Tiger Woods may not have risen to Ian Poulter's Twitter bait earlier this week, but when he makes his seasonal bow at the Farmers Insurance Open today he will be determined to put down his rivals in a fashion they might remember as familiar. "The goal's still the same – try to beat all their butts, it hasn't changed," he said yesterday.
Except everything did change for Woods in a 2010 which he will be thrilled to have consigned to the scrapbook. Off the course, his well-chronicled affairs led to a divorce and the shared custody of his two children, while between the ropes his game imploded as he recorded his first winless campaign in 14 years as a pro.
Throw in a radical swing change under the eye of a new coach, then it is little wonder there is so much interest in his first event of a season which could easily define his career. And what makes it all the more intriguing is that Woods happens to be reappearing at the course where his dominance was most stated.
Woods has won at Torrey Pines, near San Diego, the last five times he has played it. The most recent is the most memorable. At the 2008 US Open he won with a broken leg when beating Rocco Mediate in a 19-hole Monday play-off. The organisers have inevitably partnered him with Mediate again.
As guarded as he remains, Woods seemed in confident mood. "My expectations are the same," he said. "Whatever event I enter it is to win the event. You know, it's been nice to have an off-season, where I've not been in pain, or recovering from something. Yeah, I had a cortisone shot [in December] but I was fine within a week. I haven't had an off-season like this for a long time. It was nice to practise and build. I'm excited." Mediate added: "I still think he's the best player. I don't care what the rankings say."
What the rankings do say is that he now has two players above him. Not only that, but it is the first time Woods has been ranked behind someone younger than him. Martin Kaymer, the 26-year-old from Germany, leapfrogged Woods with his victory in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.
That led to Poulter tweeting Woods directly during a question-and-answer session Tiger conducted on Tuesday. The Englishman called him "No 3" and urged Woods to engage in banter. Woods refused and when asked why yesterday did not look overly impressed. "Poults was just being Poults – he was obviously bored," said Woods. "I've obviously a few lines I could say about him. But I won't put it out there like he does with me."