Tiger Woods appeared to turn his back on Torrey Pines when he announced last week that he would open his 2012 season that week in Abu Dhabi at the HSBC Championship, with an appearance fee that likely approaches $3 million.
Woods not only is a seven-time winner at Torrey Pines -- including the 2008 U.S. Open -- he has started every season when healthy in San Diego since 2006, and the Farmers Insurance Open was the only California event he played during the West Coast Swing.
But there’s a bigger picture to his scheduling.
Indications are that Woods plans a return to the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am for the first time since 2002.
Such a move would make sense. Even though AT&T became the second corporate sponsor to drop Woods after revelations of his extramarital affairs in November 2009, it stayed on as the title sponsor of his tournament. Woods no longer is the official host of the AT&T National in early July, but his foundation remains the main charity beneficiary.
Woods had planned to play Pebble Beach in 2010 when he had the AT&T logo on his bag, though that was before his personal life imploded. He could not play last year because it was opposite the Dubai Desert Classic, and Woods was fulfilling an existing contract.
Since he last played Pebble Beach, the tournament has improved by trimming the field from 180 players to 156 players, and taking Poppy Hills out of the rotation and replacing it with the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula.
Woods last played Pebble Beach in 2010 at the U.S. Open, when he shot 75 in the final round and tied for fourth. His link to Pebble Beach will always be 2000, when he came from five shots behind in the last round to win the AT&T for his seventh straight PGA Tour victory, then shattered records with a 15-shot win at the U.S. Open that summer.
As for Abu Dhabi?
It had the strongest field of any European Tour event this year outside the majors and World Golf Championships, yet the title sponsor cannot be overlooked. HSBC is one of the primary corporate sponsors (AT&T is another) of the Tiger Woods Foundation, which includes being a founding partner of the Tiger Woods Learning Center.
Besides, there is precedence to Woods skipping Torrey Pines.
In his first full year on the PGA Tour, he instead went overseas for two weeks of appearance money. Woods won the Asian Honda Classic and tied for eighth in the Australian Masters. That was two months before he won the 1997 Masters.