Tiger leaves Torrey Pines early, and he wasn't alone
SAN DIEGO – At least Tiger Woods was in good company at Torrey Pines.
More surprising than Woods missing the cut in his return to the PGA Tour after 17 months away was that Jason Day and Dustin Johnson joined him. Day is the No. 1 player in the world coming off two weeks of intense practice in Palm Springs. Johnson is the PGA Tour player of the year, though perhaps a case could be made that he was still ragged from playing in Abu Dhabi last week.
But it wasn't just missing the cut.
Woods, Johnson and Day played 13 out of 18 holes on the easier North Course at Torrey Pines without any of them making a birdie.
Some star attraction that turned out to be.
That might be one takeaway from the opening act of the Farmers Insurance Open. It was tough on everyone.
"It was like the whole group, none of us got anything going," Woods said. "We all missed putts, just could never get that one to fall in. We were talking about it during the back nine today. We just need one to go in, just one of us, just make one for the whole group and we can all get going. And none of us did."
Justin Rose had the lead at 8-under 136 by one shot over Brandt Snedeker and Adam Hadwin.
The focus still fell on Woods because he's Tiger Woods.
This was his first time on the PGA Tour since he tied for 10th in the Wyndham Championship on Aug. 23, 2015, which amounts to the longest layoff of his career. However, he did play in his Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas the first week in December, shot 65 in the second round, made 24 birdies for the week and finished 15th in the 18-man field because of silly mistakes that he figured he could clean up.
So that raised hopes that he could swing freely and score, especially at a tournament he had won seven times (eight including the U.S. Open).
That wasn't the case.
Woods was under par for only a brief moment, after birdies on 10th and 11th holes on the South Course in the opening round. He played his next six holes in 6-over par, shot 76 and was fighting the cut the rest of his time. It was a losing battle. He made only two birdies (both on reachable par 5s) and had two bogeys on the North course Friday. He knew what he had to do to make the cut with nine holes to go and went the wrong direction.
It was the first time he missed the cut at Torrey Pines (though he withdrew after 11 holes in 2015 with tightness in his back — he was 2 over, in a tie for 130th place). It was the eight straight season that he has missed at least one cut. And perhaps more sobering is dating to his first back surgery in the spring of 2014, Woods has made the cut only seven times in the 15 full-field tournaments he has played.
But it's early.
He was headed for Dubai next week, and then after a week off, he has Riviera in Los Angeles and PGA National in Florida on his schedule. He likely will have to add two more tournaments in Florida if he wants to be sharp for the Masters. And he does.
"Just like everybody, I'm trying to get ready for the first full week in April," Woods said. "That's where eventually I want to have everything come together. That's the plan. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to win this golf tournament on the weekend. But I have next week."
The crowds were enormous, a testament that Woods doesn't just move the needle in golf, he is the needle.
Rickie Fowler and PGA champion Jimmy Walker missed the cut. Phil Mickelson played in their group, but he did just enough right to stick around. Lefty missed a short putt on the 17th to fall to the cut line, but he handled the par-5 18th with ease and made birdie.
"I don't know what it really says," Mickelson said about top players — and one top name — all missing the cut. "But I feel that these two golf courses are very difficult to recover from misses. You have to strike it well. I had two pretty good ball-striking rounds, and although I might have missed a few greens and salvaged some pars, it's very difficult to do that around here consistently because of the severity around the greens.
"So if you're not sharp and not striking it well, it's a difficult place to play."
Mickelson was still only seven shots behind.
The difference from Rose in the lead to last place (even par) was only eight shots. Everyone was still in the game.
Just not Woods.
Or Johnson and Day, for that matter.