Torrey Pines set to host Buick

Golf event will likely be without Tiger Woods

The last time professional golf came to Torrey Pines, Tiger Woods wowed La Jollans as well as golf fans and casual observers across the world by winning the U.S. Open in a dramatic 19-hole playoff while nursing a knee injury.

That was nearly eight months ago, and things have changed dramatically since then. As Torrey Pines prepares to host the PGA Tour's Buick Invitational next week, it will do so likely without Woods, who hasn't been seen on a golf course since his heart-thumping first pump that June afternoon overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Woods underwent major surgery on his left knee in June and is still in the recovery process. The official deadline to commit to the Buick Invitational isn't until Friday, but Woods hasn't given any indication that he's prepared to return to competitive golf soon.

While Woods' absence has meant significant decreases in television viewership and on-course attendance for tournaments across the country, it could be seen as an even bigger blow to the Buick, because Woods has won the tournament five times -- including each of the last four years -- and has long considered Torrey Pines one of his favorite courses.

Last year, he won both the Buick and the U.S. Open here.

Goals set

"As I had hoped, after Jan. 1, I started hitting longer irons and my driver," Woods said on his Web site earlier this month. "I'm not swinging as hard as I can, but I'm working towards that goal."

"So far my knee has held up well, but I don't know when I'll be able to return to competition. … I'm looking forward to rejoining the PGA Tour when I think that I'm ready."

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is surely as hopeful as any golf fan that Woods will return soon, but wouldn't predict a timetable when asked at last week's Bob Hope Classic.

No indications

"He hasn't whispered it to me," Finchem said. "He doesn't know. He's going through the game plan that he set out awhile back and that leads to him playing some time in the spring. But with Tiger that's a function of when he believes he can go out and win a golf tournament. I think if that was three weeks from now he would be playing three weeks from now."

Woods' absence may be accepted by local golf fans this season because of his injury, but there has been speculation his return in following years may not be a sure thing because of recent news that he has ended his long-term endorsement deal with Buick.

Strong field

Even without Woods in 2009, the Buick Invitational can still expect a strong field. As of Jan. 26, Padraig Harrington, the PGA Tour's Player of the Year in 2008 and the winner of both the British Open and the PGA Championship, had committed. Rancho Santa Fe's Phil Mickelson, the No. 4 player in the world, had committed, as had two other players among the top 30 in the world rankings. And Pat Perez, the Torrey Pines High School graduate who won his first PGA Tour event this month at the age of 32, is expected to play.

The Buick also has extended sponsor exemptions to Rich Beem, Jesper Parnevik, Lee Janzen, Frank Lickliter and Kevin Stadler.

Buick Invitational

Where:

Torrey Pines Municipal Golf Course

When:

Monday, Feb. 2-Sunday, Feb. 8

Schedule:

-

Monday:

professional practice rounds, Sycuan

Resort pro-am on South course

-

Tuesday:

professional practice rounds, Buick

family days clinic

-

Wednesday:

Allianz Global Investors pro-am on

North and South courses

-

Thursday:

First round on North and South courses

(tee times beginning at 8:30 a.m.)

-

Friday:

Second round on North and South courses

(tee times beginning at 8:30 a.m.)

-

Saturday

: Third round on South course (tee

times beginning at 8:30 a.m.)

-

Sunday:

Final round on South course (tee times

beginning at 8:30 a.m.)

Tickets:

Free Monday; $16 for Tuesday; $26 per day Wednesday-Sunday; or $105 for a week pass. Available at the gate or at

www.buickinvitational.com

.

Parking:

Located at the Del Mar Show Park and Qualcomm Stadium

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