SAN DIEGO • A year ago, Tiger Woods was ranked world No. 647 when he arrived at Torrey Pines Golf Course.
He was coming off career-threatening spinal-fusion surgery, had not won on the PGA Tour in the past five years and was happy just to be playing after another long layoff.
Woods said earlier this week that the operation to fuse two vertebrae in his lower back was "the last-ditch effort to give me quality of life" even if it did not allow him to compete at the highest level again.
That was why he had low expectations heading into 2018 and said he was "pleased" to finish tied for 23rd at the Farmers Insurance Open.
A year later, much has changed, including Woods' expectations.
He made his season debut on Thursday, again at Torrey Pines, but this time, coming off a season of steady progress that culminated in his September victory at the Tour Championship in Atlanta - his 80th PGA Tour title but first since 2013.
The former world No. 1 shot a two-under 70 at the South Course in the opening round, putting him eight shots behind the leader, Spain's Jon Rahm, in a tie for 53rd.
But he seemed anything but discouraged to catch the leaders in a field featuring 12 of the world's top 20, including No. 7 Rahm who set a renovated North Course record with a 62. One shot back is world No. 1 Justin Rose, who also played on the North.
Woods, 43, said: "This year, it's totally different. I have a great understanding of what I can and can't do. There's not the uncertainty I had going into the year last year, after what I did at the end of last year.
"I know what I'm feeling, so now it's about finishing a little better and winning some events."
On Thursday, he made five birdies and three bogeys, driving the ball well until midway through the back nine when he missed three consecutive tee shots to the right.
After his win in the Tour Championship, Woods had played competitively only three times•••.
He revealed that he used the six weeks off before the tournament to spend "a lot of time in the gym and trying to get stronger" as well as indulge in hobbies like free-diving and spearfishing.
He added: "Last year, towards the end of the season, I got really tired because I didn't expect to play that much golf and I didn't train for it.
"Now, I feel like my legs are where they need to be. That's why I've been so diligent about training. But there are days when I just don't practise and I don't train.
"That's probably been one of the lessons I've learnt through all of this is there are days where I just have to shut it down, and just not do anything and just relax."