The last time Tiger Woods’ winning aura was seen was when he pulled into the parking lot at Torrey Pines for the Farmers Insurance Open a year ago. As the reigning Player of the Year, it was anticipated Tiger would take another victory lap around Torrey Pines, a track where he’s won eight times as a professional … and that’s so not what happened.

After getting thrashed on the North Course by Jordan Spieth on Friday, Woods managed to make the cut but miss the secondary cut on Saturday. We later learned of Tiger’s back issues, which led to him missing much of the season. The tournament unfolded as a Sunday horse race where, at one point, it looked like an unprecedented six-man playoff seemed possible. Instead, Scott Stallings, a name many fans probably had to Google search, emerged as the winner by a stroke.

This year Tiger returns under what couldn’t be a more different set of circumstances. Here we preview this week’s event followed by picks from our JC pros.

  1. Bizarro Tiger – The golf world is wondering what to make of Tiger after his short-game yip-fest in Phoenix. Coming off a career-worst 82, and with football season over, you can bank on his Thursday round getting the full attention, and scrutiny, of a round at a major. Can Woods piece it back together on one of the courses where’s most comfortable? No one knows, and Vegas is doubting it – posting him at 50-to-1 odds. Instead of people asking if Tiger can win, they’re wondering if he can make it to the weekend. Quite a different set of a circumstances for a 14-time major winner, indeed.
  2. A Tougher TP – Favorable weather conditions, namely a mild winter, in 2014 allowed for a set up closer to a U.S. Open and Torrey Pines took advantage. A similar set-up seems likely this year. That means a lower-scoring tournament, where it’s doubtful someone goes low and pulls away. That could leave us with a Sunday leaderboard more like last year. Several media members panned last year’s set-up as being too tough for a February Tour event, saying it created “boring” scoring conditions. They might be hitting copy-and-paste on those columns this year. We’ll see.
  3. Time for Spieth, Fowler? – After trouncing Tiger on Friday, Jordan Spieth was the story of the tournament last year until he ran out of gas on Sunday. It was later learned he played on an injured ankle. Can Spieth come back and finish the job this week? Or will it be another 20-something – Rickie Fowler. Fowler finished top-five in every major last year, a spectacular year only lacking a victory. Fowler’s visage is everywhere on the course this year. Will it be featured on next year’s winner’s poster at the course entrance? We’ll see.
  4. A Favored Son, Anyone? – Pat Perez, a graduate of Torrey Pines High, finished a shot behind Stallings last year after being forced lay up on No. 18. It was Perez’s best finish in the event, but a shot short of the outcome he’s been dreaming of since he worked the range for this event as a youth. There’s no doubt he’ll have the crowd support. Will Perez finally raise the trophy on No. 18 on Sunday this time?

Another local of note is Daniel Miernicki, son of Twin Oaks Director of Instruction Paul Miernicki, who made the field as a Monday qualifier. Miernicki is a University of Oregon recruit.

  1. DJ’s back – After a six-month leave for “personal reasons,” Dustin Johnson makes his 2014 Tour debut at Torrey. As the consensus most talented player on Tour for several years running now, will Johnson now have the discipline and focus to turn that potential into a major championship? He can gain some momentum this week with a strong showing. At a minimum, it’ll be fun watching him bomb it on the par 5s at Torrey.

Now the picks from our pros …

Erik Johnson, JC Golf Director of Golf – My favorite: Tiger Woods. It may seem cliché, but how many times have we seen Tiger come to Torrey Pines feel right at home and bring home the trophy… eight times: seven Farmers Insurance Opens and the 2008 US Open. In the mix – Brandt Snedeker. He is coming off a lackluster year and is gearing up to get back on top of leaderboards. Watch for him coming off another course he enjoys out in Phoenix. The long shot – Justin Thomas. This young player bombs the golf ball! He’s 5-10 and 145 pounds and is averaging 302.6 in driving distance this year. He is building confidence with top-10 finishes at The Sony Open and the Humana Challenge and he finished T-10 in 2014.

Blake Dodson, Head Professional, Encinitas Ranch – Rickie Fowler finds his stride.

Troy Ferguson, Head Professional, Twin Oaks – Graham DeLaet (if he plays).

Brandon Delgado, Head Professional, Carmel Mountain Ranch – Charley Hoffman. Coming off a second-place finish at the Humana Challenge, Hoffman is off to a great start in 2015. Seven of his eight rounds in 2015 have been under par and he has already won this season at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. Hoffman, who is one of my favorite golfers, is a San Diego native and has helped promote many junior golf programs at some of our JC Golf facilities.

Lloyd Porter, Head Professional, Oaks North – I am going with my “local boy” connections. – Charlie Hoffman and Pat Perez. They both grew up here at Oaks North. Charlie used to pick the range for free balls. Charlie is playing well, and Pat is due to make a big breakthrough. He was in contention last year.

Corey Ross is a golf and travel content specialist. This post and more of his work can be found at www.socalgolfblog.com.