It gets even better at Torrey Pines.
The Farmers Insurance Open has served up a leaderboard that could not have come at a better time for the PGA Tour – its first weekend of network television coverage, and golf won’t be competing against any NFL playoff games.
Bill Haas shot a 6-under 66 on the South Course to take a two-shot lead Friday over Anthony Kim, an explosive young American who seems torn between being like Woods on the course and John Daly off the course.
Behind them is no shortage of star power.
Mickelson closed with back-to-back birdies to turn an ordinary round into a decent one, giving him a 3-under 69 on the North Course. That put him three shots behind, along with three of his Ryder Cup teammates – Hunter Mahan, Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler – and defending champion Ben Crane. Also three shots behind is Daly.
Yes, that John Daly.
Never mind that Daly’s last win anywhere in the world was seven years ago at Torrey Pines, when he got up-and-down from 100 feet away in a bunker for a playoff victory. He put together rounds of 67-69, enough to make some wonder if he has any magic left.
“With me, you don’t know what to expect,” Daly said. “I just like the way I’m hitting the golf ball.”
And then there’s Woods, who hasn’t lost a tournament at Torrey Pines since the year Daly won. He was right in the mix after four straight birdies until he lost momentum with a par at the turn, then lost strokes by twice taking two shots to get out of a bunker. About the only thing that saved him were the final three holes.
Woods, who was eight shots behind at one point, hit a 5-iron to 12 feet for birdie on the 16th. From a plugged lie in the face of a bunker on the 17th, he blasted out to 20 feet and made the bending par putt. He finished with a 5-wood from 248 yards that had him crouching with hope that it would clear the water, then waving to a massive crowd when it did.
The two-putt birdie gave him another 69, and while he remained five shots back, only 11 players were ahead of him.
“It’s a round that easily could have slipped away,” he said.
Instead, it set the stage for a weekend on CBS Sports that could turn out to be quite a show. That much was evident in the final hour, as the gallery swelled under the brilliant sunshine and endless views of the Pacific. The fans crammed in around the 16th green, and they lined both sides of the 18th fairway as Woods finished his round.
When it was over, traffic on Interstate 5 leaving Torrey Pines was even more brutal than usual for a Friday afternoon.
No wonder this is one of the most coveted dates on the West Coast for PGA Tour events. It’s where Woods usually makes his debut, where Mickelson always plays – and in this case, where just about anyone can win.
Sixteen players were separated by five shots going into the weekend, which includes Dustin Johnson and Jhonattan Vegas, the rookie from Venezuela who is coming off a playoff win last week in the Bob Hope Classic.
Vegas said earlier this week he had never met Woods, with whom he will be playing Saturday. Woods recalls meeting him at Isleworth during a college tournament last year when Vegas’ brother was playing. So the world No. 3 must not have made much of an impression.
Daly, of course, is impossible to ignore.
He is more than 100 pounds lighter since that last win at Torrey Pines, and his clothing is so bright and loud that even the blimp can pick him up on the course without having to zoom in.
His game is worth some attention, at least through two days.
“When you’re hitting the ball solid, it’s easier to figure out what you’re doing wrong,” Daly said. “As long as I keep doing that, just go out and make a few putts, there’s no telling what might happen.”
Haas ran off four birdies around the turn, and only a late bogey kept his lead from being any larger. The son of Jay Haas, who won at Torrey Pines in 1978, he was a can’t-miss kid out of Wake Forest who didn’t turn any heads until recently. Haas won the Bob Hope Classic and Viking Classic a year ago, giving him more wins in 2010 than Woods and Mickelson combined.
He was at 11-under 133, and coming off a playoff loss a week ago at the Hope. So he’s doing something right.
“A nice 36 (holes) on the weekend could turn this into a great week,” Haas said.
Kim played alongside Woods and birdied his opening four holes. He was tied for the lead after a tap-in birdie at the 10th, but bogeyed the next hole and finished with seven pars, including a three-putt on the 18th.
“I’m really close,” Kim said. “I know I’ve said it a million times. I’m not going to say it again. I’ve just got to make a couple of birdies and see what happens.”
Mickelson did his work on what used to be the pitch-and-putt North, where the rough is deeper than ever and the fairways are narrow and at times extremely difficult to hit. Lefty missed several chances until the end of his round.
“To make those last two felt good, and I’m looking forward to the weekend,” he said.
Making it better was the sight of his wife, Amy, mingling in the gallery for the first time since she was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2009. She basked in glorious sunshine as she walked with a group of friends and couldn’t go more than 100 yards without some spectator approaching to wish her well.
“It’s been a lot of fun having Amy out here this week,” Mickelson said. “She just looks terrific. After a year and a half, we’re in such a better place, and it’s been a lot of fun having her out here.”