Tiger's '15 start out of comfort zone

Numerous examples exist of Tiger Woods taking a long break, returning to tournament golf and diving right back into the heat of competition. None, of course, was more memorable than his 2008 U.S. Open victory, where he won despite a broken bone in his leg, not having played since the Masters.

But as Woods and all those who follow his career are all too aware, that was nearly seven years ago, and things have changed considerably.

Woods had a swing that was dialed in, by evidence of winning four times in just six starts that year. At other times in his career, it was simply a matter of fine-tuning his game at home, away from the glare, then coming out firing.

Now, at age 39, following his worst year as a pro in which he underwent back surgery, had another injury setback and changed coaches, the minimalist approach is not the wise one.

That's why his decision to add the Waste Management Phoenix Open to his schedule -- a tournament he has played just three times and not in 14 years -- makes sense.

Woods made it official Friday, committing to the suds-filled, sun-splashed event at TPC Scottsdale, where he famously made a hole-in-one in 1997, had spectators -- legally -- move a huge boulder out of his way in 1999, posted a couple of top-five finishes in three appearances, but also endured some security issues.

He also announced he would be playing the following week at the Farmers Insurance Open, all but assured given his seven victories in the tournament at Torrey Pines in addition to that 2008 U.S. Open triumph.

But having played just one tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship in August -- and having all manner of short-game woes at the Hero World Challenge in December -- it didn't make sense that Woods would play just once in 2015 before what is expected to be a three-tournament Florida run in March.

The less-is-more approach has served Woods well in a career that has seen him win 14 majors and 79 PGA Tour events, but having just four tournament starts prior to the Masters would not have been conducive to success at Augusta National -- and you know that if all goes well health-wise, Woods will be keenly focused on that tournament.

In a storyline that is sure to play out as the year's first major draws closer, Woods will arrive at Augusta having not won the tournament in 10 years. He has never won the green jacket with fewer than six starts going in, and although he famously tied for fourth there five years ago after taking an extended leave, the idea that he can summon such magic today ignores recent history.

Woods looked leaner and more flexible in his return last month at Isleworth, and he hit his longer clubs with more authority. But his chipping problems were alarming, and while that might have been a temporary blip due to inactivity, it won't be resolved in low-pressure golf while riding a cart in South Florida.

Walking inside the ropes, getting competitive reps with huge galleries as the television cameras roll, and posting scores that matter is an important step. TPC Scottsdale is a big party, not necessarily conducive to the kind of golf that Woods likes to play.

But that's a good thing, too. It's different, out of his comfort zone, a good place to test himself. The expectations will be over the top, but they shouldn't be, considering how little he has played and that he recently started working with swing consultant Chris Como.

TPC Scottsdale is typically a birdie-fest -- remember Phil Mickelson narrowly missed shooting 59 there two years ago -- which isn't Woods' preference. But maybe the pristine conditions and ability to score will be good for his confidence.

He might have Super Bowl tickets, as well, which means mixing in some fun with business in a week that should be viewed as taking another step toward putting his game together. Any success would be a bonus.