2003 Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines: Damp course will be tough

    Some of the best golfers in the world didn’t seem to mind the inclement weather when they practiced in a steady rain that fell at Torrey Pines Municipal Golf Course earlier this week.

    Owen Main

    For San Diegan Scott Simpson, the Buick Invitational (which starts Feb. 13) is an opportunity to regain the form that helped him win this tournament in 1998, his last tour victory.

    “”I played lousy last year,”” said Simpson, a native of Clairemont, Calif. “”But toward the end of the year, it started to come back and get a little bit better.””

    On the PGA tour since 1979, Simpson has fallen on tough times, finishing out of the top 125 for the last three consecutive years, the first three such years in his career. The 47-year-old Simpson, a graduate of USC and father of two, comes back to the place he was raised this week.

    “”I grew up playing junior golf on this course,”” Simpson said. “”It’s always fun to play at home.””

    Yet Simpson also has UCSD ties.

    “”I used to hit balls on the UCSD driving range all the time,”” said Simpson of the recently demolished practice facility.

    Another player to watch this week is Luke Donald, a 23-year-old native of Great Britain who, in his second year on the PGA tour, is looking to improve on a rookie season in which he picked up a victory and tied for 18th at the 2002 Buick Invitational.

    “”This is my fourth tournament of the year,”” said Donald, standing on the wet and drizzly driving range off of North Torrey Pines Road. “”I’m off to a steady start so far.””

    That steady start includes being first on tour in par-3 birdies so far this season with 11.

    “”It’s going to be wet, so it’s going to definitely make the South Course longer — and harder, I suppose,”” Donald said of the course that will host the 2008 U.S. Open. “”But soft conditions also make it easier in one way.””

    Players at the Buick Invitational have to prepare for both the North and South Courses, each of which will be played during the first two days of the tournament.

    A report in the Union Tribune on Feb. 11 said that the North Course is slated to have an overhaul in 2004 much like the South Course had last year, although the new configuration of the North won’t be close to the South’s protracted 7,607 yards.

    “”[The North Course] definitely isn’t as hard a course as the South; it’s shorter and probably not in quite as good condition, but it’s still not a bad course itself,”” Donald said. “”They could make a few changes to make it better.””

    Blake Schneider, a senior captain on UCSD’s golf team, doesn’t think the weather should be a problem.

    “”The new greens on the South Course should drain well since they are new and the whole South Course has new drainage,”” Schneider said. “”It’s going to make the course that much longer, though. It’s already one of the longest courses they play.””

    Schneider said the Triton golf team hasn’t gotten to play at Torrey Pines as much since the South Course was renovated.

    “”But when we practiced there a couple weeks ago, we got to play it in similar conditions to what the pros will play this week … It was very tough.””

    The tournament starts on both courses on the morning of Feb. 13 and goes through Feb. 16. Organizers expect 160,000 spectators for the week, including highs of 40,000 over the weekend, despite the weather.

    “”I think it gets people [in San Diego] more excited about golf,”” said Schneider, whose team is selling tickets in Price Center box office as a fund-raiser. “”There are a lot of people who normally don’t get to be around golf that are going out to the tournament.””

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