Woods skipped the first five events of the season while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery on Dec. 12.
The world No. 1 begins the year $1.8 million behind Ernie Els, who won the first two tournaments of the 2003 campaign. But he should be able to make up some ground this week with Els playing in Australia.
Woods has had great success at Torrey Pines. In addition to his victory in 1999, he has a second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-place finish in five career starts.
Last year, he tied for fifth despite narrowly making it to the weekend. After opening in 66, Woods had to birdie the final hole in round 2 to shoot 77 and make the cut by a stroke. He kept alive his consecutive cuts-made streak at 81 (It currently stands at 96; 17 behind Byron Nelsons all-time tour record).
If it isnt enough that Woods is making his first official tour start in 14 weeks ' his longest layoff since turning professional in 1996 ' hell also be competing against Phil Mickelson.
Mickelson made headlines last week by claiming Woods was playing with inferior equipment.
Woods said he hoped to clarify those comments in a face-to-face talk with the worlds No. 3 ranked player.
Mickelsons two-year reign at the Buick ended last year when Jose Maria Olazabal claimed his sixth career tour victory.
True to form, the veteran Spaniard won by first making a mess ' he ranked 77th for the week in driving accuracy ' and then creatively cleaning it up ' he ranked 11th in greens hit in regulation and seventh in putting.
In winning for the first time since the 1999 Masters, Olazabal denied a couple of other past major winners.
John Daly and Mark OMeara were in contention on Sunday, but neither could close the door. Daly remained winless on tour since the 1995 British Open, tying for fourth. OMeara, who also hadnt won since hoisting the Claret Jug in 1998, tied for second.
But it was J.L. Lewis who had the best chance to overthrow Olazabal ' and consequently suffered the most deflating defeat.
Lewis bogeyed the par-5 18th to finish one back, leading him to admit: I choked. I just embarrassed myself.
Olazabals victory was a part of an impressive stretch of results early in the 2002 season. He had seven top-10s in eight starts, before finishing no better than tied for 27th beginning in June.
This year hasnt been as promising as its predecessor. He tied for 33rd out of 36 in the Mercedes Championships. He then missed the cut at the Sony and tied for 65th in Phoenix.
This is the 51st playing of the event, and the 36th consecutive year it has been contested at Torrey Pines Golf Club.
Only two players have successfully defended their titles. J.C. Snead was the first to win back-to-back, in 1975 and 76; Mickelson did so in 2000 and 01.
Mickelson, who also won in 1993, was born in San Diego, and has a new home in the area.
Players compete on the North and South courses over the first two days before settling on the South Course, which will host the 2008 U.S. Open, over the weekend.
At 7,607 yards, the South Course is the longest layout on the tour schedule. It features two par-3s over 220 yards, three par-4s over 475 yards (No. 14 measures 504) and three par-5s over 560 yards (No. 9 measures 613).