Buzz builds for Tiger's Torrey Pines return
La Jolla (United States) (AFP)
All eyes are on Tiger Woods this week as the former world number one returns to the US PGA Tour at the Farmers Insurance Open, and that's just the way defending champion Jon Rahm likes it.
"The more attention on Tiger, the better for me, quite frankly," Rahm said Tuesday. "We all know the power of media and social media. You can put all the attention on what Tiger's doing and forget about what I'm doing, it will be actually great."
Expectations surrounding Rahm have ratcheted up thanks to his playoff triumph on Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge in La Quinta, California.
The 23-year-old Spaniard jumped from third to second in the world rankings, supplanting US star Jordan Spieth.
A winner of two European Tour events in 2017 as well, Rahm is even within striking distance of Dustin Johnson's world number one ranking.
"Hopefully I keep playing good and give you guys something to talk about," Rahm said. "But it's not bad that the attention's on Tiger. It's good for golf, it's good for all of us."
Woods was on the Torrey Pines South Course on Tuesday, playing nine holes with Australian Jason Day and Bryson DeChambeau.
"I'm hitting a lot of golf balls and building up my endurance," the 42-year-old superstar told ESPN. "You have to do it. You have to beat balls for a little bit of time to build up your endurance and muscles. I feel like I've done that and now it's time to play a tournament."
Woods hasn't played a US PGA Tour event since missing the cut at Torrey Pines last year, when he was returning from an 18-month absence.
That comeback was cut short by recurring back pain that led to spinal fusion surgery and another 10 months away from competition.
He made an encouraging return at the unofficial Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas in December, where he finished ninth in a field of 18 and said he was finally playing without pain.
- Tough Torrey test -
Torrey Pines will offer a much tougher test, but Woods has plenty of success to draw on at the course hugging the Pacific Ocean north of San Diego.
He's won the US PGA Tour tournament at Torrey seven times, and he won the 2008 US Open in a playoff over Rocco Mediate despite playing with a damaged ligament in his left knee and two stress fractures.
That was Woods' 14th and most recent major title. Not only did his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 majors stall, Woods admitted that there were times he wondered if he would resume his career at all.
His performance in the Bahamas, however, raised hopes that Woods -- whose 79 career PGA Tour wins are three shy of Sam Snead's all-time record -- could contend again.
A raft of young stars who were inspired by Woods are now hoping to get a crack at their one-time idol in crunch-time of a tournament.
That includes Rahm.
"I think a lot of us dreamt about having the opportunity to maybe walk the back nine with Tiger in contention and have a battle hand to hand," he said. "I hope it happens for somebody. I hope I'm the one, and quite truly I hope I come out on top if it happens."
© 2018 AFP