SAN DIEGO – Spencer Levin and Kyle Stanley knew they had to post low scores on the easier North Course at Torrey Pines to get off to a good start Thursday in the Farmers Insurance Open. It went even better than they expected.
Stanley made eagle on his final hole for a 10-under 62, his best score in two years on the PGA Tour. Levin shot 29 on the back nine and had a 62, matching his career best on Tour.
“I played the pro-am on the North Course yesterday. There were just a lot of birdie opportunities out there, so I knew there was a good score – maybe not 10 (under), but I’ll take it,” Stanley said.
They were a shot ahead of FedEx Cup champion Bill Haas, who had a double bogey on his 15th hole and still managed a 63. The top 12 on the leaderboard played the North, which played slightly more than 3 1/2 strokes easier than the South Course, which hosted the U.S. Open four years ago.
The best score from the South was Marc Turnesa at 66.
Phil Mickelson, meanwhile, went south on the South. The three-time champion and San Diego favorite thought his game was rounding into form when he came home from the Humana Challenge. Instead, he hit into 11 bunkers, missed a 3-foot birdie putt on the final hole and signed for a 77. It was his highest score at Torrey Pines since a 78 in the third round of 2005.
“Obviously, I made some bad swings, just in the wrong spot and so forth,” Mickelson said. “I felt like my game was ready heading in, and I don’t know what to say about the score. Because it was pathetic.”
A year ago, the fairways were pinched in and the rough was unusually high on the North Course, helping to make up for the 604-yard difference between the two courses. Based on the scores, that’s no longer the case.
Vijay Singh, Rod Pampling, Josh Teater and PGA Tour rookie John Huh were at 64, with Huh making three eagles. Camilo Villegas and Justin Leonard were among those at 65.
Of the 54 players who shot in the 60s, only 13 of them were on the South Course. One of them was Paul Goydos, who doesn’t buy into the theory that with two vastly different courses, the tournament really doesn’t start until Saturday when everyone has played both.
“Ten under is leading the tournament, and anyone who says differently is full of it,” Goydos said. “I looked at the leaderboard.”
He would argue that some players simply have better vibes on the different courses. What might be a big difference to one player might be much less to another.
“All I know is that I’m six shots back, and I’ve got to deal with it,” he said.
One thing that left little room for debate – the weather could not be any more gorgeous for late January along the Pacific coast, a day of endless sunshine and warm temperatures that made even the South play a little shorter.
Levin noticed only one big change in his game, and that was putting the ball in play. That made quite the difference, for hit set up short irons and plenty of birdie opportunities.
“I had some putts for birdies instead of pars, and kind of added up to a good score,” Levin said.
The turning point came when Levin thought he might made bogey. He drove into the bunker on No. 7, leaving him an uphill shot to a difficult green, blocked partially by a tree.
“I was thinking I wouldn’t have a shot. I was thinking it’s probably going to be a bogey, and I’ll go back to even (par),” Levin said. “I cut an 8-iron around and go on the right side of the green and hit a 20-footer – it probably broke 10 feet – and I made it. So it felt like at least a one-shot swing.”
He followed with a birdie on the par-5 ninth, and making the turn at 3 under instead of 1 under changed everything for him.
Haas, coming off a sluggish start in Kapalua and the California desert, was at 8 under with four holes to play when he missed the green well to the right on the picturesque, downhill, par-3 sixth hole. His long pitch from the rough didn’t reach the green, he chipped some 15 feet past the hole and made double bogey.
That made him upset.
He finished with two strong birdies, which eased the sting and could lead to some momentum on Friday.
“I would love to be 10 or 11 under,” Haas said. “But to get over that and finish with two good birdies, I was pleased with that.”
DIVOTS: David Duval withdrew before the round, citing the flu. He was replaced by Steven Bowditch. … Ryo Ishikawa, who missed the cut at the Sony Open two weeks ago, opened with a 69 on the South. … Haas has changed his belly putter, making it an inch shorter for what he calls a “huge difference.” He said it allows him to more easily get his eyes over the ball.