-- SAN DIEGO -- For all the reasons that the Bahamas was a great place to return to competitive golf, Torrey Pines is not -- regardless of all the success that Tiger Woods has had around a picturesque venue that hugs the Pacific Ocean.
Warm, Caribbean temperatures were replaced by a chilly, Southern California winter; wide fairways with waste areas gave way to narrow fairways and brutal rough.
Perhaps above all else, Tiger Woods is not the No. 1-ranked player in the world as he was so many times in coming to a course where he won as a junior and dominated as a pro. He is 633rd for good reason, forced to the sideline due to three back surgeries since March 2014 that kept him from competing all of last year until his cozy foundation event in December.
In the Bahamas, he swung with ease and power, an action that was promising and led to a tournament-leading 24 birdies. On Thursday, some seven weeks later, he struggled off the tee, hitting just four fairways and none on the back nine, appearing a bit out of sorts at times and actually doing well to shoot 76 due to a short game that kept him alive over the opening holes.
"I said it over the last couple days, we can't just break down everything he did today because it's been 17 months,'' said current No. 1-ranked Jason Day, who shot 73 playing alongside Woods and Dustin Johnson (72). "Let him go a year, let him play and go from there.''
Such perspective is vitally important, but Woods is rarely afforded such a luxury and is unlikely to heed it himself.
This was never going to be easy, and returning at Torrey Pines made it all the more difficult. The North Course, where Woods will need a low round on Friday to have any shot at making the 36-hole cut, is not quite the pushover it used to be, a renovation adding length and new greens.
But everyone knows what they are getting on the South Course, a 7,600-yard brute that would be difficult without rough and cold temperatures.
"[Woods is] almost starting fresh again,'' said six-time major champion Nick Faldo, the CBS TV analyst. "He had a nice warmup at his event in the Bahamas. This course is very difficult. Wall-to-wall serious rough. A great driving course, a U.S. Open golf course. The best will find that really difficult. If he's in the wrong place, it will be really hard work for him.''
And it was. Woods managed to grind out eight pars after an opening bogey. He birdied the 10th and made another at the 11th. He was 1-under par and thinking about the two par-5s ahead and the possibility of a round under par.
Then he kept missing fairways. He 3-putted the par-5 13th for a bogey. He had a quick swing and snap hook into a canyon off the 15th, leading to a double-bogey. He made a bogey at the 17th and then birdied the 18th.
It was just his fourth score over par in 55 rounds at the Farmers Insurance Open tournament, which he has won seven times.
For all the success at Torrey, it is important to note that his past two appearances here were not good. In 2014, Woods shot 79 in the third round and missed the secondary cut; two years ago, he withdrew after just 11 holes of the first round due to back stiffness, then didn't play again until the Masters.
There were bound to be bouts of frustration Thursday, a kick to his golf bag occurring in one instance, but for the most part, there does seem to be a modicum of patience. He smiled coming up the closing holes and seemed to keep a big-picture outlook in discussing it afterward.
"That's what [caddie] Joey [LaCava] kept telling me all day today, just be patient with it,'' Woods said. "I didn't quite smile at him a few of those times he said that. But I was fighting out there trying to get my ball around the golf course and score.''
Woods would have been better served coming back last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the conditions are historically benign and birdies reign in the Southern California desert. For now, swinging freely, hitting good shots and trying to make birdies is a better formula than grinding on one of the toughest tracks in the game.
While that might have been a big part of his reputation in the past, it doesn't matter now. He's a guy with a bad back who only in recent months has ramped up his golf. Thursday's round was still just his fifth in competition going back to the 2015 Wyndham Championship; his peers have been competing during all that time when Woods wasn't even swinging a club.
"It takes practice and it takes being in contention to be sharp,'' said ESPN analyst Dottie Pepper. "I think the mental part of it is, if not the biggest part, then it is right up there. It is very difficult to jump right in there. There is a routine to getting into playing tournament golf, championship golf. He's going to get the full kitchen thrown at him in the next five weeks.''
Woods is headed to the Middle East for the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, which starts Thursday. If he can get over the jet lag associated with a 12-hour time change, he will see an Emirates Golf Club course that is user-friendly. The temperature will be warm, if not hot, and the rough not nearly as severe. It is a good place for him, like Palm Springs would have been last week.
But the Genesis Open at Riviera followed by the Honda Classic at PGA National again present formidable tests.
It is a lot of golf, but at this point, health permitting, that is exactly what he needs.
That, and a good, long-range outlook. Woods was never going to get it back all at once. He has switched golf balls and woods, and will soon transition to new irons. He has a different swing after multiple surgeries and is competing against guys who have been beating balls and playing in tournaments.
Day is one of them, and he noted the big crowds and buzz at Torrey, the "old-school days of Tiger Woods when he was dominating at his best.''
The crowds, indeed, lined the fairways and surrounded the greens on every hole, but they witnessed something far less -- a reality that should be understandable.