Farmers Insurance Open Starts In Cink

Major Champions, San Diegans Occupy 1st Round Leaderboard

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    NEWSLETTERS

    NBC 7's Derek Togerson reports from the Farmers Insurance Open in Torrey Pines, where the first round of the golf tournament offered its share of surprises. (Published Thursday, Jan 23, 2014)

    At any golf tournament, the first two questions most fans have are:

    1) How is Tiger Woods doing?

    2) How is Phil Mickelson doing?

    In Thursday's first round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, both players struggled a bit, but for different reasons.

    Woods shot an even-par 72 on the more difficult South course. He easily diagnosed the reason he failed to break par. Woods parred all four of the par-5 holes, the place he usually dominates, and it was bugging him.

    "I didn't play the par-5's worth a darn today," said Woods. "Obviously that's paramount to try and get any kind of scoring on the South course because there's not a lot of holes you can make birdies here."

    Woods has won this tournament seven times. His highest opening-round score at any of those seven wins was a 2-under 70 in 2003.

    Mickelson was struggling because of physical issues.He shot a very respectable 3-under 69 on the North course, but the San Diego native never really looked comfortable in his backyard.

    "It was actually a rough day for me because ... my back kind of locked up," said Mickelson. "I wasn't able to swing at it and that caused a problem."

    Mickelson's short game is so good, he was able to overcome on the shorter track and break par. However, on Friday he plays the South, the longest non-major course on the PGA Tour, and if his back (which he says he's never had problems with) does not improve, it may be a long day for Lefty.

    "I had to kind of ease into everything so that it wouldn't lock up (today)," said Mickelson. "I could do that on the North. I can't do that on the South."

    Overall, Mickelson is tied for 17th, just five shots off the lead held by Stewart Cink, who shot a bogey-free 64 on the North course. The 2009 British Open champion was, at one point, the 5th-ranked player in the world. Then he tried to tweak his swing, and it all went wrong. Cink fell to 333rd in the world rankings. He has not had a win since beating Tom Watson in that playoff at Turnberry in '09, and hasn't finished a tournament in the top-5 since 2011.

    His opening-round 64 is the lowest he's ever recorded in 12 starts at the Farmers Insurance Open.

    "I had to excavate the old Stewart Cink from underneath a bunch of of things that built up that weren't very good," said Cink. "It feels a lot better now and I feel like I'm playing a lot more solid, a lot more reliable kind of golf."

    Another surprise on the leaderboard is Torrey Pines High School alum Pat Perez, who fired a bogey-free, 5-under 67 on the South course, the lowest score of the day on the monster track. Perez has never finished better than 6th place at him home course. He calls this tournament "My 5th Major," and has never hidden his desire to win at Torrey Pines.

    Growing up, Perez used to work at the driving range when the PGA Tour came calling. Getting off to his best start in 13 appearances as a player here, the 37-year-old almost sounds like a teenager again.

    "It feels awesome," said Perez. "I logged a thousand miles on on that range picking that thing and cleaning carts to 11:00 at night. I used to shuttle the guys up and down the range here. It was the most exciting tournament for me ever."

    Perez has one win on Tour, at the 2009 Humana Challenge in Palm Desert. Now, more than a decade in to his career, he is working with a new coach, new equipment, and even has a new fiance. As he says, everything is, finally, coming together.

    "I don't even feel like I've played 12 years, I feel like I've played about 12 weeks," said Perez. "It's just time."

    Perez is three shots behind Cink but gets his shot at the North course on Friday while Cink moves to the South.

    The rest of the leaderboard looks like this:

    1) Stewart Cink (-8 NC)

    2) Gary Woodland (-7 NC)

    T3) Jason Day (-6 NC)

    T3) Tyrone Van Aswegen (-6 NC)

    T3) Jim Herman (-6 NC)

    T3) Marc Leishman (-6 NC)

    T7) Pat Perez (-5 SC)

    T7) D.A. Points (-5 NC)

    T7) Sang-Moon Bae (-5 NC)

    Seven players are tied for 10th place at 4-under par, and all of them played the North course.

    Sitting at 3-under par is a group of 12 players, including San Diego native Charley Hoffman, who played the South course. only 12 of the 78 golfers who started on the South broke par on Thursday.

    Other San Diegans in the field include Chris Riley, who qualified on Monday and opened with a 2-over 74 on the South course; Murrieta's Ricky Fowler, who shot a 5-over par 77 on the South; and Torrey Pines H.S. alum Michael Kim, who just left the University of California at Berkeley last month to turn pro. Kim opened with a 2-under 70 on the North course in his first round as a professional.