Tiger Woods speaks to the media on Wednesday. Photo by Barry Jagoda

San Diego’s world famous golf tournament, the Farmers Insurance Open, is back, with good weather and huge crowds expected at Torrey Pines Golf Course for Thursday’s start.

The game’s most compelling star, Tiger Woods, now 44 years old, tees off Thursday morning at 9:40 a.m. on Torrey’s North Course, returning to the hallowed ground where, as a boy, he got his championship start more than 30 years ago.

The difference between then and now was revealed candidly and dramatically when Woods spoke at a pre-tournament briefing for reporters late Tuesday.

“If you and I wanted to go play golf, I couldn’t do it without getting worked on, stretching out, without loosening up everything,” Woods said.

“I don’t have the ability to hit the ball as far as I used to,” he said. And, he admitted, “At the end of the day it is how many mistakes you can eliminate through a round.”

The pressures are not only physical but deeply psychological. Woods said he had not touched a club in several months, except for a birthday game with his son. “I just wanted to get away from it. I was a little bit fried physically, mentally, emotionally and just wanted it all to end.”

For many amateurs who love to play the game, but who this week will be spectators, there is a chance to see changes to Torrey’s South Course, now made even more challenging and difficult–lengthened for next year’s U.S. Open. That major tournament will return to San Diego since it was last staged here in 2008. But, as for Woods, many in the older crowd who still try to play the sport find their bodies resist.

And, as Woods begins this year’s competitive golf tour, the stakes are enormous for him, watched closely by golf’s millions of fans. Can he win one more tournament this year—for a career total of 82, more than any other star—and can he win another major victory (there are four majors each year) on the road to climb above Jack Nicklaus, his predecessor as the game’s greatest?

Three local players—also among the game’s great stars—will be in the running for tournament laurels and playing together starting Thursday on the South Course.  Beginning at 10:40, huge crowds will turn out to watch Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Xander Schauffele.

Ten minutes earlier, at 10:30, a group with the Tournament’s returning champ, Justin Rose from England, will start with Australia’s Jason Day and Jordan Spieth from Dallas. Asked about returning to Torrey Pines, Spieth spoke for many, saying, “It feels good. This place is so beautiful. It’s a nice peaceful place to start the season.”

Barry Jagoda was an award-winning journalist at NBC News and CBS News, who later served in the White House as an assistant for President Jimmy Carter.

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