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English, others eye Farmers victory after several stars exit

SAN DIEGO – Exits have been jammed with star power leaving Torrey Pines Golf Course: Tiger Woods on Thursday, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson on Friday, joined later by Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose, Billy Horschel and Luke Donald.

Ah, but not everyone departed the Farmers Insurance Open after 36 holes.

“My horse is back,” said Don Cooper, a smile on his face as he headed to the practice range. His “horse” is his boss, Lucas Glover, among a handful of names on the midway leaderboard who is looking to re-discover a little competitive momentum.

His victory drought stretching back to 2011, Glover failed to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs last season, a situation with which Chad Campbell could commiserate. Nick Watney and Jhonattan Vegas played in just one playoff event a year ago, and Harris English played in three, though it qualified as a disappointing season because he seemingly had been a lock to make it to the Tour Championship, which he failed to do.

To different degrees, each of them is looking to use 2014-15 as a bounce-back season. In that regard, this weekend offers a golden chance. As much as the Farmers’ door was closed shut on Woods and Mickelson, and Johnson and Spieth, it has been kicked open by players who are starved for success.

True, English might not be in quite the same group, given that he did win as recently as the beginning of the 2013-14 campaign, but it was how he ended last season that left a bitter taste in his mouth.

“My driving and putting were not consistent enough,” English said. “Then I had no confidence in my game.”

One could surmise that the 25-year-old’s confidence has returned, given that he breezed to a 6-under 66 on the North Course Friday, backing up Thursday’s bogey-free 68 on the more demanding South Course. At 10-under 134, English will take a two-stroke lead into the weekend over Watney (65), Vegas (69) and Martin Laird (68), each of whom played the North Course.

That 16 other players are within five strokes of the lead offers the potential for a weekend shootout as the event concludes on the South Course. Campbell (71 on the South) and Glover (68 on the North) are right there at 6-under 138, presenting further hope that the winner will be someone who desperately needs the positive vibe.

“To me, it’s about taking positive steps,” Watney said. “I’m on a really good path; things are moving forward this year.”

Watney last won in 2012, and in 2013 he stretched to five his run of appearances in the Tour Championship. But 2013-14 was a letdown, his FedEx Cup ranking slumping to 106th, so Watney is thrilled to have the chance to be in contention at a place that has treated him well. He won at Torrey Pines in 2009 and has three other top 10s here.

Glover and Vegas have winless skids dating back to 2011, though it’s been a whole lot of nothing much since then. For Glover, 35, falling to 219th, 114th, and 185th in each of the past three FEC standings has made for a long road back, but he did smile when told that his friend and longtime caddie had declared his boss to be back. Yet Glover knows that the real proof will be, as Watney said, in positive steps forward and on that front, this weekend will be important for him.

Ditto Vegas, whose troubles since he won the Humana Challenge in his rookie year of 2011 have been related to a shoulder injury. “I have a lot of patience, for sure,” Vegas said. He made just 29 of 51 cuts in 2012-14, but insists he’s just now feeling up to let his power take over.

“A lot of people have been asking questions. ‘Why aren’t you playing well?’ Well, it’s a tough question, but I haven’t been 100 percent,” he said.

Since he won the Viking Classic in 2007, Campbell has struggled. There was an attempt to be diplomatic of his recent play, but Campbell smiled and said, “You can say it. It’s been bad. I just haven’t played the type of golf I’m capable of.”

It’s easy to forget that Campbell played on three consecutive Ryder Cup teams (2004-06-08), that he nearly won the 2003 PGA Championship, that he won four times and recorded 25 top 10s from 2003 to ’07. That’s because in this what-have-you-done-lately world, Campbell has fought to remain upbeat in the face of up-and-down play; since 2008 the top 10s have numbered just 11, and the ranking in each of the past three FEC final-season standings hasn’t been better than 104th.

“I still enjoy playing, but with four kids at home, it makes it hard to leave (for Tour tournaments),” he said.

Campbell smiled and offered that his biggest fans are the four boys, all at home with his wife, Amy.

“You’ve got an infield,” he was told.

“Almost a basketball team,” Campbell said, laughing.

Grayson, Dax, Cannon, and Dodge, the Campbell boys, range in age from 7 to 1 and are primed to help celebrate their father’s first win in their lives. It’s something upon which Campbell remains focused. Now that he has gotten the first two days out of the way, he’s thrilled to have the chance. They’ve been few and far between.

Others in the hunt know how he feels.

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