(Reuters) - Tiger Woods could not wish for a better place to launch his 2014 PGA Tour campaign than at the Torrey Pines Golf Club for this week’s Farmers Insurance Open outside San Diego where he will be hunting a record eighth victory.
Not only was the picturesque venue perched above the Pacific Ocean the scene of his remarkable playoff win at the 2008 U.S. Open but the firm, fast and difficult conditions this week mirror those of six years ago.
“The greens, I haven’t seen them this firm maybe since the (2008) Open,” the defending champion told reporters on the eve of the tournament on Wednesday.
”It’s hard to imagine watching wedges, nine-irons and some of the short irons, balls bounce up as high as the top of the flagstick but that’s what was happening this morning.
“If they keep the golf course like this it’s going to be one hell of a test as the week progresses. It’s going to get really difficult to post some good numbers.”
Asked whether he liked the challenging, sun-baked conditions at Torrey Pines, the world number one smiled broadly.
”I find it good,“ said Woods. ”I‘m hitting it well. I have the option now as my swing has evolved working with (coach) Sean (Foley) that I can start elevating it again.
“Probably going to need it a little bit this week. We’re going to have to start setting some balls up, but it’s important to get the ball in the fairway. The rough is thick.”
Woods, who won last year’s Farmers Insurance Open by four shots in a fog-delayed Monday finish, has always relished competing at Torrey Pines.
“I feel comfortable here, there is no doubt,” said the 14-times major champion, who will launch his title defense on the South course, one of two layouts co-hosting this week’s event.
”It’s fantastic to be able to have had the success that I’ve had on this golf course, and not just playing here in the Tour event but also putting a stamp on it with a U.S. Open win.
“That was a very special week, especially considering the circumstances, the things that I had to kind of go through to get to that point.”
Woods won the 2008 U.S. Open in a playoff with fellow American Rocco Mediate, sealing victory at the 91st hole despite having suffered a double stress fracture in his left shinbone two weeks.
He has not landed another major title since then but, at the age of 38, believes he has enough time to pile up the additional five he needs to overhaul the record total set by Jack Nicklaus.
“All I know is that I‘m still in I feel my peak years, I‘m still playing well,” he said.
”There have been a number of guys who have gone on even in their early 40s to win major championships.
”Mark (O‘Meara in 1998) did it, he’s the oldest one to do it, to win multiples in the same year. Jack won in his 40s, (Ben) Hogan won multiples in his 40s, actually 38 and above.
“I feel like I’ve got a number of years ahead of me and I‘m really looking forward to that.”
This week, Woods will attempt to win his 80th PGA Tour title with only Sam Snead (82) ahead of him in the all-time standings.
However, he faces a strong field that includes three-times champion Phil Mickelson, Australian world number 10 Jason Day, England’s Ian Poulter and Americans Brandt Snedeker and Jordan Spieth, the 2013 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year.
Also playing is England’s former world number one Lee Westwood, who is back at the event for the first time since 2004 but finished third in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.
“I forgot how beautiful a spot it was and my memory didn’t do it justice,” said Westwood. “I‘m looking forward to this week. It’s a good golf course for me this week.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Julian Linden