February 07, 2012

After decade away, Tiger returns to Pebble Beach

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — For the first time in 10 years, Tiger Woods has returned to the famed Monterey Peninsula to compete in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. He arrived Monday in time to play a practice round with good friend Arjun Atwal and Brendon Todd at Spyglass Hill — one of three courses used in the tournament — and has never seen the greens so firm.

“I don’t think I’ve ever played it this dry and fast,” Woods said Tuesday. “It was nice. It was really nice.”

That’s because Spyglass, Monterey Peninsula Country Club and Pebble Beach Golf Links are often soggy this time of the year. That isn’t the case in 2012, where rain has been almost non-existent for months and area courses are in great shape. Light rain fell Tuesday, but the forecast is good, assuring big crowds and plenty of excitement.

Woods has good history at Pebble Beach, having won the 2000 AT&T Pro-Am and the U.S. Open, the latter by a record-breaking 15 strokes. Schedule conflicts have hindered him from playing in this event in recent years, but he’s thrilled to make his 2012 PGA Tour debut here.

“This time, it fits perfectly in my schedule,” he said. “So, I’m excited to be back.”

Two weeks ago, Woods began his new year in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and tied for third. He essentially picked up where he left off last year, when he closed 2011 by winning the World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif., his first victory in more than two years.

“I feel very at peace where I’m at,” Woods said. “I had to make some changes and that took time, and I’m starting to see the results of that now, which is great. My last four events I’ve really played well. So I’m just building on that. Everything’s headed in the right direction.”

Caddie Joe LaCava has been smiling all week. A huge fan of the New York Giants, he attended the Super Bowl in Indianapolis, stayed up most of the night and still made it to Spyglass Hill on Monday afternoon to carry Tiger’s bag.

Woods will play in the pro-am portion of the tournament this week with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, a scratch player who has tried to qualify for the U.S. Open and has professional ambitions.

“He understands how to play,” said Woods. “And on top of that, he can really move the ball. All the athletes that I’ve played with, especially baseball players, the majority of hockey players, they can all move the golf ball. They just have so much more power than we, as golfers, do because of the type of training and size that they have. It’s cool to see.”

Woods disclosed that tournament officials considered assigning Romo a plus-3 handicap, meaning he would have to earn every birdie he makes naturally. Woods called it “BS.”

“He’s playing from the up [amateur] tees this week, which will be fun,” Woods said. “That will be good for us. But I mean, he’s a scratch. I play scratch every tournament.”

Woods said Romo has been working hard on his game.

“He’s competitive, and he’s been grinding hard,” Woods said. “He’s been calling me quite a bit. Sending me video of his golf swing, what I can do, blah, blah, blah. He loves it, so that’s going to be fun for us to go out there and tee it up together.”

Romo can expect good-natured ribbing from LaCava.

“What do you think?” Woods said. “Yeah, uh huh.”

After enduring injuries the last two years, Woods appreciates the game more, but not for the reason you might think.

“It’s more fun now than it used to be because now my kids are at an age where they want to see daddy on TV,” he said. “‘Daddy, you’re going to a golf tournament, are you going to be on TV?’ And I said, ‘Well, I have to play well.’ ‘Well, daddy, can you please play well?’ I get more satisfaction out of that part of my life now, so golf’s more enjoyable than it used to be, for sure.”

The tournament is a homecoming of sorts, as Woods attended Stanford University about 90 minutes north of Pebble Beach. He expects to see some old friends this week.

“I know the team’s coming down,” Woods said. “So it will be fun to see some of the guys and old college friends that are still the Bay Area.”

Woods and Romo will begin first-round play Thursday with Arjun Atwal and Danny Lane on the 10th tee at Spyglass Hill at 1:01 p.m. ET.