LA JOLLA — Nobody had the foggiest idea what was going on Saturday at the Farmers Insurance Open golf tournament. The only thing that was clear was that Tiger Woods was in the lead and Mother Nature was in charge.
Pars and birdies weren’t the story. Visibility was. Nobody saw this coming. As the day went on, nobody saw anything.
Puffs of mist kept blowing in over the signature cliffs of Torrey Pines. A few players with early tee times completed about 10 minutes of golf. Those scheduled for later stood around the putting green and driving range for hours, telling jokes and booking new flights and hotel rooms.
This was the fourth PGA Tour event of the year, and after the winds blew the opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii down to a 54-hole event that ended on a Tuesday, weather may be running neck andneck with Woods’ lead here as the most compelling early-season story.
The downside of this downtime was that it promoted silliness.
Television served its advertisers with interviews of that ever-burning issue, the belly putter. Should it be allowed or not? Serious stuff, we are led to believe. Are not these players who anchor a longer-handled putter into their bodies getting an advantage, and if so, must we not stop this? Now?
We have wars, starvation and a troubled economy, and golf debates the belly putter. Gary McCord, one of the announcers asked about this, hit the correct keynote when he reminded viewers that this has been allowed for 30 years. What are the powers trying to do, McCord asked rhetorically: “Make the game harder and less fun?”
Point well taken. For those who play now, golf is clearly a day of uninterrupted joy every time out. Another fun thing is pounding on your thumb with a hammer.
Certainly all those 25 handicappers who occasionally sink a 20-footer with the handle of their putter buried in their bellies or chests will now throw away their putters so the rules-makers can feel better about their preservation of the purity of the game. What next? A mandate to return to mashies?
The delay also left time for further thought on Phil Mickelson’s recent misstep, the one where he trod on his tongue. That issue has come and gone quickly, and correctly so.
At last week’s Humana Challenge tournament in the Palm Springs desert, Mickelson sulked verbally about how new tax laws would hit him hard. But with Mickelson, who is basically a decent guy with a big heart and a sense for others, there had been enough personal collateral built up to allow him to return here Wednesday, meet the media and clean it up.
He said he had been insensitive to others, especially those who don’t even have jobs, and likened it to another moment of foolishness on his part, when he blew a U.S. Open title in 2006 by hitting a shot off a sponsor tent, rather than using a safer wedge. In essence, he reprised the famous quote of Roberto De Vicenzo, who signed a wrong scorecard that cost him the 1968 Masters title and said, “What a stupid I am.”
This wasn’t Lance Armstrong cheating for more than a decade and finally coming clean. This wasn’t even Manti Te’o with an Internet girlfriend who wasn’t real and didn’t die. This was a multimillionaire who became so by playing a game, who had an opinion and the right to express it, fessing up to insensitivity and tone deafness to what is politically correct.
That left little else to kick around in the drippy daze Saturday, except for quirks of the game and the people around it. Examples:
• Erik Compton has had two heart transplants. If there ever were anybody on the Tour whose health would be best served by staying out of the cold and wet, as it was here Friday, it would be Compton. But he weathered things admirably, shooting 65 to stay within three of Woods.
• Scott Stallings had the Humana Challenge and a six-iron in his hands on the 72nd hole of the tournament at La Quinta last Sunday. He hit it into the water, finished tied for fourth instead of first, and took home $246,400. That was $761,600 less than he probably would have if he hit that six-iron anywhere near the pin. After opening here with a contending 66 Thursday, Stalling had five bogeys and a double Friday, shot 40 on his back nine for a 78 and missed the cut by one.
• Kyle Stanley was in a similar position on the 72nd hole at this tournament last year. His iron into the 18th green hit near the pin, then rolled, slowly, off the green and down a bank toward a green-front pond. Twice it stopped in the longer grass on the hill, but each time it gathered speed again and finally rolled into the water. Stanley took an eight and Brandt Snedeker won the tournament. This year, Stanley missed the cut by eight strokes.
•Ryo Ishikawa, one of several Japanese players on the tour covered by their media as if they were deities, shot 79 Friday and missed the cut by four shots. After he signed his card, he was surrounded by 18 media members.
They eventually called off play at 4 p.m. But hope remains. Sunday has to be better than Saturday, which just left everybody in the gray.