By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
LA JOLLA, Calif. -- They are all SoCal guys. But as wildly popular as Rickie Fowler is, even he knows the bulk of the people following his group during the first two rounds of the Farmers Insurance Open will be there for one reason: Tiger Woods.
Fowler and Nick Watney complete the grouping that leaves the first tee on the South Course at Torrey Pines Thursday at 1:30 p.m. ET (10:30 PT). The thresome will tee off the 10th hole on the North Course at 12:20 p.m. ET (9:20 PT) on Thursday.
"So between Nick and I, we'll make for about five percent of the crowd out there -- Tiger will take up the rest," Fowler said with a smile.
The 24-year-old Fowler has played with Woods three times previously in PGA TOUR events, all last season. Fowler came out on top in the first round of THE PLAYERS (72-74) while Woods shot 68 in the second to nip the Oklahoma State product by one.
But it's the third time Fowler recalls most vividly. He started the final round of the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide in third place, one stroke ahead of Woods, and the two played in the penultimate group.
Woods shot 67 and came from four strokes behind to win for the fifth time at Muirfield Village. Fowler, on the other hand, stumbled to an 84.
"I just was on the sidelines watching," Fowler said with a wry smile. "I was kind of hitting a few extra shots."
Fowler said he and Woods are more apt to practice next to each other, as they did last week, at The Medalist back home in Hobe Sound, Fla., than play together. He says the former world No. 1 acts, and is treated, like one of the guys.
"He'll give it to you in the games, and he expects it right back," Fowler said. "So we have some fun. It's been fun to be around a guy like him who has had as much success as he has, and to try to pick up on a few things and learn a little bit from him."
Woods sets the standard for success at Torrey Pines, of course, with six victories at the Farmers Insurance Open and another at the 2008 U.S. Open on the South Course. But Fowler has found a comfort zone here, as well, with three top-20 finishes, including a tie for fifth in his 2010 debut.
"For me, I list it as one of my favorite courses, the South Course, for sure, and being able to play the North Course is definitely a great complement for the two to be here and be part of one event," said Fowler, who now wears the Farmers logo on the right side of his cap in a sponsorship deal announced Wednesday.
"... It's got the length. I like the small greens. I grew up on Poa annua greens, and some guys don't like Poa annua. I do. Obviously, there are some decent views. Some of the better views in golf, usually, you get great weather. ... But it's just a great piece of property, being close to home, lot of friends and family, so it's a special place for me."