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Tom Weiskopf’s redesign of the North Course at Torrey Pines five years ago was to make improvements, but by no means create a comparable test to the South Course that will host the U.S. Open this spring.
The North has played about two strokes easier than the South at the Farmers Insurance Open since Weiskopf’s work. The difference was twice that in Thursday's opening round.
With Friday’s forecast calling for thunderstorms that could produce up to 1 1/2 inches of rain and winds gusting to 30 mph, an opening round filled with sunshine was definitely the time to make hay.
And several players did.
Patrick Reed and Alex Noren shared the first-round lead after each carded eight-under 64s on the North Course.
“Felt like I hit the ball well,” Reed said after a bogey-free round in which he shot 32 on both nines. “Left myself with a lot of good opportunities, a lot of makeable putts, and when you’re doing that around a golf course like the North, you have to go take advantage of it, especially with what’s coming within the next 24 hours.”
Reed and Noren were one shot better than Scottie Scheffler and two shots in front of 12 others tied at six-under 66.
The latter group included Peter Malnati and Ryan Palmer, the only players among the top 15 who toured the tougher South, which Thursday played nearly four strokes harder (73.16 to 69.45) than the North.
Rory McIlroy and Lucas Glover were the only other players among the top 31 to play the South; both shot four-under 68. Six additional players broke 70 on the tougher course, including a pair of former Farmers champions, Brandt Snedeker and Jon Rahm. Defending champion Marc Leishman opened with a 71 on the South.
Notables on the North were Jordan Spieth at 69, Xander Schauffele, Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson at 70 and Phil Mickelson and Pat Perez at 71.
Reed, the 2018 Masters champion, started on the North’s 10th tee and immediately reeled off three straight birdies.
“I was able to kind of get off to a hot start and just kind of ride momentum going on through the rest of the round and continue attacking that golf course since that’s the one you’re able to attack,” he said.
Noren emerged from a pack of players at six-under thanks to an eagle on the par-five 17th, holing a 20-foot putt after needing only a seven iron to reach the green in two shots.
“I’m hoping that we’re going to not get too flooded during the night,” Noren said of the rain that was expected to arrive late Thursday night.
Noren is a native of Stockholm, Sweden, who is making his third appearance in the Farmers. In 2018, he lost here in a six-hole playoff to Jason Day.
“I played the South Course two rounds this week and I know how long it is now, especially when they lengthened some tee boxes, put them back.
“It’s a test, you definitely need some good ball striking there, especially in windy conditions. It’s good to get some birdies on the North.”
Beau Hossler, among the dozen players tied at 66, pumped the brakes on the notion that the North is a significant break compared to its big brother.
“To be honest, since they’ve redone the North, it’s not that easy,” said Hossler, who is from Mission Viejo. “The greens are pretty firm, they had some speed. It’s certainly easier than the South still, but it’s not a cakewalk by any means. I think anything you shoot in the 60s on the North is a pretty darn good score.”
McIlroy, playing the Farmers for the third time, had the third-best score on the South. And he was quite pleased, at that.
“Anytime you shoot 68 on the South Course here you’ve got to be pretty happy,” he said. “Yeah, it’s a good start. We don’t know what the weather’s going to be like tomorrow, so it was nice to get a good one in and play on the slightly easier golf course in the worse conditions tomorrow.”
Will Friday’s potentially wild weather actually benefit those playing the South in the second round?
It could be a wash — pun intended — with the course playing longer but the softer greens more suitable for scoring.
At least that’s the theory. Mother Nature may have other ideas.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.