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Tiger Woods has 'better understanding' of what he can do in 2019

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Tiger: 2018 was like 'trying to hit a moving target' (0:48)

Tiger Woods discusses his expectations for 2019 compared to 2018 before he plays at the Farmers Insurance Open later this week. (0:48)

SAN DIEGO -- The pain is gone -- along with the doubts. While it has been more than four months since Tiger Woods competed in an official PGA Tour event, he makes his 2019 debut this week at the Farmers Insurance Open carrying over some momentum from 2018 and with far different expectations.

"There's a better understanding of what I can do,'' Woods said Tuesday after playing a 10-hole practice round with Jordan Spieth at Torrey Pines. "It's hard to describe. Going into this event last year, I really didn't know. I hadn't played out of the rough in years. That's what's weird, it's hard to imagine, but I really hadn't. That was a big uncertainty.

"And the fact I was able to get through ... I didn't have any zinging down my leg like I did before, I didn't have any problems at night recovering for the next day. Those are big accomplishments. Even though I finished [tied for 23rd], those were big accomplishments for me. Now, this year it's totally different. I know what I can do, I know what I'm feeling, so now it's about finishing a little bit better and winning some events this year.''

Woods capped his comeback 2018 season from spinal fusion surgery with a victory at the Tour Championship, his 80th win and one that helped him finish second in the FedEx Cup standings and achieve a world ranking of 13th -- where he begins his season.

A year ago, he was 656th in the world.

For his efforts, Woods, 43, was named on Tuesday by the Golf Writers Association of America as its winner of the Ben Hogan Award, given annually to a player who has overcome a handicap or serious injury.

"I'm grateful to receive an award named after Mr. Hogan and to join a group of truly inspirational individuals,'' Woods said.

Following the U.S. loss in the Ryder Cup, Woods played Phil Mickelson in their one-day match the day after Thanksgiving, followed the next week by the Hero World Challenge where he finished 16th out of 18 players.

After considering playing the Sentry Tournament of Champions at the start of the year, Woods elected to stay home, get fit and work some new equipment into his bag.

He has made the switch to a newer TaylorMade driver and 3-wood called the M5 (he used the M3 last year) with the same shaft. He also has an upgraded version of the P7TW irons, with the same Scotty Cameron putter.

Woods spent a good part of the past three weeks testing those clubs while working on his game and training.

"I've been trying to get stronger,'' Woods said. "Last year towards the end of the season I got really tired because I didn't expect to play that much golf at the end and I didn't train for it. This offseason I spent a lot of time in the gym and I've gotten a lot stronger, I feel like my legs are where they need to be, which they weren't at the end of the season.''

Woods is back at a place where he's had immense success -- seven victories in the tournament now known as the Farmers as well as the 2008 U.S. Open. He last won here in 2013 and since then finished 80th, withdrew during the first round, didn't play, missed the cut and tied for 23rd last year. In 17 appearances in the tournament, he has seven wins and a total of 12 top-10s.

He'll play the first two rounds with Xander Schauffele and Tony Finau, beginning on the South course Thursday at 1:40 p.m. ET and then shifting to the North course on Friday at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Beyond the Genesis Open next month and the major championships, Woods has yet to decide on his schedule, including through the spring leading up to the Masters. He admitted that "guys are going to be making some adjustments this year and I'm one of them,'' due to a heavy run that includes two World Golf Championship events and the Players in the weeks preceding the year's first major.