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Tiger Tales from Torrey Pines

14 Min Read


Tiger Tales from Torrey Pines

First-hand memories from Woods’ seven victories at the Farmers Insurance Open

    Tiger Woods' top-20 shots at Farmers Insurance Open

    Tiger Woods will not be in the field this week, but his presence still looms large at Torrey Pines. Few courses have done more to define his legendary career than the annual venue for the Farmers Insurance Open.

    Woods has won at this scenic San Diego course since he was an amateur. His eight PGA TOUR wins here tie his own record for most at one course (he also has eight wins at Bay Hill, site of the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by Mastercard, and Firestone, the former venue for the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational).

    He has won the Farmers Insurance Open seven times and authored that memorable playoff victory over Rocco Mediate in the 2008 U.S. Open. He was undefeated at Torrey Pines from 2005-08, winning five tournaments in a four-year span.

    So, even with Woods sidelined after back surgery, let’s relive his seven wins in the Farmers Insurance Open.


    Final score: 68-65-69-72 (-14)
    Position after 54 holes: 4-shot lead over Brad Fritsch
    Winning margin: 4 strokes over Brandt Snedeker, Josh Teater

    FRITSCH: “Fog rolled in Saturday and I think one group played one hole. I was in the second-to-last group. We came back Sunday and played 25 holes and then finished Monday. Tiger and his group finished the seventh hole, as well, on Sunday so we were all going to start on the eighth tee. Admission was free Monday, so anyone could watch. We were driven to the tee in a van. We’re coming down the hill and I’m like, ‘Whoa, that’s a lot of people.’ It was 10 deep from tee to green and the grandstands were still up. I would have to guess there were 15,000 people on that par-3.

    “The van is going really slow down the cart path and beeping its horn, but people aren’t paying attention and they don’t want to move. They wanted to get a good vantage point. They dropped us off at the tee box, and the six of us are waiting on the tee for 10-15 minutes for play to resume. I remember hitting first. This was the third event of my rookie year. So I get up there, I’m in contention and I’m just shaking. And, of course, Tiger is watching. It was my first experience with him. I just closed my eyes and swung as hard as I could. I hit a great shot to 4 feet. My birdie putt didn’t even touch the hole.

    “I birdied 17 and 18 just to make it respectable. (Fritsch shot 75 in the final round to finish T9.)”


    Final score: 67-65-66-71 (-19)
    Position after 54 holes: 8-shot lead over Stewart Cink
    Winning margin: 8 strokes over Ryuji Imada

    CINK: “I played with Tiger in final rounds where he had a big lead a handful of times and it was always the same. It seemed like he was playing a Tuesday practice round – he didn’t seem too intense, but he was focused and that’s the beauty of how he played back in those days. He just treated every shot the same whether it was a four-footer for par on the fourth hole of the first round or if it was a 20-footer that meant winning or getting into a playoff. He treated them all the same and it takes mental toughness to do that because your mind and your body, your hormones – everything starts to flood into your system and to control that and still be meticulously the same – it was what helped him beat a lot of people.”

    “It was a golf course that was just made for him. It was long, there was a lot of rough, it was a physical challenge, and he was physically superior to anyone else playing golf at that time. I don’t remember thinking that I had any chance at all but if something weird happened like by some miracle he was four over through four or something I knew I had to be ready for that, but you just didn’t feel even a glimmer of hope when we teed off. He just had everything going. He was driving it long and straight and was in complete control of his game.

    “Fans loved to see Tiger really romp and smash us and win by a lot. Most tournaments when someone was winning by near double digits then TV ratings are down and the fans aren’t all that excited by it. But when Tiger did it the ratings were always up, and the fans were electrified. It was no different on that week.”


    Final score: 66-72-69-66 (-15)
    Position after 54 holes: 2 shots behind Brandt Snedeker and Andrew Buckle
    Winning margin: 2 strokes over Charles Howell III

    HOWELL III: “We were paired together in the final round. On the ninth hole, he hit two incredible shots – a monstrous drive followed by a just as monstrous 3-wood on to the green probably about 40 feet long and right of the hole. Then on his putt the ball was probably still 10 feet from the hole when the left arm went up in the air and then the ball disappeared for eagle. I think that was when I got a real taste of Tiger Woods on a Sunday at Torrey Pines. The place went crazy.

