By RANDY YOUNGMAN
LA JOLLA – Despite admittedly losing his patience and stumbling down the stretch in the final round, Tiger Woods restored order to the PGA Tour universe by returning to his winning ways at Torrey Pines.
For the seventh time in his record-breaking career, Woods’ first tour victory of the season came at the Farmers Insurance Open (nee Buick Invitational) at Torrey Pines South.
In what amounted to an 11-hole victory lap, Woods began the day on No. 8 with a six-shot lead and finished it four strokes ahead of his nearest pursuers, closing with a final-round 72 shot over two days to post his 75th career PGA Tour triumph.
Defending Farmers champion Brandt Snedeker (final-round 69) and Josh Teater (69) tied for second at 10-under-par.
Though playing the final five holes in 4-over-par and seeing his huge lead cut in half, Woods said he never was concerned about the outcome. He did, however, concede that he momentarily lost his focus – and his swing – because of the slow pace of play ahead of him. It took more than 3 ½ hours for the final threesome to play 11 holes.
“I had an eight-shot lead,” Tiger said afterward. “I just needed to stay upright (to win). … The three of us (in the final group) were losing our patience out there; I certainly was. And, unfortunately, it affected my play a little bit.”
Leading by eight shots after a birdie on the par-5 13th hole, Woods had not dropped a shot to par in the final round until a bogey on No. 14 (greenside bunker), a double-bogey on No. 15 (driver into a hazard left of the fairway) and a bogey on No. 17 (greenside bunker) trimmed his lead to four.
So he played for par on the relatively short par-5 18th – fairway wood, 8 iron, knockdown 9-iron, routine 2-putt – and raised his arms to celebrate, which has become his tradition at Torrey Pines.
Fog wiped out Saturday’s scheduled third round and necessitated a Monday finish, but it only seemed to delay the inevitable on a course where Tiger has won more often than any other in the world.
Woods, 37, has now won nine tournament titles at Torrey: seven Farmers Insurance Opens, the 2008 U.S. Open championship and the 1991 Junior World Championship when he was a 15-year-old high school student at Western High School in Anaheim. He became the first player in PGA Tour history to win on the same course eight times.
The last time Tiger had won at Torrey Pines, it also was a Monday – after a 19-hole playoff with Rocco Mediate in the riveting ’08 Open. Back then, he had a torn ACL in his knee and two stress fractures in his leg, causing intense pain that made him wonder if he could make it to the end, so there was no comparison to what transpired in the 2013 Farmers.
“It’s nice to actually walk around here without any discomfort,” Woods said, smiling. “That was a different kind of week. This week I played great and built a nice little lead out there.”
The Farmers is the third PGA Tour event Woods has won seven times, joining the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando and the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone in Akron.
For comparison’s sake, Dustin Johnson, Retief Goosen and Geoff Ogilvy all have seven career PGA Tour wins.
With Tiger leading by six shots and 11 holes to play when final-round play resumed Monday, the victory was all but a lock considering that Woods had previously won 49 of 53 times on tour when he had a least a share of the 54-hole lead. Now he is 50 of 54.
Woods’ driving was erratic during his two-day final round, with particularly wild tee shots on No. 1, No. 2, No. 4, No. 9 and No. 15. Even so, his superb scrambling and sometimes spectacular bunker play enabled him to build a commanding lead.
His best shot Monday was his escape from a greenside bunker on the par-3 11th, where he stood outside the sand with the ball just inside the lip and hit a low left-to-right runner from 73 feet that stopped 13 inches from the cup – to thunderous applause from the gallery.
Despite his late-round struggles, Woods was proud of his 75th tour victory, second on the all-time list behind Sam Snead (82).
“It got a little ugly toward the end,” Woods said. “It was so slow out there. We played nine holes in just over three hours, and three of them are par-3s. That’s not fast.”
Interestingly, all six of Tiger’s previous victories at the Farmers Insurance Open represented his first of several in each season.
In 1999, his victory at Torrey was the first of eight tour triumphs; in 2003, it was the first of five wins; in 2005, the first of six; in 2006, the first of eight; in 2007, the first of seven; and in 2008, the first of four.
That means he has averaged 6 tour victories in years he has won at Torrey and suggests 2013 could be another banner season. In five of those years, he also went on to win majors.
“I didn’t know any of those stats – sorry,” Woods said, laughing. “Does it feel good? Yes. Does it give me confidence? Absolutely. But as far as the other stuff, I’m excited about this year. I’m excited about what I’m doing with (swing coach Sean Foley) and some of the things that I’ve built.
“This is a nice way to start the year.”
Again, at Torrey Pines, with another W.