PGA Tour events follow a set pattern: 156 or so players tee it up on Thursday and Friday; after 36 holes of golf the top 70 players (and ties) stick around and play the weekend for a paycheck, the rest hit the road to the next tournament and hope for better luck the next time around.
Based on that “normal” model, last weekend’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines was anything but normal. A Monday finish was just the tip of the iceberg – there was a weather delay that stretched to a full day, a Sunday of play that stretched from just after dawn until it was too dark to continue, wild swings in individual scores that saw players moving up and down the leaderboard like yo-yos, and an 86-man final.
The only thing that was remotely normal about the tournament was the winner. Tiger Woods, displaying longer and more continuous glimpses of the “old Tiger” than we have seen in a few years now, took control of the tournament in the manner that he has so often in the past, claiming his 7th title in the event. The win marked two milestones for Woods: an unprecedented eighth win on the same golf course (the seven regular-season titles plus the 2008 U.S. Open), and his 75th PGA Tour victory.
As an outdoor activity, golf is governed by the weather, and early-season PGA Tour events – even in temperate California – can see unusual circumstances affecting play (the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, which is coming up in a couple of weeks, is a good example). Weather at the 2013 Farmers Insurance Open ranged from clear-and-sunny San Diego Chamber of Commerce weather to pea-soup fog that killed an entire day of play.
The lost day of play Saturday drove much of the rest of the weirdness that afflicted the tournament. Sunday saw the 87-man field take to the course for a marathon session aimed at minimizing the number of holes that would have to be played on Monday. Normally a field that large would be trimmed back to the usual top 70 and ties with a 54-hole cut – but that wasn’t done, so all eighty-seven played on.
Some sixteen players in the final field were entered in the Monday qualifying tournament for next week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open, and officials there had adjusted the playing order to give these players a chance at making their tee times – an effort that went for naught thanks to TV and Tiger. Rather than getting the field out early in the morning – say, at 8 AM or so – to play the remaining holes of their final 18, the Tour, heeding the wishes of their media partner, CBS, started play at 11:10 AM in order to pick up some ratings with a Tiger victory in East Coast prime time.
(Canada’s Adam Hadwin did make it to the qualifier in Phoenix. After completing 15 holes of what would have been his final round in 12-over, he elected to withdraw and head to Phoenix for a Monday qualifier for the Tour’s next stop, the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He cited a wrist injury as the reason for his WD…)
Despite a remarkable disinclination to play from the fairway (he hit only 32 of 56 fairways for the week) and a bout of hyper-sensitivity that would make Colin “Rabbit Ears” Montgomerie blush (he blamed a badly blocked drive on the par-5 ninth hole on Monday’s finish on a camera click, but he had stepped back and reset before teeing off), Woods scrambled and recovered from his poor performance off the tee with uncanny shots from the tree lines and out of bunkers.
Woods entered the closing rounds with a 7-stroke lead, and was eight up over his nearest competitor at one point, but a “loss of concentration” and frustration due to the slow play ahead saw his margin narrowed in the closing holes.
“I started to lose my patience out there a little bit with the slow play,” Woods said, “and that’s when I made a few mistakes.” The mistakes added up to the loss of four strokes over the last four holes – half his lead – and if even one or two of the rest of the field had mustered some consistency, Woods might still be looking for his 75th Tour victory.
Defending champ Brandt Snedeker, who finished T-2, four strokes back of Woods, seemed poised to repeat after an opening round 65, but shot himself in the foot with a 75 the next day. A pair of sixty-nines in the final two rounds moved him back up the board by the time all was said and done, but wasn’t enough to overcome that 10-stroke swing in his score from Day 1 to Day 2. Rickie Fowler, who played in Woods’ group the first two days, opened with a 5-over 77, dead last on the day, then came back on Friday with a 65 – a 12-stroke swing. His closing rounds of 68 and 70 weren’t enough for him to mount a serious challenge, and the former OSU Cowboy finished six strokes back with a 280 total. Sacramento’s Nick Watney played consistently all four days, with only a 3-stroke delta between his high and low scores, but his low scores weren’t low enough, and his 69-68-71-71 – 279 left him five back and tied for fourth.