    “The crowds are clearly behind him but another factor that gets you as a player is you find yourself sucked in to watching him play. You are like, ‘What’s he going to do here?” He would drive it in the rough and you knew he was going to make par, but you wanted to see how he was going to do it. Sure enough, he’d find a way.

    “You feel like you are hopping in the ring with Mike Tyson and there is a pre-understood outcome. But at the same time, what an experience.”


    Final score: 71-68-67-72 (-10)
    Position after 54 holes: 1 shot behind Sergio Garcia and Rod Pampling
    Winning margin: Won playoff over Jose Maria Olazabal and Nathan Green

    GREEN: “It was my rookie year and just my second event. I was fifth in Hawaii and got to play with Vijay Singh in the final round and then at Torrey I was paired with Sergio Garcia and Olazabal in the third round. Then I was with Phil Mickelson in the final round. It was a bit of a baptism by fire and people were certainly saying, ‘Who is this bloke?’ I had just a few family members and there were a few Aussies in the crowd but on 17 when I missed my par putt I heard someone in the crowd say, ‘You just lost the tournament.’

    “Tiger was the final group behind us so with Phil in my group and him behind – it was chaos. I remember Phil’s chip shot on 11 to get up-and-down for par from off the green was the best shot I’d ever seen. I holed out from 70-odd yards on 13 for eagle to either take the lead or join the lead. But I bogeyed 15 and 17 so I needed a birdie on the last.

    “I knocked it on in two on 18. My approach was one of the best shots I ever hit. I had about 220 meters to the front of the green and I hit a good 3-wood and made a good two-putt after hitting the eagle putt 4 feet or so past. Tiger than needed birdie to join me and Olazabal and of course he did it.

    “In the playoff I got a bit greedy. They both missed the fairway and were going to lay up and I hit it pretty similar to regulation play. I didn’t want to hit it back right again because that putt was quick down the hill and hard to get it within 5 feet, so I tried to get to the right section of the green, but I pulled it into the grandstand. I made a judgement call thinking one of them would make birdie after their layups, so I tried to get my chip really close and flubbed it. Then I chilly-dipped another one at that was the end of me. It was a really good chance had I not got greedy, but I guess I was trying to win. Olazabal then missed a really short putt on the next hole and Tiger won again.”


    Final score: 69-63-72-68 (-16)
    Position after 54 holes: 2 shots behind Luke Donald and Tom Lehman
    Winning margin: 3 strokes over Howell III, Donald and Lehman

    PETER LONARD: “We had a bunch of fog delays that week and I ended up paired with Tiger for the last 36 holes – I think we had to play about 31 of them on Sunday with no re-pairing after the third round. He probably wasn’t even at his best, but he was clearly unbelievable at times, especially out of the rough.

    “We started on the 10th in the third round and both hit driver and mine was 30 yards in front of him – I don’t know if it hit something – but we were looking for it and the crowd was motioning further up and I couldn’t believe it. I had a chuckle but felt like I was 50 yards behind him the rest of the way.

    “I always got on great with Tiger. Maybe because I met him in the 1997 Australian Masters when I was still a club pro and I played with him on the Saturday.

    “I remember Tiger hit it in the left rough on the par-5 13th at one point where everyone was just hacking it out from. He gouged it out to get it up near the green, which was incredible. I walked away from that shot thinking not many guys in the history of the game could gouge it out from that rough and move it that far. It wouldn’t matter how strong I was I didn’t have that ability and not many did.

    “No one really knew me out there - for 12 years people called me Justin Leonard – and I ended up a spectator as the tournament became between Tiger and Tom Lehman, who was also in the group. They were pretty neck-and-neck from memory until Tom bogeyed 17 to be one back. I remember Tom couldn’t reach 18 in two but got to a good spot to wedge from. Tiger ripped it down the last but then mishit his iron and it landed between the pond and the rough so he had this really tight lie off a bit of a downslope and he just hit this unbelievable shot to maybe 10 or 15 feet. He was likely going to win with a two-putt but he didn’t leave it to chance and knocked it home.

