Par 5 Questions for the Farmers Insurance Open


Setting the week’s agenda with five questions about the Farmers Insurance Open . . .

Is Tiger Woods a believer again?

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods won the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. (Getty Images)
That’s the real question with Woods making his 2011 debut at the Farmers Insurance Open this week, because it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.

Does Woods believe in his game again? Does he believe in himself again?

The 2010 season ended up being about everything Woods lost, including his confidence. We’ll see at Torrey Pines if he’s ready to start making this year about what he’s going to win back.

Because nobody closed the gap on Woods in his first winless season last year. Nobody caught up to him. He dropped down in class in the aftermath of all his troubles.

There can’t be a better tonic for Woods than Torrey Pines, where his belief was so strong he overcame a torn ACL and fractured leg to win the U.S. Open nearly three years ago. He’s won the last five times he’s teed it up at Torrey Pines. He’s won there seven times, equaling Firestone as the course he’s claimed his most titles. Of course, we saw what happened to Woods last year at Firestone, where his final-round 77 left him at 18 over par. It sticks in the brain as evidence that an even a favorite venue guarantees nothing.  

Still, Woods’ swing under Sean Foley seemed a lot better at the end of last season, and he made us believe he could overcome almost anything with his win on nearly one leg at Torrey Pines in ’08. He returns this time trying to overcome a fractured spirit, and this, more than any other place, is where you can imagine him finding his game.
What should we expect from Phil Mickelson this week?

A magnificent shot through a Black Forest with goblins all around to set up a win?

A terrible closing shot off a hospitality tent to lose?

With Mickelson, it’s all wondrously possible.

But Mickelson can use another big victory. He’s sliding more swiftly than Woods in the world rankings.

While Woods slipped another spot to No. 3 behind No. 1 Lee Westwood and No. 2 Martin Kaymer in Sunday night’s release of the latest Official World Golf Ranking, Mickelson slipped two spots to No. 6. Mickelson was No. 2 less than four months ago. This marks Mickelson’s lowest ranking in nearly four years.

Mickelson can steal the show this week, but it will be an upset.

Yes, Mickelson’s won three times at Torrey Pines, but he hasn’t won there in 10 years, not since the Rees Jones’ renovation. He’s coming off a tie for 37th at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship last weekend, where he finished 19 shots behind Kaymer.

Mickelson says he wants this year to be everything last year wasn’t after his Masters victory, and his schedule looks ambitious, though the schedule he posted on his website might be more a wish list than a hard-and-fast plan. Last week, he posted a schedule that would have him play six consecutive events and 10 of 12 weeks through the Masters. But now he says it’s a 50-50 proposition that he’ll play the Accenture Match Play Championship because of a possible family vacation. Though the Accenture is still up on his schedule on his website, he’s removed the Arnold Palmer Invitational, making it nine proposed starts in 12 weeks through the Masters.

We’ll be looking this week for signs of which way we can expect Mickelson to move in the world rankings this season.
Will Jhonattan Vegas ride momentum from his Bob Hope victory?

It’s always intriguing to see how a player making a big breakthrough responds in his next start. We’ve seen confidence gained create a hot run, and we’ve seen the overwhelming excitement in the aftermath create a hangover.

If Vegas gets in contention again this week, it says a lot about what kind of all-around player he is. Torrey Pines South is such a different test than the Hope desert courses. The way Vegas kept getting up and down to save pars last Sunday, it should come as no surprise when this long bomber’s right back in the mix at ultra long Torrey Pines South.
Will Rickie Fowler break through to claim his first PGA Tour victory?

Fowler played well on some tough courses last year, and this feels like a course where the Southern Californian could break through.

A year ago, Fowler tied for fifth at Torrey Pines. As an amateur at the ’08 U.S. Open there, he made the cut. He also played well at Jack Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village last season, finishing second, and at Quail Hollow, finishing sixth.

With the phenomenal way Fowler finished at the Ryder Cup, expect him to ride a phenomenon known as the “Ryder Cup bounce” into this season.
Will Ben Crane have a larger following this season?

With his home-made spoof workout video having gone viral last year and his second comedic effort out on scouting golf courses, Crane should.

Crane’s got that Leslie Nielsen dynamic going for him as the defending champ at the Farmers Insurance Open.

A straight dramatic actor for so long, Nielsen could make you smile just seeing him pop onto a TV or movie screen after changing his image in comedies. Crane is now that feel-good kind of personality. You feel like you know him now because of that video, and you feel good about knowing him.

Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell