SAN DIEGO - Tiger Woods was alarmed, but not concerned, when shots into the green bounced nearly as high as the flagstick on the South Course at Torrey Pines.
The rough is thick, surprising only because it has been dry. It’s usually only thick and heavy when it’s cold and damp.
It almost reminded him of the U.S. Open.
“If they keep the golf course like this, it’s going to be one hell of a test as the week progresses,” Woods said Wednesday. “It’s going to get really difficult to post some good numbers. It’s going to be awfully difficult to get the ball close and make birdies. And as I said, it’s closer to an Open right now than how I normally see it.”
Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
He usually does all right on firm, fast courses. He always seems to do well at Torrey Pines, where he has won times – including that 2008 U.S. Open.
“I find it good,” he said.
Woods was set to make his 2014 debut on Thursday in the Farmers Insurance Open, a tournament that has been very good to him. He is the star attraction, along with San Diego native Phil Mickelson, the two biggest stars of their generation. Mickelson is a three-time winner at Torrey Pines.
They don’t share the same outlook.
Woods and Mickelson were in the same group for that 2008 U.S. Open, the one in which Mickelson chose not to use a driver on a 7,643-yard course, which at the time was the longest in major championship history. Mickelson tied for 18th that week in the one major he has never won.
Mickelson loves Torrey Pines, a public course along Pacific bluffs where he played countless times as a kid. And he likes what having a U.S. Open did for his hometown, and the additional value it brought to Torrey Pines.
He just never liked what getting a U.S. Open meant to the golf course – specifically bringing in “Open Doctor” Rees Jones to redesign it, lengthen it and beef it up to standards worthy of golf’s toughest test.
Mickelson was asked if his results in the Farmers Insurance Open – not great – have been affected by his lack of fondness for the new South.
“I haven’t won since it’s been redesigned,” he said after a few seconds of contemplation. “My feelings of animosity toward it might have been a factor as to why I haven’t played well on it, but I have come close a few times. I’ve had a couple seconds that I can think of and I’ve learned to play it over the years, but it is not conducive to the way I like to play, which is aggressive.
“Every shot is repelled away from the tucked pins, every green breaks away from the bunkers, every time you’re in a bunker you’ve got a downhill shot. It’s just monotonous to me and it doesn’t allow for great recovery and it does not allow for aggressive play,” he said. “It allows for 40 feet away from the hole and try to make a putt, take advantage of the par 5s.”
Other than that, Mickelson was upbeat about his first PGA Tour event of the year (he was runner-up in Abu Dhabi last week on the European Tour). He loves his new driver, which he calls his favourite club. He’s excited about his putting. He’s more excited going into a year than any other time.
And yes, he’s excited about a U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, not because of where it is but what it is.
Mickelson won the British Open last summer at Muirfield, leaving him one leg short of the career Grand Slam. That would be the U.S. Open, where he already holds the record for most silver medals (six-time runner-up).
“I feel like it’s just a matter of time,” he said. “It may be this year at Pinehurst, it may not, but I do believe that will come. It’s a tournament I’ve played too well in over the years not to finally win, and I actually believe I’ll win a couple.”
Now that’s one thing they have in common. Woods also would love to win another U.S. Open this year. Actually, any major would do.
He has been stuck on 14 majors – four shy of Jack Nicklaus – since that ’08 Open at Torrey Pines. It has become such a talking point that even though the Masters is 78 days away, Woods starting his 2014 year at a regular tour event is enough to prompt the question, “Will he catch Jack?”
So when asked if this was a big year in that regard, Woods offered a different view – every year is a big year, so nothing has changed.
“Every year that I get a chance to compete and play in tournaments and major championships for as long as I decide to do it … every year counts,” he said. “Looking back from the beginning of my career to now, I know that I don’t have 20 years in my prime. I don’t see being 58 and being in my prime. Most guys don’t dunk from the foul line at age 58, so it’s a little different. But the outlook is still the same.
“I still prepare the same,” he said. “I still work my tail off to be ready to compete at this level and beat everyone that I’m playing against.”