Torrey Pines perfect setting for Tiger's return
Tiger Woods could not have hand-picked a better place to launch his 2011 US PGA Tour campaign than Torrey Pines for this week's Farmers Insurance Open where he will be seeking a record seventh victory.
The picturesque venue which hugs the bluffs above the Pacific Ocean is one of his favorite hunting grounds and was the scene of his remarkable playoff win at the 2008 US. Open.
Woods has not been back to Torrey Pines since clinching his 14th and most recent Major title and he will be eager to start this year on a good note to bury memories of a winless 2010 season.
Rocco Mediate, who lost to Woods in a thrilling 19-hole playoff for the 2008 US Open, has no doubt that his fellow American will return to his best.
"You have to assume that he's going to come out ready to go this year, and play good," Mediate said. "You have to assume that just knowing him.
"He's tired of seeing what he's seeing. He'll fix it. He'll definitely fix it. He's not going away. I still think he's the best player. I don't care what the rankings say."
Woods, who enjoyed more than five years as world number one before being deposed in November, has slipped to third in the rankings behind Britain's Lee Westwood and Germany's Martin Kaymer.
The American spent much of last year unsuccessfully trying to repair his marriage and also undergoing the fourth swing change of his career.
Having been engulfed by a sex scandal at the end of 2009, he finished the 2010 US PGA Tour season without a title for the first time since he turned professional in 1996.
However, since Woods joined forces with Canadian swing coach Sean Foley after the PGA Championship in August, his form has steadily improved.
"There is no way Tiger will stay where he is," said Mediate, who has been grouped with Woods and talented young American Anthony Kim for the first two rounds at Torrey Pines.
"If he starts driving his ball straight, he'll beat Jack's record," Mediate added, referring to the record 18 Majors won by Jack Nicklaus. "You can't stop him (winning) if he drives on the fairway, you can't stop him."
Ben Crane, who clinched last year's title at Torrey Pines by a shot after sinking three lengthy birdie putts in the final round, was delighted to see Woods back at the event.
"It's awesome having him here," said American Crane. "This is, if not his favourite course, definitely one of them. It definitely brings a level of credibility and excitement."
Asked about his own prospects of recording back-to-back wins at Torrey Pines, Crane replied: "I'm thinking about it casually here, but I'm not really expecting a lot this week.
"What are the chances that someone actually defends their title when they're not Tiger Woods? It doesn't happen very often."
Woods and sixth-ranked Phil Mickelson, a three-times winner at Torrey Pines, head a strong field which also includes former Major winners Angel Cabrera of Argentina and Americans Lucas Glover and Stewart Cink.
Also competing is Venezuelan rookie Jhonattan Vegas who won his first PGA Tour title in only his fifth start with a stunning playoff victory at the Bob Hope Classic on Sunday.
The Farmers Insurance Open, played on both the South and North layouts at Torrey Pines, starts on Thursday.