The headline coming out of the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open should have been that Lexi’s big brother, Nicholas, shot 8-under on the North Course at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, California, and has a 1-shot lead. Michael Thompson [no relation] is his shadow while last week’s winner in Phoenix, Brooks Koepka, is T3 with Cameron Tringale at 6-under. All on the easier North Course.
Low man on the stout South Course is Jhonattan Vegas at 5-under. Since the South Course scores tend to be the bellwether for the eventual outcome, there are three players one back of Vegas: last week’s hot contender, Martin Laird, Spencer Levin — who a young pro friend of mine played with recently and was greatly impressed — and Harris English.
So give all of them their due here, but the big story, as it’s always going to be, is that Tiger Woods was forced to withdraw with back spasms after 11 holes on the North Course. He managed to get through 10 holes at even par with two birdies and two bogeys, but things started seizing up beyond his ability to play on 11, he made double bogey and rode in on a cart:
It’s just my glutes are shutting off. Then they don’t activate and then, hence, it goes into my lower back. So, I tried to activate my glutes as best I could, in between, but it just they never stayed activated.
It all came about because of two fog delays totaling two and a half hours:
I guess [it started] between those two suspensions. When we had that break. It just never loosened back up again. And when we went back out, it just got progressively tighter.
It’s frustrating that it started shutting down like that. I was ready to go. I had a good warm-up session the first time around. Then we stood out here and I got cold, and everything started deactivating again. And it’s frustrating that I just can’t stay activated. That’s just kind of the way it is.
Billy Horschel was paired with Tiger and gave his perspective:
It’s unfortunate, I just talked to him a little bit, he was all good to go when we were right about to tee off and then we had that delay again and it sort of just tightened up and unfortunately he just couldn’t get it loosened back up. It’s very unfortunate, I think he’s doing a lot of good things in his game, I think he’s not that far off, considering where everyone else is thinking, but from my eye I feel like he’s really close to playing well. It’s just a matter of getting some reps and staying healthy so he can work on his game still.
He was pressed if it was really true that Tiger’s game was coming back together when he sprayed some shots. He did his best to be diplomatic, probably with that smile of his on his face:
For what you guys see, and not to criticize you all, but I have a golfer’s eye, what I do as my profession, I have a better eye than what you all do. I’ve seen what his swing has become and I think it’s a lot better, but it’s tough to sort of describe to people how spasms are when you take it back and you’re coming down with spasms and you block it or you flip it or whatever, it’s tough to see.
He couldn’t swing the way he wanted to, and like I said, I’m not criticizing you guys, but my eye’s a lot better than most of y’all’s, I would say it’s better than all of y’all’s, I’m being nice, but since what I, being a golfer and being a professional and I feel like I have a decent understanding of the swing and the way things should look and way things should work.
And I saw it at his [Hero] event on Saturday, he was deadly sick and he played really well, he hit it really well that Saturday at his event, so I knew he was not that far off. I still don’t think he’s that far off. I think it’s just some more reps and some more time practicing and getting it to where he feels a little bit more comfortable. But I know what you guys think and what you guys say, but to me, and to what I see and what I think is completely opposite.
He also made the case that Tiger did not make this decision to withdraw lightly:
He toughed it out a lot more than anyone else, than any other playing competitor. They would have dropped off earlier. But he’s a fighter, he wants to get the reps in, he wants to play well, and he kept trying to play through it, hoping that it would loosen up. And I think it was getting there and then we had to wait again when we made the turn and from there it just, it just, it was real tough to see him walk and even make swings.
Rickie Fowler was the third guy in the pairing and he noticed that things were a little off fairly early on:
It was pretty early. I know that with the wait and the delay, I know he was ready to go for our original tee time, or after the first delay, the hour, it would be 10:20, and then when the second delay came in and we were about to tee off, I think that’s when all of us kind of had to deal with some down time, just standing around waiting. So, I’m not really sure if he got warmed up the way he was before.
And he echoed Horschel’s thoughts on Tiger’s work ethic and attempt to make a go of it:
No, he wasn’t out there saying his back hurt or anything like that, trying to — he was not making any excuses, he was out there fighting and grinding, you could see that. He chipped in at 11, our second hole, and he was playing fine and obviously it caught up to him.
So our watching and waiting for Tiger’s return continues, but it will have to wait. From his description of it, it sounds like it’s a more a physio thing rather than a structural thing with a disc, that can be remedied quickly and put him back in business.
With all the elite players pointed at the Masters, he still has opportunities to get some reps in at Pebble Beach and L.A. before the Tour heads to the Florida swing in Palm Beach Gardens, his back yard.
He has until Friday to commit to Pebble, but with its cooler weather and long pro-am rounds, that might trigger the same kind of problems. Assuming that he headed for home after his withdrawal, would he turn around and come back out for Riviera in two weeks or would he just wait for the Tour to come to him?
Hopefully poor Nicholas Thompson won’t be overshadowed by that decision too. On second thought, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind because that would mean that he’s still playing well.