SAN DIEGO — Tiger Woods is feeling stronger than ever with his fused back, and the evidence goes beyond the speed of his swing or how hard he can go after a shot out of deep rough.
Woods says he is diving again.
He says he was doing free dives and spearfishing during his time off, and even went diving with a tank, which he had not done in years.
"I just can't afford to have that weight on my back and compressing my disk, and my disk was already screwed up," said Woods, who had fusion surgery in April 2017. "So whenever you put any weight on it, it made it worse. I (hadn't) tank dove in years, and to be able to do that again, to be able to get in the water and free drive, put the fins on and load the body up and drop down like that ... that was something I truly missed. I love being in the water."
Woods has been certified as a master diver, according to the National Association of Underwater Instructors.
Long before surgeries on his knee and his lower back, he once regaled Darren Clarke and Thomas Bjorn about his diving adventures. Years ago, he was explaining to Clarke that it was best to witness ocean life without a regulator because bubbles can scare off the fish. The flip side, Woods told them, was that more sharks are apt to come around. This got Bjorn's attention.
"Just be careful down there," Bjorn told him. "Our future earnings depend on you."
Three weeks into the year on the PGA Tour, one new rule might be put to the test on the greens at Torrey Pines.
And it has nothing to do with leaving the flagstick in the cup.
Rules 13.1c allows players to repair damage on the putting green to restore it as nearly as possible to its original condition. That includes fixing ball marks, scrapes and indentations caused by equipment or the flagstick and shoe damage.
It wasn't an issue on the Bermuda greens of Hawaii or the overseed in the California desert. But Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach and Riviera have poa annua greens, which can get bumpy in the soft conditions of California in the winter.
One of the questions that arose was just how much damage players can repair, without creating a line to the hole.
"At Kapalua, I fixed ball marks, but I was only tapping them down because it was Bermuda," Xander Schauffele said. "Out here, you might do a little more than a simple tap down. ... This place, late in the day, it feels like you're playing a game of Plinko."
Schauffele was quick to note one part of the new rule: Damage can be repaired without unusual delay.
"It could, depending on how these players take the rule to heart ... if you're trying to fix a 40-foot putt, it's going to be tricky with pace of play," Schauffele said. "Rules officials will be on us. The time clock hasn't changed. If you want to spend 35 seconds tapping down the line, you're going to have to pull the trigger in less than what you normally do."
Jason Day, a two-time winner at Torrey Pines, doesn't think it will be an issue. His only experience this year was at Kapalua, which featured only a 33-man field.
"Before the rule was changed, you would have maybe two or three times a year where you're like, 'Oh, there's a spike mark there in front of your ball,' so you just kind of worry about the spike mark," Day said. "I don't necessarily think you're going to be tapping it the whole way and trying to make a line. I think there's going to be a few taps. Other than that, I think they're going to putt. I don't necessarily think it's going to be a time-consuming thing."
NO PHIL AT TORREY
Torrey Pines has Tiger Woods in the field, along with an inaugural appearance by Rory McIlroy and the return of Jordan Spieth for the first time since 2015.
Missing will be Phil Mickelson, who said last week he would skip his hometown tournament for the first time in 28 years. Mickelson is a two-time winner, but not since the South Course was overhauled by Rees Jones ahead of the 2008 U.S. Open.
"That's one of the hardest courses we play," Mickelson said last week. "It's 7,600 yards, the fairways are tight, there's a lot of rough and unless I'm playing my absolute best, that's not really a great place for me."
In the last 10 years, Mickelson has only one top-10 finish, when he was runner-up in 2011. He missed the cut three times and withdrew another year. He said in a tweet that he will "try to make it up to the great community of SD!"
He gave early indications in October when he said there would be some tournaments he misses "that people will be upset about, but I'm not going to worry about it."
He also said he would not be playing the Genesis Open at Riviera, where he won in 2008 and 2009 and finished four shots behind last year.
AUGUSTA NATIONAL WOMEN
Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand was the low amateur at the ANA Inspiration last year, the first major on the LPGA Tour schedule, with a 5-under 283 that tied for 30th along with Michelle Wie and Cristie Kerr.
This year, she'll be at the Augusta National Women's Amateur.
Atthaya, NCAA champion Jennifer Kupcho of Wake Forest and former Junior PGA champion Lucy Li were among 66 players who have accepted spots in the inaugural Augusta National Women's Amateur this year. Six spots remain for the 72-player field.
The opening two rounds of the 54-hole event will be April 3-4 at Champions Treat Golf Club, with a cut to 30 players after 36 holes. One day of practice at Augusta National has been set aside for April 5, followed by the final round at the home of the Masters.
"Receiving an invitation to the Augusta National Women's Amateur is representative of a remarkable amateur career, and so much more," Masters and club chairman Fred Ridley said.
The tournament is the same week as the LPGA major, which typically invites leading amateurs.
The 66 players who have confirmed invitations to Augusta include eight of the 16 players from last year's Junior Ryder Cup team, along with Ladies British Open Amateur champion Leonie Harm of Germany.
Atthaya was exempt as the Women's Amateur Asia-Pacific champion.
The Latin America Amateur Championship moves next year to El Camaleon Golf Club at Mayakoba in Mexico, site of a PGA Tour event. ... The Evian Championship is creating a special exemption for the winner of the Women's Amateur Asia-Pacific. The winner also is exempt into the Women's British Open. ... Ken Tanigawa has been voted as the PGA Tour Champions rookie of the year. The Jack Nicklaus Award for player of the year went to Bernhard Langer for the fifth straight year, and the eighth time since the German turned 50. ... Rickie Fowler has signed an endorsement deal to play the TaylorMade Golf ball this year. He had been with Titleist.
STAT OF THE WEEK
Phil Mickelson has held the 54-hole lead four times in the last six years. His only victory from ahead was the Phoenix Open in 2013.
"Ten years longer than you've been alive." — Tiger Woods to Jordan Spieth, who asked him how long he has been coming to Torrey Pines.