Woods, Mickelson diverge at Torrey Pines South

Tiger Woods on the eve of the PGA Tour's 2014 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.

Tiger Woods on the eve of the PGA Tour's 2014 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.

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LA JOLLA, Calif. – One man’s playground is another’s thorn bush.

Now you might catch those breathtaking camera shots of hang-gliders out over the Pacific and vibrant blue skies and majestic golf holes along the cliffs above Black’s Beach and wonder how the view of Torrey Pines’ South Course could stretch from one end of the spectrum to the other, but when you consider the viewpoints of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, it’s understandable.

Woods usually gets handed a trophy and access to a million-dollar credit line when he registers for tournaments here.

Mickelson? It’s his home, his proverbial “Cheers” where everyone knows his name, his game, and his fame, but it’s not the homecoming. Yet when he shows up at Torrey, it’s as if he is given a hair shirt – seemingly uncomfortable.

Now you could suggest that combined, Woods and Mickelson have won this PGA Tour stop at Torrey Pines 10 times, but that’s like saying Hank and Tommie Aaron combined for 768 home runs. A closer look at the record book shows you that since Mickelson won his third tournament at Torrey in 2001, Woods has won six of his seven.

The disparity with their successes here at this tournament – Woods with seven wins, Mickelson has three – deepens even more when you consider that Woods in 2008 also won the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines’ South Course. That remains a watershed tournament for both players.

For Woods, memories of him limping to his 14th major championship are vivid, yet it remain – at least for now – his more recent major triumph.

For Mickelson, having the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines was a proud thing for a native San Diegan, except the decision to host the national championship has contributed in large part to his anguish each of the last 12 trips here.

In order to win the bid to host the 2008 U.S. Open, city officials had to commit to USGA-requested changes and they were overseen by “The Open Doctor,” Rees Jones. And when it comes to Jones’ work and Mickelson’s preferences in a golf course, there’s a gulf much wider than the one between San Diego and Coronado.

“I haven’t won since it’s been redesigned,” said Mickelson, never shy in his dislike of the way the green complexes exist at the South Course. “My feelings of animosity toward it might have been a factor as to why I haven’t played well, per se, on it.”

Certainly, the record is tough to dispute. Winner of what was then called the Buick Invitational in 1993, then again in 2000-01 Mickelson missed the cut in 2002 to touch off a stretch of pedestrian play in this, his hometown event. Oh, he’s had snippets of vintage form, but for every top 10 (five) there’s been a finish well down the leaderboard, most recently in 2013 when he missed the cut.

“It’s just monotonous to me,” said the lefthander. “It’s doesn’t allow for a great recovery and it does not allow for aggressive play.”

Hard to imagine that Woods feels similarly, not when you consider that he’s won five of his last six, and six of his last eight trips out there. Those numbers only improve if you factor in the ’08 U.S. Open and if you really want to give Woods some latitude, he’s considers it nine victories already at Torrey, allowing for a World Junior title when he was a kid.

Then again, no matter what number you use – seven, eight, or nine – “it’s fantastic to be able to have had the success that I’ve had on this golf course,” Woods said.

Having returned to competitive action for the first time since his Northwest Mutual World Challenge in early December, Woods professes to have not done much golf-wise for more than a month. “What I did was, I tried to extend my offseason in that regard,” he said.

Whereas some would suggest it’s a recipe for rust, Woods thinks otherwise. He has always played sparingly in December and early January “and I think it’s one of the reasons why I’ve come out and played well at this event.”

One small change from past years, though: Whereas Woods was making his season debut in the fourth tournament of the year, with the “wraparound” campaign in effect, here it is the 10th stop on the schedule. One reporter mentioned that Woods was already 1,233 points behind the FedEx Cup leader, Jimmy Walker, and it brought a smile to his face.

“Yeah, how about that,” said Woods, shaking his head. “I haven’t wrapped my mind around it yet, the new scheduling.”

Clearly, though, he doesn’t seem worried in the least. He’s about playing a schedule that is convenient for him, on venues he prefers, at places where he piles up the victories, all in the name of preparing for the major championships. Torrey Pines, with one day on the North Course and three on the South (assuming he makes the cut) fits the bill on all those fronts, even when it comes wrapped in a look that’s a bit different.

Often damp and cool this time of year in San Diego, Torrey Pines traditionally has played long and soft. But given the warm and dry winter that Southern California has enjoyed, “I haven’t seen (the greens) this firm, I think, maybe since the (U.S.) Open,” said Woods.

It was hard to miss the big smile on his face. That’s because when firm and fast conditions greeted the players at that 2008 U.S. Open, Woods won.

Like always. Or so it seems.

Mickelson’s thorn bush is Woods’ playground, after all.

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