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Tiger returns to stomping ground at Torrey Pines

(Reuters) - Tiger Woods could not wish for a better place to launch his 2013 PGA Tour campaign than at the Torrey Pines Golf Club for this week's Farmers Insurance Open, where he will be bidding for a record seventh victory.

The picturesque venue which hugs the bluffs above the Pacific Ocean is one of his favorite hunting grounds and was the scene of his remarkable playoff win at the 2008 U.S. Open.

"I feel comfortable here, there is no doubt," American world number two Woods told reporters at Torrey Pines on Tuesday after practicing on the South course, one of two layouts co-hosting this week's PGA Tour event.

"There are few courses that are like that where I've had my share of success ... where either I've won or been in contention to win.

"Firestone, Augusta (National), I just feel comfortable on those venues," Woods said of the permanent homes of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the Masters. "My record over those three courses has been pretty good."

However, Woods was a little surprised by the overall pace and dryness of the 7,569-yard South Course layout on Tuesday.

"Obviously, they haven't had a lot of rain here," the 14-times major champion said. "The fairways are quick, the greens are a little bit firm.

"For this time of the year, it's drier than we normally play it, so it will be a wonderful test. We get this every now and again with the Santa Ana winds blowing. It's a little dry, but normally it's not like this."

Woods, who won the most recent of his Farmers Insurance Open titles here in 2008, has extra incentive to play well this week after missing the cut in bizarre circumstances at last week's Abu Dhabi Championship.

BELATED PENALTY

Making his first start of the year in the European Tour event, the world number two failed to advance to the weekend after being slapped with a belated two-shot penalty for a rules infringement in the second round.

Woods was penalized for taking a free drop after hitting a wayward shot into a desert bush where his ball became imbedded. The regulations only allowed for a free drop in such circumstances if the ball had finished anywhere but in sand.

Asked whether he had ever suffered a similar penalty during a golf tournament, Woods replied: "No, I don't recall ever having one like that, no."

Woods, who did not compete at Torrey Pines last year because the PGA Tour event clashed with the Abu Dhabi Championship where he had already committed to play, said he frequently reflected on his 2008 U.S. Open triumph.

"I remember several things," he recalled of a remarkable week at Torrey Pines where he defied doctors' orders and jabbing knee pain to beat fellow American Rocco Mediate in a 19-hole playoff.

"Number one that comes to my mind every time I look at it or see highlights of it is just the pure pain that I was in. I don't ever want to experience that again. That was a very, very difficult week. I really don't know how I quite got through it.

"Then on the Saturday afternoon was a pretty cool little back nine stretch where I had a little bit of a run. And the (15-foot birdie) putt on 18 to get into it (the playoff) was certainly a putt I'll never, ever forget."

Woods has not claimed a major title since then, having suffered the breakdown of his marriage following a string of extra-marital affairs while contending with further knee injuries and the fourth swing change of his professional career.

However, he was delighted to end a two-and-a-half-year victory drought on the PGA Tour by winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational 10 months ago and triumphed twice more on the U.S. circuit to complete a successful 2012 campaign.

"The majority of the year I hit it pretty good, but my putting and short game weren't quite there," Woods said. "I spent so much time on ball-striking that that finally came around.

"Towards the end of the season, I was able to spend more time with my chipping and putting and that's come around. So now I've got to marry up both of those two combos. Hopefully I can do it this year and do it on a consistent basis."

The Farmers Insurance Open starts on Thursday.

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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