Tiger Woods 'refreshed mentally' for 2019 season debut at Torrey Pines

NASSAU, BAHAMAS - NOVEMBER 30: Tiger Woods of the United States catches his ball on the eighth hole during the second round of the 2018 Hero World Challenge at Albany Bahamas on November 30, 2018 in Nassau, Bahamas. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images) David Cannon/Getty Images

Tiger Woods 'refreshed mentally' for 2019 season debut at Torrey Pines

PGA Tour

Tiger Woods 'refreshed mentally' for 2019 season debut at Torrey Pines

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SAN DIEGO – A full moon still lingered over Torrey Pines and it was cold enough for Tiger Woods’ caddie, Joe LaCava, to throw a winter hat on before the two made their way to the first tee of the North Course for Wednesday’s Farmers Insurance Open pro-am.

Woods stepped up and smoked a drive down the middle of the fairway – keep in mind it was 6:40 a.m. – then hit his approach shot to about 8 feet.

Everything changes once Woods gets going for real at 1:40 p.m. EST Thursday with Xander Schauffele and Tony Finau. The work he’s put in over the past two months will be tested under tournament pressure. But the fact that he looked so loose right out of the gate indicates the swing is in a good place as Woods gets ready for his 2019 debut. Doesn’t hurt that he’s won eight times at this course, either.

Physically, everything looks good. And his demeanor is totally different than it was four months ago at the Ryder Cup, where he willed himself to the finish line of a grueling FedEx Cup Playoffs run capped with the Tour Championship win.

“I’m sure that working hard at it in the gym the last couple months might lead to more energy, but I think in general he’s more refreshed mentally than anything,” LaCava said.

LaCava traveled to Woods’ house in Jupiter, Fla. last Thursday and stayed there until the team left for San Diego Monday night. Woods is playing with new TaylorMade clubs this week, so LaCava has to keep an eye on yardages. It looks like those numbers haven’t changed with updated irons, but he’ll continue to monitor the situation in different weather conditions.

It had been two months since LaCava last saw Woods swing a club, at the Hero World Challenge, and his initial impressions from the first range session in Jupiter were positive.

“Considering all the layoff, it looked pretty solid,” LaCava said. “He was hitting it well. Looked pretty tight with everything. I don’t want to say I was pleasantly surprised, but I was happy with the way he looked and felt.”

The same held true Wednesday morning as Woods played his first full round this week. He squeezed in 10 holes with Jordan Spieth at the South Course Tuesday, where he’ll play Thursday’s Round 1 before heading back to the North Course Friday.

Woods hit roughly 10 of 14 fairways and 12 of 18 greens, and got in a groove mid-round, making a long birdie try at the par-3 eighth and chipping to tap-in range for an easy birdie at the par-5 10th.

He paced the fairways with a full tank of gas in his step, something LaCava picked up on right away.

“I can just tell by the way he’s walking he feels good. That’s my telltale sign,” LaCava said. “I don’t like to ask him since he gets asked that question all the time. But I can see from even non-golf activities if he’s feeling decent.”

Woods spent a lot of time working on conditioning and new equipment in the offseason. But, having turned 43 in December, there were days when he had to be smart considering everything that’s on the table this season.

“I’ve worked to give my body the best chance to do my job, but also there are days when I just don’t practice and I don’t train,” Woods said. “Those are the days I’ve just got to rest. That’s probably been one of the lessons I’ve learned through all of this is there are days where I just have to shut it down and just not do anything and relax. That’s been hard because most of my career’s been spent on, in order to get better, I’ve got to work at it.”

Whatever he’s done to get better with the driver seems to be working. Woods practices hitting it both ways now with a new TaylorMade M5 driver, but it’s a tighter ball flight. We’ve seen draws and fades this week, but there’s less side-to-side action. Every swing has purpose and he’s finding a lot of fairways, building on what he was doing last fall.

Surely there will be outcries for more 3-woods off the tee the first time Woods misses a fairway this week, but that’s entirely missing the fact that his driver was a big strength down the stretch in 2018.

Woods hit driver almost exclusively off the tee Wednesday and will likely continue to do so throughout the week.

“That North Course has become a beast, so you’re gonna hit more drivers over there and certainly hit a ton over on the South Course, so the majority of the holes will be driver. A couple 3-wood shots potentially, but for the most part it’s driver.”

The sun was beating down and sweaters had long since been removed by the time Woods and crew finished up the round, which was just shy of five hours.

The pieces are all in place now. Woods appears upbeat and refreshed, with a clear plan entering his first tournament of the season.

All that’s left to do is test it under the gun Thursday and strap in. If this season is anything like Woods’ 2018 comeback campaign, it’s gonna be a wild ride.

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