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Tiger has some catching up to do at Torrey Pines

January 24, 2014

SAN DIEGO (AP) — He has a long history with Torrey Pines, including a win he calls “the best day of my life.” He opened the Farmers Insurance Open with a 5-under 67 on the beastly South Course, a clean card with no bogeys and no complaints.

That would be Pat Perez, of course.

Tiger Woods, the defending champion whose eight professional wins at Torrey Pines include a U.S. Open, didn’t fare too badly in his 2014 debut Thursday, though he didn’t make a single birdie on the par 5s, and it’s hard to find birdies anywhere else. Woods had to settle for a 72, the first time in his career he did not break par in the opening round of this tournament.

The leaderboard shows Stewart Cink at the top with an 8-under 64 on the North Course, but there might as well be an asterisk attached. The South Course, which hosted the 2008 U.S. Open, played nearly four strokes harder than the North.

“You want to really take advantage of the North Course because it will yield to you a little bit, and the South Course will not,” Cink said.

Gary Woodland was in second place with a 65. He played the North. The four players at 66 played the North. It’s a long list. Of the 62 players who broke par in the opening round, only 12 of them were on the South, which is more than 600 yards longer.

That’s what made the 67 by Perez so remarkable. Plus, it was two shots lower than anyone else on the South.

And then there’s history.

Woods was asked if he was surprised that Perez managed a bogey-free 67.

“Why? He grew up here,” Woods said with a smile. “This was his home course. He’s playing it more times than any tour pro certainly.”

There’s more than a thousand rounds of golf to the story of Perez and Torrey Pines. His father, Tony, is the starter on the first tee and has been for years. Perez gets on the practice range and reminisces about the thousand miles he logged in the cart that picks up range balls.

“I used to shuttle the guys up and down the range here,” he said. “It was the most exciting tournament for me ever. I’d get up at about 4 in the morning and I’d come back about 11 at night and couldn’t wait to get back the next day to see all the pros.”

He would steal a few range balls the pros were hitting — not to use, but to put in a large bucket in his room and just stare at them. They were magic.

“I just thought that’s got to be the greatest job in the world,” he said.

He made his job look easy on a gorgeous day along the Pacific Ocean. He opened with a birdie on No. 10, added another on the par-3 16th, and then ran off three in a row starting on the par-4 fifth hole. Only twice did he come close to making a bogey, holing par putts of 10 feet on No. 12 and 12 feet on No. 4.

No, he doesn’t have as many wins as Woods. But he has one at Torrey Pines — against Woods. They grew up competing against each other in the California Interscholastic Federation in high school, and the Pac-10 in college (Perez at Arizona State, Woods at Stanford).

Perez got him at the Junior World Championship at Torrey Pines one year.

“I’ve known him forever. He’s always been great to me. He gives me advice here and there, but to beat him that year was fantastic,” Perez said. “I’ll never let it go. ... He’s beat everybody for so many years, I’ve got to hold onto that. That’s about all I got over him. But it hurts him. I’ll tell you, it hurts him.”

Perez was joking, as he often does.

Woods wasn’t quite that jovial after his round, though he was fine. He missed the fairway on three of the par 5s, keeping him from a better chance at birdie. He missed a green with a wedge that led to bogey, made another bogey out of the sand and didn’t have enough birdies to counter.

“Even par is not too bad, but I didn’t play the par 5s worth a darn today,” Woods said. “Obviously, that’s (tantamount) to try to get any kind of scoring on the South Course. You’ve got to take care of the par 5s because there’s not a lot of holes you can make birdie here. Subsequently, I didn’t finish under par.”

Woods and Perez head to the North on Friday, and Woods will have to make up more ground that he would have wanted — but not that much. In 2006, he opened with a 71 on the North and was six shots behind, and he wound up winning in a playoff.

Perez hasn’t won at Torrey since that Junior World title over Woods.

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