    “The thing about Tiger – you could tell when it was really game on. He would have a different look. The best I saw was the World Golf Championship at Akron when Rory Sabbatini had said some things about Tiger being beatable or something like that. I was on the range that day when Tiger walked out and you just knew he was going to bury him and beat him by 20. It was like he had a ‘Do not Disturb’ sign around his neck – do not talk to me, I’m busy. And of course he did bury him – and everyone else.”


    Final score: 70-66-68-68 (-16)
    Position after 54 holes: 1-shot lead over Brad Faxon, 2-shot lead over Phil Mickelson
    Winning margin: Beat Carl Pettersson (69) by 4

    FAXON: “We had a lot of people, and I think because it was Phil’s hometown, they were pulling for Phil over Tiger. As much as I was a competitor, I was a fan that day, too. I watched every shot both of them hit. It was exciting for me.

    “Tiger was just starting back after knee surgery, and Phil had made the comments about his Nike equipment not being up to snuff. There was some animosity between them – I don’t think it was noticeable while you were playing – but I went on Golf Channel and they asked me to wear a referee’s shirt and be neutral because I knew them both.

    “It took forever for the guy to announce Tiger’s accomplishments on the first tee, and then it was just, ‘Brad Faxon.’ Nothing more. It was pretty funny. The technology was changing, but Tiger still teed the ball down, had a smaller-headed driver, and hit this laser that cut about five yards and split the bunkers and stopped in the middle of the fairway. Slight tip of the cap, if any.

    “Throughout the round, he and Phil talked to me separately, felt like they had my confidence. It was kind of neat, really. Phil was talking about the birth of Sofia, and then Tiger comes to me, after half-listening, to tell me how irrelevant that story was. He was always good to play with, but there was a difference in Tiger that day. He had his game face on.

    “My caddie was Tommy Lamb in the early 2000s; we called him Chop, Lamb Chop. He loved golf so much. We were on the 11th tee; this was a 225-yard shot downhill into the wind to that top-left pin, there was a tier. Tiger hit this 4-iron, and my caddie groaned. The sound was that good – like something he’d never heard before. The ball started 5 or 10 feet right of the flag, barely dropped to the left, and landed softly six inches from the hole for a tap-in birdie. It was the most perfect shot you’ve ever seen. Perfect, thin, bacon-strip divot. I’ve never had a divot look like that. Ever. It took the top of the grass and left the roots sort of growing. You wouldn’t have even had to put sand on it. And it was the exact width of the club for about four or five inches. Tiger looked at Tommy and sort of smiled under his breath, if that’s an expression.

    “He made us look like amateurs that day, and by us, I mean Phil, too. Phil had ignited this equipment controversy, and Tiger just silenced him.”


    Final score: 68-71-62-65 (-22)
    Position after 54 holes: 1-shot lead over Billy Ray Brown
    Winning margin: 2 strokes over Brown

    BROWN: “I birdied the 16th to tie him. We both missed the green on 17, but he was over the green in this cabbage lie. I’m thinking I’m going to be up one shot coming into 18. I felt confident in that. He hits this shot that you would play Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday but you certainly wouldn’t play Thursday, let alone Sunday. He had the nerve and the confidence and every intangible that you would want to pull that shot off. It was a terrible lie. He hit it to a foot. I was like, ‘You have to be kidding me.’

    “I had the honor at 18. He hit a tee shot that made a different sound. We had been separated by 5-10 yards all day. This one was, ‘See ya.’ I was well over 200 yards away. He hit 7-iron for his second shot. I almost lost the ball in the air, it was that high. I walked past him and he just gave me a grin like, ‘You like that, don’t you, old man?’

    “Everyone talks about horses for courses. I certainly believe that. At Torrey, you have to hit every shot. You have to be able to move it both directions. You have to control your trajectory. He is phenomenal at controlling his distance. When you’re around there at Nos. 10 and 11 and then 12, the distance changes once you get closer to the water. The weather will fluctuate. You have to get dialed in. He knew exactly how far he was going to hit those shots. And he’s comfortable doing that and working the ball both ways off the tee. He is very, very good at formatting a gameplan off the tee based on where the hole location is.”

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