Gary Woodland is among the most athletic players on the PGA Tour, with a history to back it up.
He played on a traveling baseball team as a teenager in Kansas until his father suggested he narrow the number of sports he played. Woodland wasn't about to give up on basketball, and he wound up going to Washburn. His biggest thrill remains an appearance in Allen Fieldhouse to play the Kansas Jayhawks.
Eventually, he transferred to Kansas to play golf and it has worked out well, with one minor problem: Injuries.
"The body is not made to hit golf balls, especially as many as we hit and probably as hard as I hit it," Woodland said Friday after a 5-under 67 on the South Course at Torrey Pines to share the lead with K.J. Choi in the Farmers Insurance Open. "So I've deal with a lot of injuries, more than I had ever dealt with in any other sports that I played. So that's been frustrating."
There was that one summer when Woodland, a shortstop, had his leg broken from a hard slide while trying to turn a double play. Golf hasn't caused anything like that. But he blew out his shoulder as a rookie in 2009, which ultimately forced a return to Q-school.
He was four shots out of the lead going into the weekend at the Masters in 2012 when his left wrist flared up so badly that he shot 85 and withdrew that night. A neck injury forced him to withdraw from the PGA Championship last year before it even started.
"Seven years out here, I've been beat up every year," Woodland said. "So hopefully, we can change that right now."
He described his health as the best it has ever been since he first joined the PGA Tour, and he credits it to a his work with DBC Fitness in Miami, which works with good friend and former NBA star Ray Allen, along with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
"They broke my body down," he said. "I feel like I've worked hard, I feel like I've trained the right way for a long time, did a lot of golf-specific stuff, but it probably wasn't the best stuff for me. It wasn't the best stuff for my body. So we found out what the weaknesses are."
He was stronger in the lower body than the upper body, so that changed. Muscle was added. He lifted more weights, not for power but to help his body get in the right position. And he loves the results.
"It changed my mental outlook," Woodland said. "I'm a lot more confident. I feel like I put in the work. I feel like I trained as hard as I've ever trained. That gives you confidence coming out here, knowing that I put the work in at home, and now I can come out here and just relax and play golf."
Woodland is moving to Miami to be near the trainers and his swing coach, Jim McLean.
He only has two victories, though Torrey Pines is a course he loves and one that sets up well for him. Woodland is among the few who actually look forward to playing the South Course — site of a U.S. Open — instead of the easier North because the holes hit his preferred fade, and because the par 5s are long and not everyone can reach them. He reached them all on Friday, twice just off the green, and walked away with four birdies.
Choi shot a 67 on the North Course where accuracy is at a premium.
Dustin Johnson was in the final group Saturday with them, and he is as long as anyone. Johnson and Woodland used to have friendly banter about which of them was more athletic. Any discussion starts with them.
Johnson, meanwhile, is No. 8 in the world and the top-ranked player still at Torrey Pines.
World No. 2 Jason Day, the defending champion, was ill all week and missed the cut. Rickie Fowler (No. 4) was riding a high from his victory in Abu Dhabi and then couldn't buy a putt at Torrey Pines and missed the cut. So did Justin Rose (No. 7), playing for the first time in two months.
Joining them was Phil Mickelson, who took a double bogey on the par-5 18th on the North Course, and then finished on the front nine with a bogey-bogey-bogey for a 76 to miss by two shots.