Thursday and Friday with extended coverage on the weekend. On Saturday, it’s on The Golf Channel, 1:00 to 2:30 and switches to CBS 3:00 to 6:00. It’s the same on Sunday except the finish extends to 6:30.

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