Inside The Ropes By: Tom LaMarre
The Sports Xchange
Inside the ropes – Following a missed cut at Abu Dhabi last week to open his season, there might not be a better place for Tiger Woods to find his game than Torrey Pines. Tiger Woods will compete in the San Diego area event, now known as the Farmers Insurance Open, for the 13th time this week and he’s claimed the title six times in addition to winning the 2008 U.S. Open on the South Course in an epic playoff with Rocco Mediate. Not only that, he played several times in the Junior World Championships at Torrey and other courses in the San Diego area years ago along with the likes of Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson, a San Diego native. So he’s back on the Kikuyu fairways and poa annua greens he grew up playing in Southern California.
“Obviously, I’ve had good success at Torrey Pines,” Woods said in a statement on his website in announcing that the would play at Torrey Pines again after missing the tournament last year, instead starting in Abu Dhabi. “I practically grew up playing the South and North Courses. The fans have always been supportive, and I look forward to returning.”
Last year is the only time he has not played in the event as a pro when he has been healthy.
Of course, this is not the Tiger cub who was a junior sensation growing up in SoCal, or even the instant contender he became when he joined the PGA Tour after leaving Stanford following his sophomore year. Woods turned 37 on the next-to-last day of 2012, and although he has made a remarkable comeback from the darkest days of his tabloid scandal that began the morning after Thanksgiving in 2009, he’s not the main man in his sport any longer. That would be Rory McIlroy, and even though both missed the cut last week in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, golf fans and media have been almost salivating when thinking of the possibilities of these two going head-to-head this year, particularly in the majors.
There has been speculation by some in the media already that the ultra-talented McIlroy, with all of two major titles to his credit while Woods is stuck on 14, will some day be the one to surpass Jack Nicklaus’ total of 18. Not everybody is buying into that. “Rory is an incredible talent, but they’re at different stages of their careers,” Els, a four-time major champion told the assembled media last week in Abu Dhabi. “For me, Rory isn’t at the level Tiger was between 1998 and 2001, but probably no one ever will be. I don’t think anyone will play golf like that again. It was incredible.”
Surprisingly to some, Woods and McIlroy have become pals since playing together last year in Abu Dhabi, and the 23-year-old kid has joined his new friend in wearing the Nike swoosh.
They figure to become even better friends now that McIlroy, who will not be at Torrey Pines this week, has bought a home in South Florida, not far from Woods’ digs.
The situation isn’t exactly the same, but there are some similarities to the way 40-year-old Mark O’Meara took Woods, then 20, under his wing when the new kid on the block became his neighbor in Windermere, Fla., in 1997.
Not only did they get friendly, they both got better.
While Woods was only beginning one of the greatest careers in PGA Tour history, O’Meara was putting the finishing touches on his, which had been pretty good up until then.
O’Meara claimed 12 titles on the circuit between 1984 and 1996, but after hooking up with Woods in 1997, he captured his fifth AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am title by one stroke over Woods and David Duval.
A week later, he added a victory at Torrey Pines in the Buick Invitational, which eventually became the Farmers Insurance Open.
Then, in 1998, he made his career, winning the Masters and the Open Championship at Royal St. George’s, the only major titles of his career. Somehow, he still is waiting for a call from the World Golf Hall of Fame.
“I had won plenty of times before I ever met Tiger, but I learned the value of self-belief and drive from him,” O’Meara said a few years ago. “He always believed in me, even when I didn’t believe I could be a major champion.”
Woods always has been self-motivated, but a similar push from McIlroy at this stage of his career might be exactly what he needs.
COMING UP INSIDE THE ROPES
PGA TOUR: Farmers Insurance Open on the North and South courses at Torrey Pines Golf Club in La Jolla, Calif., Thursday through Sunday.
TV: Thursday and Friday, 3-7 p.m. EST on the Golf Channel; Saturday, 1-2:30 p.m. EST on the Golf Channel and 3-6 p.m. EST on CBS, and Sunday, 1-2:30 p.m. EST on the Golf Channel and 3-6:30 p.m. EST, on CBS.
Last year: Brandt Snedeker, who started the final round seven strokes behind, closed with a 5-under-par 67 to catch collapsing Kyle Stanley and then beat him with a par on the second playoff hole. Stanley held a three-stroke lead on the final hole, but his approach shot spun off the green and into the lake known as Devlin’s Billabong before he three-putted from 45 feet for a triple-bogey 8. After both players birdied the first playoff hole, Snedeker holed a five-foot par putt on the second, where Stanley’s putt from a similar distance lipped out. Snedeker claimed his fourth PGA Tour victory and later in the season captured the Tour Championship, which gave him the FedEx Cup. Stanley bounced back from his disaster by winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open the following week.
CHAMPIONS TOUR: Allianz Championship on the Old Course at Broken Sound in Boca Raton, Fla., Feb. 8-10.
TV: Friday, 6:30-8:30 p.m. EST; Saturday, 6:30-9:30 p.m. EST, and Sunday, 7-9:30 p.m. EST, on the Golf Channel each day.
LAST YEAR: Corey Pavin sank a 12-foot putt for par on the first playoff hole to beat Peter Senior of Australia and claim his first victory on the Champions Tour when Senior missed from about the same distance. Pavin and Senior, who also was seeking his initial title on the senior circuit, both closed with 1-under-par 71s, with Senior holing a six-foot par putt on the final hole of regulation to force the playoff after Pavin missed a 10-footer for birdie. Pavin saved his day with a par 3 on the 14th hole, where his tee shot stopped next to a tree and forced him to hit a chip shot left-handed with an inverted 8 iron. His ball stopped five feet from the hole and he made the putt.
LPGA TOUR: LPGA-ISOPS Handa Women’s Australia Open at Royal Canberra Golf Club in Canberra, Australia, Feb. 14-17.
TV: Thursday and Friday, 12:30-2:30 p.m. EST; Saturday and Sunday, 3-6 p.m. EST, on the Golf Channel each day.
LAST YEAR: Jessica Korda holed a 25-foot birdie putt on the second hole of a record-tying playoff with five other golfers to claim her first LPGA Tour victory at Royal Melbourne. The 18-year-old Korda, whose father Petr won the Australian Open tennis championship in 1998, took a one-stroke lead into the final round and held the top spot until faltering with bogeys on the 14th, 15th and 16th holes. She needed a birdie on No. 17 to shoot 2-over-par 74 and get into the playoff with Brittany Lincicome, Stacy Lewis, Julieta Granada of Paraguay, and South Koreans Hee Kyung Seo and So Yeon Ryu.