The last time we saw Tiger Woods’ winning aura was when he pulled into the parking lot at Torrey Pines for the Farmers Insurance Open a year ago.
As the reigning Player of the Year, it was anticipated Tiger would take another victory lap around Torrey Pines, a track where he’s won on eight times as a professional … and that’s so not what happened.
After getting thrashed on the North Course by Jordan Spieth on Friday, Woods managed to make the cut but miss the secondary cut on Saturday. We later learned of Tiger’s back issues, which led to him missing much of the season.
The tournament unfolded as a Sunday horse race where, at one point, it looked like an unprecedented six-man playoff seemed possible. Instead, Scott Stallings, a name many fans probably had to Google search, emerged as the winner by a stroke.
This year Tiger returns under what couldn’t be a more different set of circumstances. Here we preview this week’s event followed by picks from our Maderas Direction of Instruction Chris Mayson.
1. Bizarro Tiger – The golf world is wondering what to make of Tiger after his short-game yip-fest in Phoenix. Coming off a career-worst 82, and with football season over, you can bank on his Thursday round getting the full attention, and scrutiny, of a round at a major.
Can Woods piece it back together on one of the courses where’s most comfortable? No one knows, and Vegas is doubting it – posting him at 50-to-1 odds.
Instead of people asking if Tiger can win, they’re wondering if he can make it to the weekend. Quite a different set of a circumstances for a 14-time major winner, indeed.
2. A Tougher TP – Favorable weather conditions, namely a mild winter, in 2014 allowed for a set up closer to a U.S. Open and Torrey Pines took advantage. A similar set-up seems likely this year.
That means a lower-scoring tournament, where it’s doubtful someone goes low and pulls away. That could leave us with a Sunday leaderboard more like last year.
Several media members panned last year’s set-up as being too tough for a February Tour event, saying it created “boring” scoring conditions. They might be hitting copy-and-paste on those columns this year. We’ll see.
3. Time for Spieth, Fowler? – After trouncing Tiger on Friday, Jordan Spieth was the story of the tournament last year until he ran out of gas on Sunday. It was later learned he played on an injured ankle.
Can Spieth come back and finish the job this week? Or will it be another 20-something – Rickie Fowler.
Fowler finished top-five in every major last year, a spectacular year only lacking a victory. Fowler’s visage is everywhere on the course this year. Will it be featured on next year’s winner’s poster at the course entrance? We’ll see.
4. A Favored Son, Anyone? – Pat Perez, a graduate of Torrey Pines High, finished a shot behind Stallings last year after being forced lay up on No. 18. It was Perez’s best finish in the event, but a shot short of the outcome he’s been dreaming of since he worked the range for this event as a youth. There’s no doubt he’ll have the crowd support. Will Perez finally raise the trophy on No. 18 on Sunday this time?
5. DJ’s back – After a six-month leave for “personal reasons,” Dustin Johnson makes his 2014 Tour debut at Torrey. As the consensus most talented player on Tour for several years running now, will Johnson now have the discipline and focus to turn that potential into a major championship? He can gain some momentum this week with a strong showing. At a minimum, it’ll be fun watching him bomb it on the par 5s at Torrey.
Now to a few predictions and insight from Chris Mayson, who’s been working with Brendan Steele this week at Torrey.
Mayson: I would have to go with Jason Day. Day is a long hitter and an accurate driver of the ball, which is a huge advantage on the South Course. Day also finished second at Torrey last year so he knows how to play well around these courses.
My other favorite would be Dustin Johnson. DJ is very long off the tee, is fresh off a long layoff and probably has a chip on his shoulder and a point to prove. DJ won his first event of the year in 2013 and 2014 and is looking to complete that trifecta at Torrey.