Spencer Levin shot a 62 in the opening round at Torrey Pines.
Stan Badz / Getty Images
Friday, January 27, 2012

SAN DIEGO -- The first round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines was a pop quiz on how closely you follow professional golf.

Spencer Levin and Kyle Stanley, both winless, share the lead at 10 under after torching the North Course in sunshine and calm winds. FedEx Cup champion Bill Haas was at 63 despite a late double-bogey, and then the names got obscure again.

Josh Teater shot 64. Rod Pampling, who last year had to rely on exemptions but finished 124th on the money list, regaining his Tour card, also shot 64 on the North. And Phil Mickelson shot 77 on the South.

These are the things that make you go hmmm. Or huh? John Huh, a 21-year-old rookie who was born in New York but who learned the game on L.A.'s city courses, also shot 64 on the North, as did Vijay Singh.

"I'm not surprised," said Robert Garrigus (70 on the North) of the mind-boggling breadth of talent on Tour. "After I saw Tiger, I thought in about 10 years this is going to get ridiculous."

It's now ridiculous. This may be the worst time in history to be a golf hustler, because there is way too much talent to keep track of. That's why it seems as if any Joe, Jose or Joon Bagadonuts can shoot 62, or just did. Woods, Mickelson and the other stars have been so good for so long they've obscured the fact that golf is like any other job: there's turnover.

This fact is apparent now more than ever, and in case it's not obvious in San Diego, it is in Abu Dhabi, where young Rory McIlroy, even without his "A" game, posted a first-round 67 to share the first-round lead. Meanwhile, Woods, playing in the same threesome, took 35 putts and shot 70.

A year ago Woods looked old; now Mickelson looks old. Of the top seven on the Farmers' leaderboard, 48-year-old Singh has 34 victories; Pampling, 42, has two; Haas, 29 has three; and the other four all have zero. But they won't have zero for long. Somewhere amid the no-names, the 25 Nationwide Tour graduates and 26 Tour rookies, is this year's Keegan Bradley.

Levin cashes a lot of checks-he made over $2.3 million last year-but hasn't made much news since he made a hole-in-one on the way to low-amateur honors at the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills (T13). He stands out because he smokes, and is relatively small for a Tour pro. He's listed at 5-foot-10, but that must have been when he was going through a clogs phase. Here are Levin's "special interests" in his bio: Watching television, sleeping.

"People talk about getting in the zone," said Levin, who made nine birdies in his last 12 holes and shot 29 on the back nine. "I never even know what that means, and I guess when guys do it, they don't even know they're doing it. Maybe that's why I shot that, because I kept trying to hit every shot as good as I could, and I just had a good rhythm going. My mind was pretty clear, and it just worked out good. I played really well on that back nine."

Levin, 27, had about 12 feet for eagle and a share of the course record on 18, but he never gave his putt much of a chance, the ball missing on the low side.

Stanley is 24, lives in Gig Harbor, Wash., (not exactly Isleworth West)  and he finished second to Steve Stricker at the John Deere Classic last year. Now in his second year on Tour, Stanley eagled 18 for his 62-his lowest score on Tour by two strokes. He led the Honda through 36 holes and the Mayakoba through 18 last year, and finished T24 and T13, respectively. He also has two first names.

"I didn't play very well last week, but I spent Monday up at Titleist and figured a few things out and started hitting it really well," Stanley said. "I played the pro-am on the North. There were just a lot of birdie opportunities out there, so I knew there was a good score. Maybe not 10 [under], but I'll take it."

At age 32, Teater is a Kentuckian late-bloomer who paid his dues on the Nationwide Tour. He's gotten better every week this year (T38 Sony, T22 Humana), and was bogey-free Thursday. His caddie has a bodacious beard.

Finally there's Huh, the perfect guy to embody the early-season, get-to-know-you period, and the overall regeneration vibe on Tour. Before making three eagles on the North on his way to 64 in only his second career Tour start, he played for Cal-Northridge and tied for 27th place at Q-school. He, Colt Knost and Nathan Green received the last three Tour cards issued.

"I was born over in New York," said Huh, who jarred his second eagle from 96 yards on the 411-yard, par-4 fifth hole, his ball using the slope to trickle into the cup. "My parents took me to Korea, went back to Chicago, and back to L.A. to play golf. Then went back to Korea to play golf again, and here I am."

Got that? If you want to get familiar with Huh, it might not help to know his favorite athlete is figure skater Kim Yu-Na. (She's South Korea's first Olympic gold medalist in that sport, but then you knew that.) But his favorite mid-round snack is trail mix, and his favorite app is "Angry Birds," and who can't relate to that? His favorite quote: "The pain of sacrifice is nothing compared to the pain of regret."

The PGA Tour is transforming before our eyes, and with Phil and Tiger's days clearly numbered, it's time to make the effort to get to know the new names or be left behind. The pain of sacrifice is nothing compared to the pain of regret. 

 

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