SAN DIEGO -- Tiger Woods and Torrey Pines used to be a winning combination.
Except for his first full season on the PGA Tour, Woods never missed what used to be called the Buick Invitational, the same brand that happened to be on his golf bag. He not only won six times, his worst finish was a tie for 10th, when he finished two shots out of a playoff.
Woods winning at Torrey was so predictable that in 2008, when the public course along the Pacific Ocean was to host the U.S. Open that summer, he opened with a 67 on the South Course. A caddie watching from behind the 18th green said, "He just won two tournaments with one round." And he was right.
Times have changed.
Woods can be found 12 time zones away this week in Abu Dhabi, where he joined the rest of the European Tour stars.
This will be the third time in the last four years that Woods will not be at Torrey Pines to start his season. He was recovering from knee surgery in 2009, and he was in a Mississippi clinic in 2010. A year ago, still in the early stages of revamping his swing, he couldn't break par on the weekend and tied for 44th.
His absence is an example of how little it takes for the landscape to evolve on the PGA Tour, which can have more to do with the tournaments than the players they try to attract.
Woods has his own agenda, and he has that right.
He is getting a $1.5 million appearance fee at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, and while that's about half what he used to get, the practice dates to the era of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. In this case, Woods has a relationship with the title sponsor, which supports his foundation. Woods has been mixing golf with business as long as he's been on tour, and he's not alone.
Torrey Pines is still the first PGA Tour event on network television (Ch. 4, Saturday,
3-6 p.m.; Sunday, 3-6:30 p.m.).
It's still a pretty place to be and has a field that includes last year's winner Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson, who won here in 1993, 2000 and 2001. Mickelson is making his 22nd consecutive appearance in his hometown event.
But the event is definitely lacking luster, and that would have been unfathomable just four years ago.
What will be in store for Torrey Pines in the future?
Abu Dhabi very well could be a one-year agreement with Woods. He might be back next year.