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Gary Woodland and K.J. Choi share lead at Torrey Pines, with Dustin Johnson right behind

Gary Woodland and K.J. Choi share lead at Torrey Pines, with Dustin Johnson right behind

Gary Woodland tees off on the 15th hole during Round 2 of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines South on Jan. 29.

(Donald Miralle / Getty Images)

The Torrey Pines South Course is 7,568 yards of hard labor. Playing it is the equivalent of pushing a boulder uphill through sand. Its outer beauty hides a thoroughly nasty heart.

There is no regular PGA Tour course any longer, and few tougher outside those set up by the U.S. Golf Assn.

The difficulty breeds an assumption: To conquer Torrey South is to overpower it.

That hasn’t always been the case since more than 500 yards were added to the layout in 2001 to toughen it for the 2008 U.S. Open. Jose Maria Olazabal, Ben Crane and Brandt Snedeker — more finesse fighters than big punchers — are past champions of the Farmers Insurance Open since ’02.

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Other winners here in the last decade — Tiger Woods, John Daly and Bubba Watson — will tell you that length sure helps, and with the fairways rolling firm and the rough as dense as ever thanks to the early January rain, there’s a good argument for this being a bomber’s year.

Exhibits A and B: Gary Woodland and Dustin Johnson.

They are Nos. 1 and 2 on the tour in driving distance so far this season, averaging 323 and 321 yards, respectively, and that’s nearly their order on the leaderboard heading into what could be a wild and wet weekend.

Woodland made eight birdies on the South Course on Friday to shoot five-under-par 67 — a shot better than he scored on the North Course on Thursday — to share the lead at nine-under 135 with K.J. Choi, who carded a second-round 67 on the North.

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Johnson shot a bogey-free 66 on the North to go with his opening 70 and was alone in third at eight under.

Some of the world’s best players and major champions will attest to Torrey’s challenge. World No. 2 and defending champion Jason Day (two over par), No. 4 Rickie Fowler (even par), No. 7 Justin Rose (even) and Phil Mickelson (one over) missed the cut that came at one under.

“It’s a U.S. Open golf course,” said Day, who was hindered by flu. “So you’ve got to come in here very sharp and very ready to not only play the golf course, but against the other guys who are playing in the event.”

Woodland and Johnson — both 31 — have not torn up Torrey Pines in the past, with only one top-10 finish for each here. But in those chances they had a shot to win.

Woodland lost from a lead position in 2014. A third tour victory seemed in his hands until he double-bogeyed the 17th hole Sunday and missed the playoff eventually won by Scott Stallings. He hasn’t won since.

“This golf course suits me really well,” Woodland said. “A lot of the holes go left to right, so I can just hit driver and hit as hard as I want and keep the ball in play. This golf course allows me to hit drivers, so I feel I have a huge advantage out here.”

Woodland went for all of the South’s par-fives in two shots Friday, including twice with irons, and made birdie on all of them. For the week, nine of his 13 birdies have come on the long holes.

Johnson’s performances at Torrey Pines have been something like his overall career in majors: disappointing, given his talent.

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He has nine tour wins but has yet to capture any of the majors, with notable close calls in the U.S. Open and PGA Championship.

Since a tie for third in the 2011 Farmers, Johnson has finished 43rd, 51st and missed the cut last year. In 2011, he made a Sunday charge with a 66 on the South, but lost by three to Watson. That week, Johnson was fifth in the field in driving distance, fourth in greens in regulation, but 111th in putting.

Reminded of that Friday, Johnson said, “I feel like I’m rolling the putter really well right now.”

Johnson switched putters this year. Asked why, he responded with, “I don’t know. I didn’t like mine, so I found another one.”

He has to like the results. Johnson is 11th in the field in strokes gained putting, and reached 17 of the 18 North greens in regulation Friday despite hitting only half the fairways.

“I just need to keep playing like I am,” said Johnson, who bridged the wraparound season with a tie for fifth in China in November and a tie for 10th in the Tournament of Champions three weeks ago.

“I feel like my game’s in pretty good shape right now. Today was definitely better than yesterday. … Tomorrow, just need to do the same thing. If I hit the driver well I’m going to shoot a good score.”

Choi, 45, is an eight-time tour winner, and his biggest victory was his last in the 2011 Players Championship. The South Korean came closest to winning the Farmers in 2014, when he shot 66 on Sunday and tied for second.

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He made seven birdies on the North in the second round, five of them by draining putts longer than 15 feet.

tod.leonard@sduniontribune.com


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