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Tiger Woods Is on the Verge of History and Still Tinkering

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After an off-season knee surgery and some downtime, Woods will chase Sam Snead’s PGA Tour wins record at the course where he played his first pro tournament.

Tiger Woods was clad in his hallmark red for the final round at the Farmers Insurance Open last month when he took a compact swipe at his 141-yard approach shot on the second hole. The ball found the green and took two short hops before it bounced in and out of the cup, leaving him with a short putt for birdie.

It was a near miss that delighted the massive crowd that had formed around the green. But from his position on the fairway, Woods wore an impassive expression. He neither smiled nor scowled. He just seemed to be going about his familiar business at Torrey Pines Golf Course, a tract in San Diego that he knew well.

Woods did not win the tournament — he finished in a six-way tie for ninth place — but he was in contention throughout, and there was no question that he was the center of attention. Fans surrounded him on every tee box and green. They screamed his name and begged for autographs. One couple even showed up for his final round in his-and-hers tiger costumes.

Fan hysterics have been a staple at his tournament appearances for decades, but they are now coming during a renaissance of sorts, as Woods, 44, looks to build on the momentum he has accrued since winning the Masters last season.

A keen student of golf history, Woods knows what is out there for him to achieve this weekend at the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles — a tournament that his foundation is hosting. A victory at Riviera would push him past Sam Snead for sole ownership of the record for career wins on the P.G.A. Tour, with 83.

Woods won tournament No. 82 in October at the inaugural Zozo Championship in Japan, a stunning result after he took a two-month hiatus following knee surgery. He went on to captain the United States to a Presidents Cup victory in mid-December with more brilliant play.

The twist is that Woods has never won at Riviera, which also happens to be the course where he played in his first professional tournament at age 16.

Woods said that after the Presidents Cup, he went a couple of weeks without touching a club until his 44th birthday on Dec. 30, when he played a round with his son, Charlie. Between his Masters win in April and his most recent victories, Woods had sought to manage the rigors of his Tour schedule, given his recovery from four back surgeries, the most recent of which was a spinal fusion he underwent in 2017.

Woods pulled out of the FedEx Cup playoff opener with an oblique muscle strain, and admitted that back soreness limited him as he prepared ahead of a disappointing finish at the BMW Championship in August.

“I was a little bit fried physically, mentally, emotionally,” Woods recalled last month.

But in the run-up to his appearance at the Farmers Open in January, Woods returned to his familiar regimen of working his way through his bag, club by club. He practiced with a new driver. He also began using a new ball. Coming off the win in Japan and his triumph at the Presidents Cup, Woods was still tinkering with his equipment and his mechanics, summoning the motivation to compete again.

At Torrey Pines, Woods returned to the site of one of his greatest feats — his victory at the 2008 U.S. Open, a tournament he won while hobbling around with two stress fractures in his left tibia and a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He has been dealing with various injuries ever since.

“It’s hard to put it together for all four days as you get older,” Woods said. “It’s just harder.”

Woods acknowledged the “missed opportunities” that have resulted from various layoffs over the course of his career, but he does not dwell on them, he said. In fact, he said he was “blessed” that he was still competing. Against the odds, he has unearthed new opportunities.

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