SAN DIEGO – A strange thing happened here Friday at Torrey Pines.
The three highest-ranked players in the field and one of the game’s most popular stars all missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open – and none were discouraged.
Seems no missed cut is alike.
Start with world No. 2 Jason Day, who was primed for an inspired title defense after striping shots during long practice sessions last week in Palm Springs. Then he came down with the flu last Friday, ran a fever for five days, made two trips to the hospital to receive fluids and didn’t pick up a club until an hour before his 9:20 a.m. tee time Thursday. He sniffled his way to a 72 in the opening round, but didn’t have a game that was nearly sharp enough for a U.S. Open-type setup. His eventual missed cut, given the circumstances, wasn’t all that shocking.
Day described the past few days as “annoying.” This virus has run through his entire family and lingered for a week. He had trouble focusing. He had no energy, even losing his breath while climbing up hills. And he couldn’t string together enough birdie opportunities, because he couldn’t figure out how far his shots would fly.
“It’s just frustrating and obviously annoying to come into a week and not be prepared for a golf course like this,” he said. “I mean, it’s a U.S. Open golf course. So you’ve got to come in very sharp and very ready to play.”
Rickie Fowler’s early exit had a reasonable explanation, too: No one traveled farther to get to San Diego. After a stirring victory last Sunday in Abu Dhabi, his fourth in his last 18 starts, the new world No. 4 boarded a plane at 12:30 a.m. the next morning, flew more than 8,000 miles and 17 hours across 12 time zones, arriving in time for a junior clinic at Torrey Pines.
Did fatigue play a factor in his rounds of 73-71? Fowler said no, that he wasn’t about to make excuses. But consider that he was below his usual average in virtually every statistical category, especially on the greens.
“It just seemed like the ball was scared of the hole,” he said.
World No. 7 Justin Rose’s 2016 debut lasted only two days, but that wasn’t completely unexpected, given his track record at Torrey Pines; in seven career starts, he’s still looking for his first top-20.
That Phil Mickelson joined the parade of trunk-slammers was the most surprising development on Day 2.
After a six-birdie 69 on the treacherous South Course, Lefty believed that he was ready to “light it up” on the North side Friday. Perhaps it was the bad juju that lingers following his failed redesign bid, but his second-round 76 (which included three consecutive bogeys to finish) was his worst-ever round on the easier North Course. It was also the fourth time in five years that he didn’t play the weekend in his hometown event.
“I don’t have a good explanation,” he said afterward, adding that he’s not “overly concerned.”
A week after keeping his mistakes to a minimum during a desert shootout at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Mickelson made six bogeys and a double during a wild second round on a course that was yielding plenty of low numbers.
Odd timing, too, because just a day earlier, Mickelson praised his patient approach. On Fridy, he admitted to pressing and trying to force the issue.
“It just kind of slipped,” he said. “I wasn’t as mentally sharp as I needed to be.”
Maybe not, but he was anything but dull.
On the par-5 18th (his ninth of the day), Mickelson pushed his approach toward the parking lot on the left. His ball came to rest next to the boundary fence, nearly out of bounds. Unable to get relief, he used the toe of his hybrid to pop the ball out of trouble but still recorded a double bogey.
He was in the middle of the fairway on 4 with a pitching wedge. Bogey.
He was in the middle of the fairway on 7 with a lob wedge. Bogey.
“It’s just dumb things like that,” he said. “I don’t really know what to say, because the score is not how I feel like I’m starting to play.”
A similar refrain was uttered by all of the stars who left early, but the result remained the same for the defending champion, last week's winner, the fan favorite and the world No. 7.
“It’s not going to be the last cut I’m going to miss,” Day said. “But hopefully it’s the last cut I’m going to miss this year.”