SAN DIEGO – Much focus will be shifted to the two biggest names who won’t be in attendance for Sunday’s final round of the Farmers Insurance Open: Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Better, perhaps, to pay heed to the 174 names who are in the hunt.
We embellish, of course, because only 70 will tee it up in Round 4 at Torrey Pines’ South Course. But for entertainment purposes, it’s worth noting that a healthy list of contenders certainly is within striking distance of Gary Woodland’s lead at 8-under 208. Two players are one back, two more sit two back, and in all there are 21 within four of Woodland.
It’s an eclectic group, for sure, with recent college stars (Jordan Spieth, Morgan Hoffmann), long bombers (Marc Leishman, Scott Stallings, Nicolas Colsaerts), free spirts (Will MacKenzie), intriguing foreign imports (Ryo Ishikawa, Andres Romero), and one hometown kid (Pat Perez).
An assortment of storylines, from which we arrive at 5 Things you need to know from Saturday’s third round:
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1. WHO SAID THIS COURSE IS LONG? Certainly not Gary Woodland, whose ferocious power is able to minimize the challenge of the 7,698-yard South Course here at Torrey Pines. Woodland’s average driving distance for Round 3 (289.6) gives him a three-day average of 289.2, though he readily concedes he needs to use that length to take better advantage of the par 5s.
He failed to birdie any of them Saturday, his biggest disappointment being three-putts for par after reaching No. 6 (from 70 feet) and No. 18 (from 61 feet).
Still, Woodland was complaining because he knows the bottom line with his game here. “If I drive the ball in play, I have a lot of chances to make birdie,” he said. “I’m playing a little different golf course than most guys are playing.”
Woodland actually has driven it better at the South Course (8 of 14 fairways Saturday and Friday) than at the North Course Thursday (6 of 14), but he has been steady with his iron play. For three days he’s missed just 11 greens.
Just one example of Woodland’s advantage: At the 466-yard, par-4 seventh hole, he had just 159 yards left after a drive of more than 300 yards. Perez had 208 and Russell Knox had 210.
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2. OFF THE ROOF: Credit a little home-course knowledge, perhaps. Then again, maybe a little luck was involved. But either way, Pat Perez, via an unconventional birdie at the par-5 18th, got home in even-par 72. Through 54 holes, the hometown kid is at 6-under 210, tied for fourth and just two back.
Having driven it into the fairway at the 18th, Perez slammed his second shot from 256 yards high and deep, off the roof of the grandstands to the left of the green. He was able to then get it up-and-down for birdie that greatly improved his mood and his stature at what rates as a major championship for Perez.
After all, Perez grew up in the San Diego area, learned to play at Torrey Pines, and actually earned his playing privileges by working all sorts of jobs here.
But he’s not savvy enough to know what will unfold Sunday, not with 21 players within four of Gary Woodland’s lead.
“If I could do that,” said Perez, when asked if he could make a prediction, “I wouldn’t have to play golf; I’d go play the lottery.”
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3. CINK SINKS: Seemingly poised to break a winless drought that dates to his 2009 Open Championship magic, Stewart Cink sprayed it everywhere off the tee (4 of 14 fairways), missed greens, and needed 34 putts in a display that looked nothing like what he produced Thursday and Friday.
Having opened 64-71 to sit at 9 under, just one off the lead, Cink shot 79 and got passed by 25 players. From solo second, he fell into a share of 27th, now six behind.
His first two days featured 11 birdies and just two bogeys, but his Saturday at Torrey’s South Course was the opposite: Nine bogeys, including six on the back when he shot 42, no birdies, and just one glimmer of a bright note, an eagle putt from 12 feet.
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4. BASHFUL, MAYBE. IMPRESSIVE, YES: Having been thrust into the spotlight on so many occasions when he wasn’t on his game, it’s intriguing to see Ryo Ishikawa string together a nice stretch of play without much fanfare.
At 22, perhaps the “Bashful Prince,” as he is known in his native Japan, is a little more accepted. Or maybe the media have grown tired of writing about his promise, with so little delivered. Or perhaps more patience is needed all around, because when he is studied closely, it’s hard to ignore Ishikawa’s abundance of talent.
Shaking off three bogeys in his first four holes, Ishikawa played the next 14 holes in six birdies and eight pars, a tidy 3-under 69 that got him to the three-quarter pole at 5-under 211, tied for sixth. He’s just four off the lead, the latest indicator that he’s got a bit of a roll going.
Having earned $664,556 already in just five tournaments, Ishikawa has been T-25 or better three times. Of the 21 rounds he has played in 2013-14, he is 44 under.
All of that brings this reality to the forefront: Should Ishikawa finish well today, for all intents and purposes he could assure himself a card for 2014-15. Good stuff for a young man who seemed a bit lost just a little more than a year ago.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Though much of the talk was of the toughness of the vaunted South Course, it actually played easier for the field (73.732 average) than Thursday (74.449) or Friday (74.551). . . . There were four eagles made, all at par 5s. K.J. Choi and Stewart Cink did the honors at the sixth, Luke Guthrie at the 13th and David Lynn at the 18th. . . . The second cut fell at 3-over 219, and 73 players advanced. Those who missed the second cut were Aaron Baddeley (76), Camilo Villegas (78), Brice Garnett (78), Tim Herron (77), Steven Bowditch (77), Will Claxton (77), Bobby Gates (81), Tiger Woods (79), and Michael Block (86). . . . It was hardly the way he wanted to finish – a 41 on his back – but Harrison Frazar shot 77 to sneak in on the number (3 over 219), his second straight cut made. Small steps, perhaps, but he had missed 10 cuts in his last 11 starts dating to May 2012.