The Upshot: Farmers, Rd. 1
Cink holds first-round lead after stunning 64 on the North course at Torrey Pines.
January 23, 2014
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
- The round of 8-under 64 was Cink's lowest round since 2011 at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. (Warshaw/Getty Images)
LA JOLLA, Calif. -- Stewart Cink did what he needed to do on Thursday during the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open.
He took advantage of the North Course, historically the more generous of the two courses at Torrey Pines, in shooting a bogey-free 64 that gave him a one-stroke lead. The round of 8 under was Cink's lowest of the season and his lowest since he opened with a 64 in the first round of the 2011 Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial.
Big-hitting Gary Woodland fired a 65 while Jason Day, Tyrone Van Aswegen, Marc Leishman and Jim Herman were another stroke back. All five also played the North Course on a sun-kissed day that began with a 30-minute fog delay.
"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," Cink said. "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 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 ... one of those rounds it felt easy, very little adversarial circumstances I put myself in and it was a really good solid round."
The best score on the South Course that Day said played like a "mini-U.S. Open" during Wednesday's pro-am belonged to Pat Perez. Perez, who volunteered at the tournament when he was a kid, shot a 67 that left him in a tie for seventh with D.A. Points and Sang Moon-Bae, both of whom played the North Course.
"That course is obviously tough," Perez said. "I've played it a thousand times but it's hard when tournament time comes around. ... I hit it really good today and I made some putts and I had some good up and downs and it was just kind of a clean day. The weather was perfect, we had a good group, it was just a nice day."
VEXED BY POLAR VORTEX: The last time most of us saw Jason Day he was in the process of winning the ISPS Handa World Cup in his native Australia, where it's summer right now. He hasn't gotten to play much golf in the two months since, though, since he now makes his home in Columbus, Ohio.
"Well, there was one point where minus 7 feels like minus 28, so it wasn't like this weather where you have here where you guys are very spoiled out here," Day said after shooting a 66 in 65-degree temperatures that left him two strokes off Cink's lead.
"My first competitive round of 2014, which is great to see the momentum kind of rolling over since the World Cup win down in Australia," he said.
Not that the break was a bad thing -- even if he did have to get the snow shovel out a time or two. He spent quality time with his wife Ellie and their 18-month-old son Dash, worked out at the gym and caught up on his favorite TV shows. Last week was spent in Palm Springs seriously working on his game.
"I've got this little setup in my garage where I put a net up and I hit balls there just to keep the body loose because sometimes when I come back after a long break, I'm really stiff and the body's not moving quite the way it should be," Day said. "So hitting balls there and just doing a few little putts on my mat.
"But other than watching TV and really relaxing and taking in the success of 2013 that I had and try to motivate myself for 2014. It was a good, long, six week break that I had and by the time it was time to go, I was really champing at the bit to practice and I was really motivated to come out here and practice."
HOMETOWN HERO: Pat Perez couldn't help but look out the glass door at the driving range at Torrey Pines -- repeatedly -- as he discussed the first-round 67 he shot with the media. After all, it wasn't all that long ago that the man who was raised in San Diego would have been volunteering at the Farmers Insurance Open.
"Every time I come back here I see the picker going, I logged a thousand miles on that range picking that thing and cleaning carts to 11 at night," he said. "I used to shuttle the guys up and down the range here. It was the most exciting tournament for me ever. I'd get up at about 4 in the morning and I'd come back about 11 at night and couldn't wait to get back the next day to see all the pros.
"You know, I'd steal a lot of the Titleist balls that were on the range. I'd go home and have this huge bucket of balls, never hit them, never played them, you know, just stared at them. I just thought that's got to be the greatest job in the world. So cool to be here and do that. You know, it's so exciting to be here all the time and now that I'm actually playing well and get going, I'm really looking forward to this weekend."
Perez has played in his hometown event every year since 2002. His only top-10 finish came in 2005, when he tied for sixth, but Perez has finished 21st or better each of the last three years.
Perez was volunteering the first time he met Tommy Armour III, who became a close friend. Ditto for Steve Elkington and several other players so Thursday's trip down memory lane was even more enjoyable given how well Perez played.
"It was just the whole scene of, God, look at these guys, look at all the new clubs and these big bags and these brand new white balls and the grass is just perfect," he said. "The tee never looked like this when I hit balls ever. The whole scene of it was just awesome. I remember going back and I still have friends around all over this place. There's a guy named Cooper, he's been here as long as I have, he's still working. There's old starters and there's old guys just coming back here seeing these guys just brings back memories."
NEVER FORGET: On Wednesday, a reporter asked Tiger Woods about his opportunity to win at Torrey Pines for the ninth time as a pro. A successful title defense come Sunday would be Woods' eighth Farmers Insurance Open title to go with the signature victory at the 2008 U.S. Open.
Woods playfully wondered aloud if the Junior World titles he won at Torrey Pines shouldn't count, too -- although he joked about the one that got away in 1993.
"Almost won it when I was 17 but Pat Perez got me," Woods said, adding that Perez still doesn't let him forget about it.
When someone reminded Perez of that victory on Thursday, he leaned back and smiled with satisfaction. "Best day of my life," he said simply.
Perez said he first met Woods when the two were 8 years old or so. The two later attended Pac-12 rivals in Arizona State (Perez) and Stanford (Woods). Perez remembers distinctly when his friend turned pro in 1996 after just two years in college.
"The thing that's so amazing, these young kids coming out it's like nothing, but when he came out it was like we couldn't believe it," Perez recalled. "We were watching it at ASU at our ... clubhouse, kind of watching him come out, saying I can't believe this guy's going to come out at this stage, it's just incredible, how can he compete with these guys. Sure as hell, years later you can't beat him."
Perez, who shot 67 to Woods' 72 on Thursday, said Woods has always been "great" and "awesome" to him. In fact, Woods texted Perez on Thursday morning with something about the swing idea his friend is working on.
"It was something about Hogan and how there was a guy that wrote an article about him," Perez said. "He sent it to me and he said this will help you maybe understand a little bit more. It's just little stuff like that. He's great.
"But I did get him."
WOODS STRUGGLES: Tiger Woods' title defense didn't start the way many had expected. Woods, who is making his 2013-14 debut at Torrey Pines, made just two birdies and two bogeys in a round of 72. In 52 rounds in the tournament he's won seven times, Thursday marked only the ninth time Woods had failed to break par.
In Woods' victories, his previous highest opening round score was a 2-under 70 on the South Course.
WILL HE OR WON'T HE? Phil Mickelson never thought about not teeing it up on Thursday. But when he made the turn on the North Course at Torrey Pines, the tightness in his back prompted Lefty briefly consider withdrawing from his hometown event.
Mickelson said the problem was muscular – “It's just locking up when I try to start on the downswing,” he explained. So he throttled back, took an extra club when necessary and relied on his vaunted short game to shoot a gritty 69.
"I was fortunate I was on the North course so that I could manage around and kind of half swing it around it and get up and down and make some pars, but it wasn't the best day for me," Mickelson said. "I'll have to get it better for tomorrow because the South course you can't get away with that kind of effort.
The five-time major champ, who is slated to defend his title at the Waste Management Phoenix Open next week, was headed to get treatment after he finished signing autographs. Friday’s second round looks to be a game-time decision.
“I'm hopeful I can play, but I don't want to do anything stupid here the first week of the year or second week for me of the year,” Mickelson said. “I want to make sure that I'm healthy and I that don't get into bad swing habits just because I've having a bit of tightening.”