SAN DIEGO – The marine layer that encased Torrey Pines early Thursday morning burned off by 9 a.m. local time.
It took considerably longer for the fog to lift from around the world’s top-ranked player.
Tiger Woods carded only two birdies during his opening round on the South Course, considerably more difficult than its counterpart to the north. As a result, he finds himself well down the leaderboard as he looks to defend his title at the Farmers Insurance Open, eight shots behind overnight leader Stewart Cink.
“Even par’s not too bad, but I didn’t play the par-5s worth a darn today,” said Woods, who failed to break par in the opening round for the first time in 14 career starts in this event.
Playing his first competitive round of 2014, Woods appeared to show some signs of rust throughout the day, finding only 7 of 14 fairways while reaching 11 of 18 greens in regulation. After the round, he opted to take a positive outlook on his performance from tee to green.
“I didn’t feel that rusty; I felt that I hit a lot of good shots,” he explained. “I hit probably three loose ones out there … but it wasn’t that bad.”
Woods was likely anticipating his higher early-week score to come on the South Course, but he now finds himself in a far different position than a year ago, when he opened with 68 and then took control of the event with a second-round 65 on the easier North Course.
With more than a third of the field now ahead of him in the standings, he realizes that a low score is a requirement Friday morning.
“It’s got to be playing right around three shots easier,” he said of the North, which actually averaged nearly four shots less than the South, “so I’m going to have to go out there and get it a little bit tomorrow to not be so far behind come Saturday or Sunday.”
After notching his first birdie of the year on the second hole Thursday, Woods suffered through a stretch of 11 holes in the heart of his round without another circle on his scorecard. He was not without opportunity – five straight birdie putts failed to find the hole from Nos. 6-10 – but for Woods, the most glaring area for improvement was his performance on the four longest holes.
“Obviously that’s paramount to try to get any kind of scoring on the South Course is you’ve got to take care of the par-5s, because there’s not a lot of holes you can make birdies here,” noted Woods. “I didn’t do that, so subsequently I didn’t finish under par.”
Last year, Woods played the par-5s in 7 under during his three rounds on the South Course. Thursday, he was only able to muster par on each of them – which, according to Woods, made all the difference.
“If I play those normal, I’m 2, 3-under par,” he added, “and all of a sudden it’s a pretty good round.”
No one can match the 38-year-old’s track record in San Diego, but Woods will likely need to rely on his sizeable bank of positive memories as he looks to battle back from a rather unfamiliar position.
At T-63, he’s farther back after 18 holes than any year since 2004, when he netted a tie for 10th from the same opening-round position. The only time he was deeper in the standings came during his first start here in 1998, when he ultimately moved from 79th into a tie for third, while his worst starting position among his seven victories came in 2006, when he won a playoff despite starting in 57th place after an opening 71.
While his first-round score left him well down the leaderboard, Woods’ opening effort was by no means a poor one. He had only two bogeys on a course that chewed up many players Thursday, and matched par despite holing only two putts longer than six feet all day.
It was a fact that was not lost on the current world No. 1, who knew immediately after the round that he had fared better on the South than the average participant.
“I mean, even par right now is probably going to put me … about one or two shots under par on the South Course, below average,” noted Woods.
By the end of the day, even that estimate proved conservative, as the opening-round scoring average on the South finished at a stout 74.449 strokes.
With the prospect of a return to the South looming this weekend, he offered a not-so-subtle hint that he hopes conditions firm up before a potential tee time on Saturday.
“We figured the Tour might soften it up, and they did,” said Woods, who commented Wednesday that conditions were firmer than he had seen in years past. “They’ve softened it up as the day’s gone on, but I think it’s just get us through the cut and then see what happens.”
Before he returns to the track where he last hoisted a major trophy, Woods will need to make the most of his brief time on the North Course. The sizeable imbalance in the scoring averages between the two layouts makes his position appear worse than it actually is, and scores among the field will even out after the second round.
The fact remains, though, that if Woods is going to challenge this weekend for an eighth Farmers title, he’ll need to keep the fog at bay Friday.