Tiger Woods has opted to begin his 2012 season this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. A surprise to many, since Tiger has won seven times on the PGA Tour at Torrey -- not to mention several Junior World Championships.
Trivia questionTiger Woods has won seven times on the PGA Tour at both Torrey Pines and Firestone CC. Who are the other three golfers to win six or more times on tour at one course? (Answer below)
The reason behind his decision? A hefty appearance fee.
When trying to put a Woods start into context, the struggles of recent years present a startling juxtaposition. Looking at Tiger's almost unreal success of years past serves as a reminder of how staggering his fall has been since Thanksgiving 2009.
But after his (unofficial) win at the Chevron World Challenge, many have 2012 pinned as the year that Woods ascends the world rankings he once dominated. What are the chances he gets the year started with a bang at Abu Dhabi?
It's not going to be easy. For one, each of the top four players in the world -- Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer -- will be teeing it up. And second, Tiger has never played in this event.
Woods has started his PGA Tour season five times at Torrey Pines. He won four of those starts, with the lone exception coming last year, when he finished tied for 44th. With memories of 2011 still fresh, why not try something new (and pocket an appearance fee)?
Since 1997, in his first start of the calendar year in a stroke-play event, Woods has won six of 15 starts. He's finished in the top 10 every year except 2011. His scoring average in those events is a sparkling 69.1, and he's a combined total of 201 under par.
Historically, Woods has played great in smaller events overseas. His last start in a tournament sponsored by any major tour was the Australian Open in November, where he finished third.
Woods has made 21 starts in non-major, non-WGC events held outside the United States since 2000. He won nine and finished in the top 10 in 19 of them. The only exceptions were a third-place finish at the Australian Open in late 2011 and a T-20 in Dubai early in that same season.
Woods has won 38 times in his career in events sanctioned by the European Tour. Amazingly, that is third-most in the tour's history, trailing only Seve Ballesteros (50) and Bernhard Langer (42). Different publications have produced different numbers regarding that list of leaders, but those are the top three according to the European Tour's player guide.
Woods aside, a superior field is in the Middle East this week. Abu Dhabi should serve as an entertaining backdrop for some of the world's best golfers.
Torrey Pines might not have any of the world's top-5 players walking its fairways this week, but the field isn't without star power. "Three to the Tee" calls:
PHIL MICKELSON: Lefty has won three times at this event -- in 1993, 2000 and 2001. He's come close a number of other times, too -- two second-place finishes (including last year) and 10 top-10 finishes in all. In 70 rounds at the event since 1993, Phil has carded scores below par 54 times.
Mickelson started slow last week, but was 9 under over his final two rounds at the Humana Challenge. This despite missing seven putts in Rounds 3 and 4 of 10 feet or less. At Torrey last year on the weekend, he missed only three such putts, and was 16-for-17 on Sunday.
DUSTIN JOHNSON: One can only hope Johnson's health is improved enough to play this week after his withdrawal from the Humana Challenge. Johnson said soreness in his lower back prompted his WD last week, not the right knee he had surgery on in November.
Johnson would be a welcome sight this week at Torrey, where he finished tied for third a year ago. Johnson hit 14 of 18 greens in regulation Sunday last year en route to a bogey-free 66.
The following player isn't in the field this week, but we'll still take time to recognize:
Question: Tiger Woods has won seven times on the PGA Tour at both Torrey Pines and Firestone CC. Who are the other three golfers to win six or more times on tour at one course?
Answer: Alex Ross (Pinehurst), Sam Snead (Miami Springs) and Jack Nicklaus (Augusta National), each won six times at the same venue.
MARK WILSON: The devoted Cheesehead saw his beloved Packers upset by the Giants two Sundays ago at Lambeau Field, but it clearly didn't get him down last week at the Humana Challenge. Wilson picked up his third PGA Tour victory in the last two years, surpassing his total from 1998 to 2010 (two total wins -- in '07 and '09).
Wilson's two wins last year also came in events that began before the Super Bowl. In fact, Wilson has made $4.257 million in PGA Tour purse money since the beginning of 2010. Over 75 percent of that ($3.198 million) has come in tournaments that began before the Super Bowl was played.
Justin Ray is a senior researcher with ESPN Stats & Information. He has contributed to ESPN's golf coverage since joining the network out of college in 2008. He is based in Austin, Texas, with the new Longhorn Network. Send comments and suggestions to Justin.Ray@espn.com.