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As Grass Grows, So Might Scores

TIMES STAFF WRITER

How low can they go?

John Cook shot 33 under par at the five-day Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. Steve Jones blew away the field with a tournament-record 26 under in Phoenix and Mark O’Meara held off Tiger Woods at Pebble Beach, breaking the tournament record with a 21-under score, due partly to lift, clean and place rules.

This week, the course is Torrey Pines municipal in La Jolla. The Buick Invitational tournament record is 276 (22 under) by George Burns in 1987. O’Meara, who grew up playing this seaside course 10 miles north of downtown San Diego, said Burns’ record should stay intact.

“This golf course is not going to yield 62s as firm as the greens are,” O’Meara said Wednesday after his practice round of 68 on the North Course, which is 408 yards shorter than the South Course. “The rough is tough. In years past, you could reach the par fives if you drove in the rough. I don’t know about that this year. There’s some hay out there, believe me.”

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Phil Mickelson, who won the Buick Invitational in 1993 and was third in 1994 and second in 1996, probably has as much local knowledge of Torrey Pines as anyone in the 156-player field. Mickelson said he will need every bit of that knowledge this week.

“In all honesty, this course is in the best shape I’ve ever seen it,” said Mickelson, who played at San Diego University High School. “Of course, I say that every year, but it keeps getting better. The rough is higher, the greens are harder. If they keep these greens hard, you can’t two-putt on some of these greens. . . . This course is not 19-under material, but the weather will be the deciding factor.”

Because of the rains of the past month the rough has grown, and a week of sunshine has dried out the greens. Last year, Davis Love III shot 19 under to win here; Mickelson was a shot back. Jeff Julian set a nine-hole record on the North Course by playing the back nine in eight-under 28. David Frost and Lennie Clements share the South Course nine-hole mark with seven-under 29s.

Mickelson said those kinds of scores might appeal to the average golf fan but not to the elite players.

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“It’s hard to come out and play when you see a couple 63s already on the board,” he said. “It’s easier to play a round when you know that if you play smart, you’ll be in it. The top players will be on top under more challenging conditions where there’s more of a premium on quality ball striking.”

As it is, six of last year’s top 10 money winners are here--Mickelson, O’Meara, Love, Brad Faxon, David Duval and Steve Stricker. Also, 18 players who won tournaments last year are entered.

One winner who won’t be around is Woods, who is playing in Thailand. Sweden’s Jesper Parnevik, the hottest player on tour with second-, third- and fifth-place finishes the last three weeks, said Woods won’t be missed.

“You know there’s one guy who’s not going to finish in the top three,” said Parnevik, averaging a tour-leading 68.52 strokes a round. “That leaves one more spot to play for.”

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At a Glance

* WHAT: Buick Invitational.

* WHERE: La Jolla.

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* WHEN: Today-Sunday.

* COURSES: Torrey Pines Golf Club, South Course (7,055 yards, par 72) and North Course (6,601 yards, par 72).

* PURSE: $1.5 million.

* WINNER’S SHARE: $270,000.

* TV: ESPN (today, 1-3 p.m.; Friday, noon-2 p.m.) and Channel 4 (Saturday, 12:30-3 p.m.; Sunday, noon-2 p.m.).

* DEFENDING CHAMPION: Davis Love III.


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