Sunday nerves came early to the Farmers Insurance Open.
And if what happened on the 18th hole late on Saturday afternoon serves as a preview, it’s going to be a wild finish at Torrey Pines.
Alex Noren played the par-five in the way you’re supposed to and was rewarded. He bombed a drive down the middle, launched a second shot to the back of the green, and two-putted for birdie to cap a round of three-under-par 69 that gave him sole possession of the lead at 11 under.
Noren was alone at the top after 54 holes, partly because of what happened in the group immediately behind him.
World No. 2 Jon Rahm, who made eagle at 18 on Sunday a year ago and won the Farmers, dropped his approach in the pond in front of the green for the second time this week and ended up making double bogey on the second-easiest hole. He fell all the way into a tie for 12th at seven under.
Ryan Palmer, seeking his first PGA Tour win since 2010, seized a two-shot lead on the back nine by draining a 44-foot eagle putt. But he had to scramble to make par on 18 when he drove into a bunker, laid up and missed the green. A bogey gave him a one-over 73 and put him one stroke behind Noren.
And Luke List had the most adventurous route to the final cup. He sliced his drive to the right, clipped a tree limb with his second, and eventually made bogey. By shooting three over in the last 12 holes, List carded a 73 and was tied for fifth at eight under.
What the travails say is that just about anything can happen on the finishing stretch at Torrey Pines, and it could get more interesting with Santa Ana winds on Sunday that are forecasted to blow up to 20 mph as the temperature rises to an unseasonably toasty 82 degrees.
“Sundays at Torrey Pines, U.S. Open golf course, anything can happen, so I’m glad I shot under par,” said Jason Day, the 2015 Farmers Open champ who scored 71 and is in the hunt at eight under.
Tiger Woods, who made his first cut at an official event since 2015, moved up the leaderboard with a two-under 70 to sit eight shots off the lead.
Last year, 20 players had a chance to win the tournament halfway through the final round. This year there are 15 golfers within four shots of the leader to begin Sunday.
J.B. Holmes, who started on the 10th hole Saturday, shot a stunning 29 on his second nine of the South and finished with a seven-under 65 to tie for third place with Michael Kim (70), a 24-year-old San Diegan who played high school matches at Torrey Pines.
Among those in a seven-way tie for fifth are two former Junior World winners at Torrey Pines: Day and Beau Hossler, who shot 69 and hasn’t made a bogey over his past 45 holes.
The leader, Noren, is a 35-year-old Swede who is virtually unknown to anybody who doesn’t follow the European Tour. But he’s had plenty of success there, with nine wins, including six since 2015.
He hadn’t played Torrey Pines until this week.
“I’ve dreamt of winning on the U.S. tour,” said Noren, who competed in college at Oklahoma State.
He said he doesn’t mind being the player fans don’t recognize.
“I know how good Americans are and they love golf, and then if they know me or not, I don’t really care,” Noren said.
The competitive focus of the tournament turned away from Woods’ participation, though it didn’t look like that because he easily commanded the largest gallery when he teed off on the 10th hole.
Woods drove his ball all over Torrey Pines’ gorgeous expanse, and afterward assessed his round as “gross.” But he did master work with his short game to move into a tie for 39th place at three under.
Asked what he would have scored had his chipping and putting not saved him, Woods replied, “It would have been snowing on me.”
As in snowmen — 8s on his card.
As with his first two rounds, Woods could barely find a fairway — he hit only three — but his score was salvaged with birdies on three par-fives and some phenomenal displays of touch around the greens.
Woods missed half the greens, but failed to get up-and-down only twice in making bogeys — both on par-threes.
Among his most memorable saves: Woods flew a seven-iron over the green on the par-three third that is perched on a cliff. From deep below the green, he flopped a shot that ended up 2½ feet from the cup.
“It was a struggle out here,” Woods said. “I didn’t hit it worth a darn all day. I was really struggling out there to find anything that was a resemblance of a golf swing.
“But I was scoring. I was chipping, putting, I was grinding.”
Woods, 42, entered the Farmers having not played an official PGA Tour round in a year. The expectation might have been that his nerves and touch on delicate shots would be off. It has been exactly the opposite.
In the first three rounds, Woods battled his driver and hit poor iron shots, even when he found the fairway. He had no idea which way he was going to miss. Seven of his drives Saturday found the right rough; four went left.
Woods has reached only 14 of 42 fairways for the week and 30 of 54 greens in regulation.
“Some of my go-to shots aren’t there,” Woods said. “Some of my shots I hit under certain circumstances aren’t there, either. The only thing I have is my short game and my heart — and that got me through today.”
With all of that playing from the heavy rough at Torrey Pines, there was legitimate concern about how Woods’ back, which has fused disks, is holding up.
He emphatically said on Saturday that there is no pain, and that the definitive test has come in all of the chipping he’s had to do.
“The shots that hurt me the most were putts and the chips because I was the most bent over,” he said. “… Bunker shots were off-the-charts painful, but I just hated hitting little, short shots because it just hurt. Give me a driver any day a year ago and I felt so much better.”
Ironic, because it’s killing his scores right now.