Farmers Insurance Open: The Real Leaderboard

This week’s Farmers Insurance Open is being played at fabled Torrey Pines in La Jolla, California. They have two courses, the South and the North. The South is the one that everybody knows; it’s the host of the Farmers and Tiger’s awe-inspiring 2008 U.S. Open victory on a broken leg. At 7,698 yards with lush rough and hard greens, it’s a beast. The North Course is awaiting its makeover by architect Phil Mickelson sometime next year he said. In the meantime, its just 7,052 yards and not much of a threat, at least to these guys.

The evidence for that is that virtually everyone at the top of Thursday’s leaderboard was a Northie. The best of them was Stewart Cink who got it to 8-under by hitting it long and hitting the greens, 15 of 18. That’ll pretty much do it for you if you’re putting well and he is: 

Well, it was a successful round in the fact that the North course is going to give you a little bit if you drive it well, and I did drive it really well today. I put myself in position where I could be aggressive. You want to really take advantage of the North course because it will kind of yield to you a little bit [8 birdies, no bogies] and the South course will not.

I did a great job of going out there, just playing shot by shot, not really getting too caught up into I have to birdie these holes. As a consequence, I actually made a few birdies and it felt great and that was a really relaxed — one of those rounds it felt easy, very little adversarial circumstances I put myself in and it was a really good solid round.

Stewart Cink is one of the good guys. A good guy who fell on tough times after his British Open victory in 2009 in that playoff with Tom Watson.

Physically I haven’t had any troubles because I haven’t suffered any injuries or anything like that. It hasn’t been physical.

Mentally, though, in your career when you play like I played for about 12, 13 years or so and throw a major in there, then you have three years of really difficult times where you just can’t seem to get anything going right, that becomes tough and there was some soul searching along the way wondering if I’m doing the right thing.

At the time you always feel like you are, but sometimes looking back you weren’t and maybe I didn’t for a couple years. But it feels a lot better now and I feel like I’m playing a lot more solid, a lot more reliable kind of golf. And I’m having a good time, I’m a lot more comfortable out there with myself.

But the Open Champion had to decide that he couldn’t do it by himself. He asked his club pro to take a look and it was good that he selected an honest man. The pro told him that when he looked at his swing, he didn’t see Stewart Cink anymore. His fundamentals had drifted so much that he could no longer swing like Stewart Cink. The technical side of his recovery was quite simple; he just went back the basic fundamentals, back to being himself.:

When I say positions, I’m really more talking about before the swing, my setup, my grip changed a little bit. I had to go back and sort of — I had to excavate the old Stewart Cink from underneath a bunch of things that built up that weren’t very good.

I put myself back into a lot more neutral kind of positions. My setup is a little stronger enabling me to work my body the way I want it to, and therefore the ball is kind of liking it a little bit more, a little bit more often.

But I digress…because I think Cink’s circumstances and the way he’s handled it are noteworthy. Behind him are a whole bunch of Northies. As a matter of fact, of the top 28 players on the leaderboard, only three are Southies: Pat Perez, Charley Hoffman and Kevin Tway. They were the only three players to shoot in the 60s on the South Course.

But the South course was even harder than that. Of the 62 players in the field who broke par, only 12 of them were on the South Course:

5-under – (T7) – Pat Perez

3-under – (T17) – Charley Hoffman, Kevin Tway

2-under – (T29) – Brian Stuard, Billy Horschel

1-under – (T46) – Cameron Tringale, Justin Hicks, James Driscoll, Martin Flores, Jordan Spieth, J.B. Holmes, Russell Knox

Even the great Tiger Woods who has won the tournament 8 times, could do no better than even par. And that changes how he’s going to approach the easier North course on Friday:

Well, I mean, even par right now is probably going to put me maybe probably about one or two shots under par on the South course, below average, and I think probably over the North course the average is probably about 3-under par, so somewhere around there. It’s got to be playing right around three shots easier, so I’m going to have to go out there and get it a little bit tomorrow to not be so far behind come Saturday or Sunday.

I found it quite interesting that in the early rounds, in determining what he has to do to stay in it, he works off what he calls “par,” meaning the average score for the day. Average on the South was 74.449, so he was 2½ shots under the average. He guessed that the North average was 3-under when in fact it was just 1½-under at 70.526. It just seemed like it was 3 because the leaders over there were killing it.

So the “real” leaderboard is probably better represented by Perez, et.al., who had great to good days on the South, keeping in mind that sometimes a good day can be good enough.

And finally, Tiger’s report on Wednesday’s very firm greens caused me to suggest that they’d have to put a fire hose on them to get them to hold shots. Apparently the Fire Department cooperated:

We figured that the Tour might soften it up and they did, they did. The balls were holding and a couple wedge shots were spinning back, which yesterday they were bouncing forward, bouncing as high as the flag.

Today we didn’t have to worry about that. Mid irons, yes, it bounced over the green and you had to think about it a little bit, but it wasn’t like it was yesterday and it certainly wasn’t like it was on Monday. Some of the guys that played on Monday said it was even harder than it was yesterday. They’ve softened it up as the day’s gone on, but I think it’s just get us through the cut and then see what happens.

So that’s handled. Now if they can just avoid another fog delay — 30 minutes Thursday — all the extraneous things that tend to jangle nerves will have been taken care of. And we’ll get to see how ridiculously low a score Tiger can post on the North.

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