SAN DIEGO – It’s the same old story. Tiger Woods is having success at Torrey Pines. Even Friday’s rain, and last week’s missed cut, couldn’t keep him from finding his way to the top of the leaderboard.
Woods insisted that he was happy with his performance last week in Abu Dhabi, even though that trip ended two days early. Narrow fairways, persistent crosswind and two penalty strokes kept him from playing the weekend in the Middle East. He’s back in familiar territory, now.
Woods shot 65 in persistent rain Friday, and walked off Torrey Pines’ North Course with the lead in the Farmers Insurance Open. At 11-under 133, he’s two shots ahead of Billy Horschel. Woods’ seven closest pursuers have a combined zero PGA Tour victories.
More importantly, he didn’t look like a man who struggled to find fairways one week earlier.
“I’ve had beautiful practice sessions at home,” Woods said. “Even though last week I only played two days, I felt like I hit the ball well enough to shoot a better score. I had a couple days at home to work on it, and I came out here and felt pretty good about it.”
Woods missed just two fairways Friday at the shorter, tighter North Course at Torrey Pines. He didn’t shy from the driver, even on the North Course’s shorter par-4s.
Take the uphill 326-yard, par-4 second hole, for example. He hit driver into the fairway, about 40 yards short of the green. Rickie Fowler marked his ball, which sat some 5 feet from the hole, before Woods hit his approach, and for good reason. Woods’ shot hit the flagstick, setting up birdie.
“I drove the ball great,” Woods said. His straight tee shots with his longest club allowed him to take advantage of the North Course’s reachable par-5s. He was 5-under-par on those four holes, including an eagle at the 18th, his ninth hole of the day, after hitting his long-iron second shot within 10 feet of the hole. He made four birdies and a bogey on his final nine holes.
“He played well,” said Rickie Fowler. “He’s swinging it well right now. I think he missed a few shots out there, but he looks good.”
How well were things going for Woods? He even navigated a drop near a sandy area without penalty. He received a two-shot penalty last week in Abu Dhabi for taking an improper drop for an embedded lie in a sandy area. His tee shot at the par-3 third hole plugged in the turf next to a greenside bunker, but he was allowed to take a free drop because the ball was not touching the sand. He made an 8-footer to save par.
Woods held the 36-hole lead in three events last year: the Arnold Palmer Invitational, U.S. Open and PGA Championship. He only won the Arnold Palmer, as his weekend struggles at majors were well documented. He didn’t have trouble closing out regular Tour events, though. The Arnold Palmer was one of three PGA Tour titles in 2012. He also won at Memorial and AT&T National.
Woods has won this event six times. He’s won a major in four of those seasons. His 2008 U.S. Open victory here remains his last major triumph, though a victory here will lead many to predict that his major streak will end sooner than later. “I’ve had another year in the system working with Sean (Foley),” Woods said. “It’s not like something you can do overnight and make changes and all of a sudden it’s great. From where I came from to where I’m at now, it’s a big change.”
Woods was impressive with the driver Friday. That, along with the putter, will be an important club in his quest for another major. The North Course is several hundred yards shorter than the South, but the fairways also are much narrower, and Friday’s rains made the rough more penal.
Woods closed with a two-putt birdie at the par-5 ninth hole. He twirled his club after his tee shot flew down the fairway, then walked after his 5-wood second shot that landed on the putting green.
In spite of all his success at Torrey Pines, he’s played here just once in the previous four years, though, finishing 44th in 2011 while he was still in the early stages of his work with Sean Foley.
“There are certain golf courses where I’ve had success,” Woods said. “This is one of them.”
He showed that again Friday.