Brandt Snedeker ended another round at Torrey Pines atop the leaderboard. Only this time he had company, and still a long way to go.
Snedeker had a flawless start to his title defense in the Farmers Insurance Open by playing bogey-free on the North Course for a 7-under 65 and a share of the lead with K.J. Choi on Thursday. The advantage after one day goes to Choi, who birdied three of his last four holes on the tough South Course for his 65.
Tiger Woods, a seven-time champion at Torrey Pines as a pro, looked as if he might join them. Woods was one shot off the lead with five holes to play on the South until he stumbled in the final hour of a cloudy day with two bogeys and had to scramble to save par on the par-5 18th for a 68.
"I made a few mistakes out there, but I made some nice plays as well," Woods said.
He three-putted for double bogey on the fourth hole, and then responded with a 12-footer for birdie, an eagle by holing a bunker shot on the par-5 sixth, and birdie putts on the eighth and ninth holes to get back into the game.
Phil Mickelson had quite the taxing day with a 72 on the North, which played about 1½ strokes easier than the course that hosted a U.S. Open in 2008.
Snedeker already is developing quite the love affair with this municipal course along the Pacific Bluffs. As a rookie, he was 10 under through 10 holes and had to settle for a 61 on the North Course. He finished third that year. Then, he rallied from seven shots behind in the final round, got into a playoff when Kyle Stanley made triple bogey on the 18th and won on the second playoff hole.
One year later, he was right back at it.
"It's funny, you look at all the golf courses I should play well on, this should not be one of them," Snedeker said. "This is a long, difficult golf course with lots of rough and hitting a lot of iron shots. My strength is driving and putting, so it doesn't really add up well around year. But for some reason, it's been good to me."
It was even more of a mystery for Choi.
He is not a regular at Torrey Pines and decided not to come last year until he heard from his host family in San Diego that the South Korean community wanted to see him play. Choi put on quite a show. He finally got some height and spin into shots while warming up on the range, and he converted that into the best round on the South.
He ran off five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine — he started on No. 10 — and no shot was more pleasing than a wedge into a light crosswind on the 15th hole that settled inches from the cup.
"Best shot ever on the South Course — ever," he said, grinning.
Of the eight players at 66, only Josh Teater posted his on the South Course. Of the PGA Tour events that use multiple courses, few of them are as different as the South and North at Torrey Pines, although the difference in scoring average has been greater in recent years.
Charles Howell III summed it up best after his 66 on the North.
"The real one is tomorrow," Howell said.
Howell lost in a playoff last week in the Humana Challenge, and he started his season with a tie for third at the Sony Open. Whatever disappointment he felt in the California desert, he was able to shake off quickly. And he wasn't alone.
Scott Stallings lost a five-shot lead in the Humana Challenge and bogeyed the par-5 closing hole to miss the playoff. He bounced back with a 66.
And there was Woods.
He started his season by missing the cut in Abu Dhabi when he was docked two shots at the end of his round for a rules violation on the fifth hole. He was on more comfortable territory at Torrey Pines, though he says he didn't hit the ball much differently.
"Last week's conditions were a lot more difficult and the fairways were narrow and the wind was howling," Woods said. "I felt like I was doing a lot of good things right last week — unfortunately, only for a few days, but I doing a lot of good things right. And I came out here today and basically did the same thing."
He missed birdie putts of 8, 15 and 12 feet on the back nine, along with two par putts from inside 8 feet.
Woods now goes to the North Course to figure out where he is before anyone can get a true sense of how this tournament is shaping up.
Snedeker said this week that any records set by Woods should have an asterisk because they're typically not done by normal players. He didn't say anything about repeating at Torrey Pines, where Woods once won five times in four years including the U.S. Open.
"I think he's won here more times than I've won on tour, so I think he knows the place pretty well," Snedeker said. "I think he's very similar to me. He loves putting on these greens. ... We've got three more days to go. There's 155 guys I'm still worried about besides him, so we have a lot more guys to worry about."
Woods played with Rickie Fowler, who had a 77 and was tied for last place.
Mike Weir was among those who had a 66 on the North Course and appeared to be in great shape to make his first cut since 2011.