Farmers Insurance Open: The January U.S. Open

You don’t have to have your ear too close to the ground to find out that most of the players think that the South Course at Torrey Pines Golf Club and host of the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open, is set up like a U.S. Open. It never has been before except when it was, in fact, setup for the 2008 U.S. Open.

The greens are hard, the rough is deep and the entire field has struggled. On Thursday, there was just one bogey-free round by Pat Perez. He shot 5-under and had the first round lead of those that played the South Course (Stewart Cink had the overall lead with an 8-under on the North). On Friday, there were just three bogey-free rounds on the South: Nicolas Colsaerts (67), Brad Fritsch (70) and Bruce Garnett (68). On Saturday, there were no bogey-free rounds.

And yet, the players all seemed to appreciate, if not enjoy, the extraordinary challenge that has been served up to them. 

Gary Woodland seemed to be cruising until he plugged his approach shot in the greenside bunker on 17 and made a double. He managed a 2-under 70 and has a 1-stroke lead over  Marc Leishman (72) and 36-hole leader, Jordan Spieth (75). But he also ended up with an heroic second shot over the fronting pond on the par-5 18th:

Yeah, it was a tough lie. I really struggled out of the first cut all week. Numbers wise I only had 225 front, it was a perfect 4 iron to kind of turn it back in there. I ended up hitting 2 iron, I ended up taking two extra clubs and it just barely covered [the pond]. It actually was a pretty good shot from where we were standing. I was just happy the ball wasn’t in the thick stuff and, I mean, I had the chance to go for the green in 2. Unfortunately I three-putted, but I really executed that shot well.

This from one of the longest players in the game right now. And that was from the first cut of rough, not the lush, second cut.

Leishman, talking about how hard it was to get a ball in the fairway off the tee, probably had the most appreciative comments on the rough:

I think if you make a mistake off the tee you’ve just got to not make another mistake [on the second shot] and that’s where the problems come in I think.

It’s very fair, I wouldn’t say it’s unfair at all. It’s tough. The greens are running fairly quick. They’re getting firm, especially if you’re coming from the rough or if you’re coming from the fairway, but it’s tough especially if you miss the fairway. If you’re playing from the middle of the fairway all day, it’s not too bad, you can hold the green, but if you’re in the rough, it’s virtually impossible.

It’s some of the longest and thickest rough I’ve seen. In patches it’s probably like similar to what it was at Merion last year. You get in there and you go sand iron if you can find your ball. It wouldn’t surprise me if there’s a few lost balls out there. It’s long and it’s damp, and if you try and get greedy, you can make yourself look like an idiot really quickly.

Nicolas Colsearts knows the feeling. He hit his drive on 18 into the right fairway bunker. He had a good enough lie that, after Jordan Spieth laid up playing from about the same place, he considered going for the green in two. Spieth’s ball was sitting down a little in a furrow. So Colsearts decided to be smart and laid up too. Except he hit a big, high, loopy draw that crossed the fairway and settled in the deep rough short of the pond.

The thrashing he delivered to the grass made him look more like a farmer than a golfer with a thick bouquet of long blades of grass trailing from his wedge on his follow-through. The ball, bless its heart, did its best to stay in the air, but it ran out of momentum too soon, hit the top of the bank and excruciatingly rolled down the bank and into the pond.

To Lieshman’s point about looking like an idiot, you only look like an idiot if you think you look like an idiot. People may think you’re an idiot, but players these days are always talking about only paying attention to that which they can control and you can’t control what other people think of you.

Moreover, what other people think of you has nothing to do with what the game requires, getting the ball in the hole in the fewest strokes possible. What people think of you is only a consideration of the ego, that fragile part of us that snatches us out of the present, robbing us of our full consciousness required to excel at the game…or anything else for that matter.

Jordan Spieth was a textbook example of stepping over his ego to do what he needed to do. After emphatically taking the 36-hole lead with a 63 on the North Course, he found himself 4-over par through five holes on Saturday; two bogies and a double. But he just persisted in doing what he was trying to do:

I hit a couple fairways in a row, that helped, including a couple par 5s. Hit the green in 2, finally got a birdie to settle down on 6 there. Then made a couple more birdies throughout the back nine, including a couple really tough holes. So, you know, it’s the easier ones I need to find the fairway and give myself better looks at. It was a battle. I mean, that was as much as I’ve really battled to make pars in a long time. My putter was hot from six feet, 10 feet and in really, which is the reason why I’m still in it.

To finish 1-under on those last five holes was solid with the places that I hit the ball.

But if he was worried what other people thought of him, none of that would have happened.

In many ways, Sunday’s final round will be a taught affair, rife with one three-foot mistake after another, one drive after another plopping into the 3½ inch primary rough. It shouldn’t be a birdie-fest, but it will have excitement of its own kind.

The Golf Channel has the opening broadcast from 1 – 2:30pm (ET) and CBS has the finish beginning at 3:00.

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