Published January 26, 2013
SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods cared more about the number of rounds left at Torrey Pines than the number of PGA Tour wins belonging to the guys chasing him.
When the second round ended Friday in a steady rain at the Farmers Insurance Open, the odds looked to be stacked in Woods' favor. He had a 7-under 65 on the North Course for his first outright 36-hole lead on the PGA Tour in more than three years. He is a seven-time winner at Torrey Pines, six of those in this tournament. And his 74 career wins on tour were 74 more than the next seven guys behind him.
"We've got a long way to go," Woods said after finishing his two rounds at 11-under 133.
Woods knows this from experience.
His three-shot win in the 2009 Buick Open was tougher than it looked on paper, only because Woods had everything to lose. He was expected to win. Of the 13 players within five shots of his slim lead going into the last round, only one of them — Ben Crane at No. 73 — was ranked inside the top 100 in the world.
Golf gets deeper every year, and it doesn't get any easier to win.
Then again, Woods is playing some pretty good golf.
He effectively missed only one fairway on the easier North Course in the second round. He is leading the field in driving distance at 318.5 yards, remarkable given the wet conditions from the rain and Torrey Pines being at sea level. He is 9 under on the par 5s, with five birdies and two eagles over the last two days.
Woods seized control Friday around the turn, when he played four holes in 5-under par — a 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th, a 5-iron to 5 feet for eagle on No. 18, a two-putt birdie on the first, and a wedge that one-hopped against the pin and settled about 5 feet away for another birdie.
"Vintage (at)TigerWoods today," Dustin Johnson said on Twitter after finishing eight shots behind.
Woods had a two-shot lead over Billy Horschel, who only two months ago was in Q-school trying to get his PGA Tour card again. Horschel finished strong on the South Course for a 69 and was thrilled when he looked at the leaderboard. He was at 9-under 135, and Woods was the only name ahead of him. That meant he would be in the final group with Woods, joined by Web.com Tour grad Casey Wittenberg, who had a 67 on the North.
"It's a good day and I'm excited about tomorrow — I get to play with Tiger," Horschel said. "I found out when I tapped in for par. I realized he was leading and I was in second place. So yeah, looking forward to that."
Horschel wades into a big world Saturday, but he believes he has the experience from when he played the Walker Cup in 2007 at Royal County Down.
"There was a guy I competed against three times called Rory McIlroy," Horschel said. "So there may have been 10, 12,000 people following us, and only a couple thousand following the rest of the groups. So I've dealt with crowds. I guess it's a little bit easier playing with Tiger because I guess the group ahead, they move a lot or something. Just hearing what media says. It's going to be exciting."
Brad Fritsch, a rookie from Canada, had a 67 on the South Course to lead the group of six players at 8-under 136. The others were Wittenberg, Steve Marino, Jimmy Walker, Josh Teater and Erik Compton, whom Woods referred to as "remarkable" for being a two-time heart transplant recipient and playing on the PGA Tour.
Defending champion Brandt Snedeker didn't fare so well. After opening with a 65 on the North, he made only one birdie and twice took bogey on the par 5s on his way to a 75 that left him seven shots behind. K.J. Choi, who had a 65 on the South Course, couldn't break par on the easier North and had a 73 to fall five behind.
Phil Mickelson struggled to keep his hands dry in the wet weather and finished bogey-bogey on the South for a 71 to make the cut on the number, though his work isn't over. There were 87 players who made the cut at 1-under 143, meaning there will be another cut to top 70 and ties Saturday.
Mike Weir, meanwhile, made the cut for the first time since July 2011 despite a sloppy finish for a 75 on the South. He was tied for 41st at 3-under 141.
Woods is coming off a missed cut in Abu Dhabi last week to start his year.
"I've had beautiful practice sessions at home," he said. "If I can do it there, I can do it out here. Even though last week I played only two days, I felt like I hit the ball well enough to shoot a better score than I did. I had a couple of days to work on it, and I came out here and felt pretty good about it."
The final two rounds move to the South Course, which played about 1½ shots harder Friday in the rain. The greens are more receptive, sure, but the course figures to play at full length in wet conditions and at sea level.
For Woods, it was his first outright lead going into the weekend against a full field since the Australian Open in 2011 (he finished third at The Lakes), and his first time atop the leaderboard at Torrey Pines since 2008. Then again, he has only played one time at this event since then when he was just starting to change his swing.
And while this looks ominous for everyone else, Woods with a 36-hole lead — even at Torrey Pines — doesn't mean this is over. He had a 34-10 record when he has at least a share of the 36-hole lead, though he has failed to win four of the last six times from that spot.