SAN DIEGO, Calif.—Now that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are out of the way, we can get down to the business of finding a deserving champion for the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.
Tiger went down Thursday, withdrawing on the 12th hole due to back spasms. Mickelson went down Friday, shooting even-par 72 on the easier North Course to go with his opening-round 74 on the South Course to miss the cut by three.
Harris English is your tournament leader and the former University of Georgia and Walker Cup star definitely fits the bill of deserving. He hasn’t made a bogey in 36 holes here, posting a 6-under 66 for a two-round total of 10 under.
“Anytime you play the South Course and don’t make a bogey, that’s a pretty good feat,” English said.
His closest call to a bogey came Thursday on the 11th hole at the South Course, where he missed the green left with a 6-iron, then chipped back over the green just barely into the rough. Then he chipped in for par.
English cruised around the North with six birdies, no bogeys. He nearly holed an 8-iron shot at 17 for his final birdie and made what he felt was a crucial par-saving putt at No. 11, a five-footer that kept his momentum going.
The driver was the club that set up his stellar round. The rough on both courses is significant—not quite U.S. Open stuff, but enough to make a difference.
“If you’re on your driver out here, it can really, really help you,” English said. That was precisely the club he needed late last summer when he was a contender for the Ryder Cup team after a good start to the year. His long game deteriorated in late summer and his Ryder Cup bid fell short.
“I really wanted to be on that team,” English said. "It was frustrating to get off to that good of a start and really keep doing the things I was doing and nothing worked.
“I worked harder, I hit more balls, spent more time on the putting green and it almost made me worse. I got in a rut where I couldn’t get out. It’s hard when you’re struggling to think that you don’t need to practice more. It was one of the first times I’ve had to deal with that. But I learned a lot from it and about myself and how to persevere.”
The turning point came at the PGA Championship at Valhalla. English missed the cut and couldn’t find a fairway with a Sherpa guide. “I hit it awful,” he said. “I was hitting it in the rough every hole. I had no clue what I was doing.”
So English turned to Scott Hamilton, a popular teaching pro who works with a number of players with Georgia connections, including Chris Kirk, Brendan Todd, Russell Henley and others.
The results have been quick to come, although not without a lot of work during the off-season. English finished third in the Sony Hawaiian Open last month and now he’s contending again.
“I feel good about my game,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the next two days.”
Mickelson, meanwhile, continued to struggle with his game.
“I felt really ready to start the year and these first few weeks have been very poor,” Mickelson said. “I’m hitting the ball well but my putting is beyond pathetic. I’m not sure what I’m going to do. This is very frustrating. My grip pressure is light, the stroke is OK, I’m just having a hard time getting the ball in the hole.”
Mickelson had 64 putts in two rounds, including five three-putt greens. He was putting for eagle at the short par-4 sixth green but he three-putted for par, missing a 2-1/2 footer.
“I’m down, I’m frustrated because I see other parts of my game do very well,” Mickelson said. “But putting as bad as I have, it starts to creep in to some other areas, too.”