La Jolla, Torrey Pines please Tour

    The PGA Tour made its annual stop in La Jolla this past weekend when the Torrey Pines Municipal Golf course played host to a strong field of professional golfers in the 2003 Buick Invitational.

    Anu Kumar
    Guardian

    It was a typical PGA event with Tiger Woods in the field; there were large galleries, plenty of media, a beautiful course with fast greens and long rough, and of course, a Woods victory.

    Woods, the No. 1-ranked player in the world, returned from a knee injury and made his highly-anticipated 2003 debut at this weekend’s Buick Invitational, which ran from Feb. 13 to Feb. 16.

    He was the center of everyone’s attention while he took a couple of rounds to break out of the rustiness that plagues most golfers after just a week off. His drives during the first two rounds of the tournament rarely found the fairway, but Woods would somehow manage to punch his ball under a tree and scramble to save par. And if his ball found the fairway, there was a good chance that Woods would come out with a birdie.

    Anu Kumar
    Guardian

    As for the local golfers, San Diego native Phil Mickelson, who stirred some controversy on the tour by knocking Woods and his equipment, didn’t disappoint his faithful followers. Lefty played solid and consistent golf, posting scores of 69, 68, 69 and 72 while landing himself in the final threesome along with Woods on Feb. 16. However, Mickelson, ranked No. 3 in the world, couldn’t put together a tournament-winning final round and finished in a tie for fourth place.

    San Diegans Scott Simpson and Craig Stadler couldn’t manage to stick around for the weekend after they failed to make the cut on a course they used to play a lot of golf on. Simpson started slowly, shooting a 75 in his first round. He was able to improve a little bit in his second outing, scoring a 1-under-par 71, but he missed the cut that sent home the golfers who were worse than 1-under after two rounds.

    Stadler couldn’t get much going at Torrey Pines, either. He failed to shoot under par in both of his rounds. Stadler opened the tournament with a 73 and followed that with a 76.

    Without a doubt, however, the story of the tournament was Woods. He began on Feb. 13 in his first round of the year with an awkward swing and a bad drive that forced him to yell “”Fore!”” and went into the trees on the right side on hole No. 1 of the North Course. That would only set the tone for Tiger’s first round, which was cut short due to rain. He finished the last nine holes of his first round on Feb. 14 with a respectable 70, but he was obviously unhappy when he stormed through a sea of autograph-seekers and to the lodge after signing his scorecard.

    The typical La Jolla weather finally showed up by the time Woods stepped up to the 10th tee of the South Course, where he began his second round at 10:57 a.m. The sun dried the muddy course and provided fans and golfers with plenty of the spectacular views that Torrey Pines is known for. It also seemed to warm up Tiger, who jumped up the leaderboard with a round of 6-under-par 66.

    His second round ended on the 613-yard, par-5 No. 9 of the South Course. He hit a good tee shot to the center of the fairway, and then ripped a 3-wood that stopped 10 yards short of the front of the green and 25 yards short of the pin, which was tucked into the back-left corner of the uphill putting surface. Woods’ pitch took two small bounces on the green and then rolled right into the cup for an eagle, a strong finish to a day in which he played 27 holes. It was a major confidence-booster.

    “”After a long day, it felt good to end on that note … If I can get the ball in play, it felt like I can do pretty well from there,”” Woods said.

    On Feb. 15, Woods got off to a quick start, birdying the first two holes and bringing him within one of the leader. He would pick up another birdie on the par-5 No. 6 after his drive landed in a fairway bunker. From there, he picked his ball cleanly with his 3-wood and put it on the green, where he two-putted for a birdie.

    He continued through his third round, scrambling to save pars, until he found himself tied for the lead going into his final hole of the day: the par-5 18th. After a drive that was crushed and put into the center of the fairway, Woods tried to assure himself of the outright lead and a spot in the final group when he went for the green on his second shot. From 289 yards away, Woods hit a 3-wood that went right and hit the 5-year-old son of former San Diego Charger Rolf Benirschke in a corporate tent that lined the east side of the green. After taking his free drop, Woods flopped his ball onto the green, where he made his putt for birdie and walked off the course with a one-shot lead.

    Woods’ final day was a typical Sunday round for the world’s best player. He practically turned the tournament into a one-man competition by the start of his back nine when he opened up a four-shot lead over the closest contender. No one would get closer than four strokes, and Woods closed the Buick with a steady 66 and another PGA tournament victory.

    Going into the week, the questions surrounding the Buick Invitational were: will Woods’ bad knee hold up? Will Woods and Lefty talk or play together? Will the setting of Torrey Pines be all that it is cracked up to be during a weekend when the forecast calls for rain?

    All those questions were answered positively. Woods’ knee caused him no pain; Woods and Mickeslon played together on Feb. 16 — in fact they walked up to the 18th green side by side; and Torrey Pines looked as good as it ever has over the weekend.

    “”What a setting,”” said Bill Tucker, a PGA Tournament staffer.

    Woods, who was born in Cypress, Calif., commented about the course and how he always enjoys playing it.

    “”I’ve been down here as a junior. Been here since I was single-digits in age,”” he said. “”I’ve come out to watch the tournament as a kid. It’s still a great place when you come out here.””

    After mentioning how comfortable he feels playing at Torrey Pines, Woods mentioned how he felt toward the area.

    “”I guess I just like it here in San Diego,”” he said.

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