Tiger Woods took a pass on opening his 2012 season at a famed California venue where he has been a dominant force, not to mention where he claimed one of the game's most memorable U.S. Open victories.
Instead, he substituted another.
Marking one of his earliest commitments to a PGA Tour event in years, Woods on Monday said he will open his U.S. season at Pebble Beach on Feb. 9.
In a move that has caused a good amount of conversation, Woods eschewed starting his season at Torrey Pines, instead electing to make his Jan. 26 season debut the same week on the European Tour in Abu Dhabi, where he will receive an appearance fee.
Woods won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in 2008, his last Grand Slam win, and has six regular-tour wins at the seaside course. He won the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by 15 shots, roundly considered the best performance by any player in major championship history.
The title sponsor at Pebble Beach is the same entity that backs Woods’ event in the Washington, D.C., area, the AT&T National, and the financial ties are a big reason for his presence in the field. He hasn’t played in the regular-season event at Pebble Beach since 2002, when painfully slow rounds were the norm.
Since then, the field has been pared from 180 pros and their amateur partner to 156, and Monterey Peninsula Country Club replaced Poppy Hills as one of the three courses used over 72 holes.
"I haven't been to this tournament lately, but I have a lot of good memories at Pebble,” he said on his website. “It will be fun going back."
In his most memorable regular-tour win at Pebble, Woods came from seven shots behind with seven holes to play to defeat Matt Gogel, now a Golf Channel broadcaster.
"It's always been one of my favorite spots," Woods said. "It might be the prettiest place on earth."
In his last start at Pebble, in the 2010 U.S. Open two years ago, Woods briefly contended but eventually finished T4, which matches his best finish in an official U.S. event since the sex scandal of late 2009. He closed with a 75.
The commitment a month out represents one of his earliest on record for a regular PGA Tour event that wasn't run by his charity -- and there's some overlap there. AT&T dropped the logo-bag deal it had with Woods during the height of the scandal, but remained as title sponsor of his foundation event. The communications giant also donated money to the construction of Woods foundation headquarters in Southern California.
As ever with Woods, there are financial strings attached.
In other words, he quite likely needs AT&T at least as much as the company needs him at this point -- a message seemingly underscored by the early commitment. The title sponsor of Woods unofficial offseason event in Southern California, Chevron, declined to re-sign as namesake last month, leaving a big void for the Woods camp to fill on the benefit-tournament front already.
In the past, Woods has usually waited until the day before the commitment deadline to throw his name in the hat as an entrant at regular PGA Tour events.