The Masters lingers in his mind, but does Tiger Woods have time?

Tiger Woods said he knows what to work on after Torrey Pines -- but the Masters is only nine weeks away. Donald Miralle/Getty Images

SAN DIEGO -- The promos started running weeks ago, short 15-second spots during the dead of winter in which a camera pans the Augusta National clubhouse and one of the iconic hand-operated scoreboards.

"Coming in April,'' it says, teasing the year's first major championship.

The Masters is near, and yet so far away.

Tiger Woods caught those little reminders, which started airing during college football bowl games. Whether they had any impact deep down in his subconscious, he is not letting on.

During a brief chat on his way to the parking lot following his final round at the Farmers Insurance Open on Sunday, Woods said it's too early for such emotion to stir. "Not yet,'' he said after finishing tied for 23rd in his first PGA Tour event in a year. "It's too far away. I start ramping up when I get to Florida. That's when it hits much stronger.''

And yet, Woods clearly has Augusta on his mind, as he has referenced it or alluded to it on three occasions since returning to competitive golf at the Hero World Challenge late last year.

After tying for ninth in the Bahamas: "I think we're going to sit down here, we're doing to figure out what's the best way for me to build my schedule for the major championships. Play, how much, what my training cycles are going to be, and play enough but don't play too much.''

That was viewed as a positive sign. Not only was Woods feeling good about himself after shooting three rounds in the 60s, he felt secure enough to say that he hoped to map out a schedule that allowed him to properly play and prepare for the majors. This was just six weeks after he began hitting balls again after a lengthy forced break due to spinal fusion surgery.

And that does allow one to dream just a little bit. Woods hasn't played the Masters since 2015, but the venue is one of his favorites and he has as much experience on it as just about anyone -- save for Phil Mickelson -- who would have a chance to win.

Besides his four victories, Woods has nine other top-10 finishes at the Masters. Following his last win in 2005, he went T3, T2, 2, T6, T4, T4, T40, T4. After missing the 2014 tournament because of back surgery, Woods tied for 17th in 2015 despite missing nine weeks before the tournament sorting out chipping issues.

In 2010, after skipping the first four months to deal with personal problems, Woods tied for fourth despite not having competed since December. Augusta National, despite its demands, is perhaps the one place where Woods can prosper without proper tournament preparation.

On Jan. 24, before the Farmers Insurance Open: "I'm just trying to build toward April. That's what I told you guys last year in the Bahamas. I'm looking forward to playing a full schedule and getting ready for the Masters, and I haven't done that in a very long time. That's usually been my schedule and my outlook. From '96 on it's been that way to try to get ready for Augusta, and there's no reason to change that.''

And this is cause for pause. Should Woods really be talking about getting ready to win a major championship, specifically the Masters, at this point?

He has played in five tournaments since tying for 10th at the 2015 Wyndham Championship. He is coming off a fourth back surgery, a spinal fusion in April that kept him from taking full swings for six months. Despite all the promise, he clearly has things to work out with his game.

"I'm going to go back and work on a bunch of things,'' he said Sunday after his tie for 23rd at Torrey Pines. "I can feel some of the things I'm doing wrong in my swing, so we're going to go back to work.''

The problem is time. Is there enough of it? When Woods spoke of his typical routine of ramping things up for the Masters when the PGA Tour heads to Florida in March, that was based on many previous years when he had embarked on a full schedule.

Woods started three tournaments in 2017, two of them 10 months apart. He played seven rounds of golf. He has added four more now and plans to play the Genesis Open in two weeks. After that, he likely will play just twice more before the Masters at the Honda Classic and Arnold Palmer Invitational. If he were to miss the cut at either one, that further reduces his ability to get tournament tested.

Joe LaCava, who began caddying for Woods in 2011 and has seen Tiger deal with his share of injuries, is typically twisting the golfer's arm to play more. He practiced with him before the Farmers in Florida and also in the Bahamas ahead of the Hero World Challenge.

"It was not too bad and there was plenty of good,'' LaCava said of Woods' performance at Torrey Pines. "Obviously, he has to drive it better. The short game looked pretty tight, and that's always a plus. And he looks comfortable putting.

"He just needs to get some reps. Needs to get back to Florida to get some practice in, get more reps, and get tournaments under his belt. It's like when I started with him in late 2011 and early 2012, he just needs some time and he just needs some competitive rounds.''

On Jan. 26, after shooting 71 with four birdies over his final nine holes to make the 36-hole cut on the number, Woods was asked what makes him feel uncomfortable: "Having to shoot low scores. These guys are all going low and I haven't done that in a long time. I haven't played the Tour in a while and I'm looking forward to just kind of progressing, just keep playing, keep playing tournaments and get everything kind of situated headed to April.''

Is there enough time? There are nine weeks until the Masters, with Woods unlikely to play tournaments in more than three of those weeks. Even if he added a tournament or two, he is then facing consecutive weeks of tournament golf, something he has yet to test. The idea of focusing on a single tournament, or the majors in general, flies in the face of preparing his body and his game for the long haul.

And a good bit of work is ahead. Woods hit just 17 of 54 fairways at Torrey Pines, the worst statistics of his career for a four-round event. Never one to hit a lot of fairways, Tiger could not have sustained success hitting just 30 percent of them.

Getting that sorted might take some time, as will other aspects he mentioned that are as simple as getting used to walking and waiting, five-hour tour rounds and learning to hit shots under pressure.

"He has to go away for two weeks and obviously work on things,'' said six-time major winner and CBS analyst Nick Faldo. "It will be interesting to see if he will put a finger on the things he needs to work on. I'm going to give him another go. This is one year out (since his last PGA Tour event) and I know how rusty I would have felt.

"He's done a great job scrambling, his stroke looks fantastic, he's reading the greens very well. So he's doing those things well. But the inconsistency of the timing and sync of his swing are off. He's pounded the back more than I thought he was going to have to do.

"If he comes back with significant improvements when he comes back at Riviera (Genesis Open) ... if he goes to Riviera and it's another long grind, and if he goes to Honda and it's a long grind, then it's going to be something else.''

Woods has the rest of his career to prepare for, not just one tournament in April. But it's one you can't help but wonder about. The new promos for the Masters that are about to hit TV and video screens will only heighten the anticipation.