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'There's no pain': Tiger Woods begins PGA Tour comeback at Farmers Insurance Open

Tiger Woods lines up a putt on the third green at Valhalla Golf Club, on the second day of the PGA Championship in Louisville, Ky., Aug. 8, 2014. Woods shot a three-over 74 on Thursday and fared little better on a rainy second day at the course where he won the PGA title in 2000. (Luke Sharrett/The New York Times Copyright 2018 / New York Times)

SAN DIEGO - As the phrases "fused vertebrae" and "L5-S1" might tumble from mouths and ride the air out onto the Pacific, Tiger Woods sets to begin again on Thursday. He returns to the PGA Tour for the first time in 12 months and the second event in 29. Tee time will come at 1:40 p.m. ET, and it will come alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.

It will come at the Farmers Insurance Open, where it also came as Woods' only PGA Tour appearance of 2017. In that case, he reached the 12th tee at 1-under par, then played the ensuing six holes with four bogeys and a double bogey, one of history's most timeworn paths to a 76. He followed Friday with 72, missed the cut and said to reporters, in the common parlance of golfers seeking self-reassurance, "I hit a lot of beautiful putts that didn't go in."

From there to a fourth back surgery - L5-S1 vertebrae-fusion, April 2017 - to here, Woods, 42, looked spry and happy on Wednesday, hugging some reporters and others, raising his arms in mock triumph at the completion of a phalanx of interviews, patting a security guard jokingly on the backside as he boarded a cart and saying things that did sound freshly encouraging rather than stale.

Example: "It feels good to go out there and practice, it feels good to not have a burning sensation going down my leg into my foot or collapse when I'm walking, things of that nature."

Example: "My surgeon, you know, he said from the get-go, once it's fused, you'll have - you'll have speed like you did back in your early 30s."

Example: "And he's right because there's no pain, I'm not flinching. It doesn't hurt as I take the club back. It doesn't hurt right before impact. It doesn't hurt after impact. It doesn't hurt when I walk."

While he also stated, atypically for this winner of that colossal number (14) of major tournaments, that he must tweak his expectations as he navigates rustiness, he has come to Torrey Pines. Among the large placards greeting fans on the way into the course, the Woods placard tells of his seven wins at this event: 1999, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2013. June will bring, somehow, the 10th anniversary of Woods's most recent major title, the fur-flying 2008 U.S. Open, also right here.

Asked for a prevailing memory of that, Woods gave a glimpse back across his extensive CV of pain by saying, "How much it hurt. Yeah, no ACL and broken leg, it didn't feel very good."

At that point, it was the leg.

Later, when he played his last full tour event, the Wyndham Championship in August 2015, in which he contended before tapering off, somebody suggested he seemed to be grabbing his back.

"It's not my back, no," he said.

"Just my hip."

To the central question about how this January might differ from last, he said, "Yeah, I have no more pain in my back, my back is fused. That wasn't the case last year. I was trying to manage the disk and the vertebrae, but it's all finished now. Now it's fused and qualify of life is infinitely better than it was last year at this point."

Author information: Chuck Culpepper covers national college sports for the Washington Post.

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