SAN DIEGO (AP) — Tiger Woods never went to any stage of Q-school, had $40 million in endorsements the day he turned pro and played only the top golf tours any continent had to offer. When he was 24, he won the career Grand Slam.
Kevin Streelman cut his teeth on tours called Gateway and Hooters, drove two cars into the ground during his travels and lost track of the number of times he went through Q-school. He made it through all three stages last year to finally earn his card at age 29.
Woods is the three-time Buick Invitational champion and No. 1 player in the world.
Streelman had never played the Buick Invitational, was the third alternate Thursday morning and is No. 1,354 in the world.
Yes, they are worlds apart.
And they will be a handshake away Saturday in the final group at Torrey Pines.
Woods was in a familiar spot after making short work of the North Course on Friday for a 7-under 65, matching his best 36-hole start at Torrey Pines and giving him a four-shot lead at 12-under 132.
Streelman, who was given four minutes to get to the first tee Thursday when he got into the tournament, followed a 67 on the North with a hard-earned 69 on the South Course to get into the final group at 8-under 136.
Stewart Cink (137) will be joining them.
That will be the first introduction, because Streelman said he was too scared to meet Woods when he saw him Thursday morning. Streelman was rapping putts on the practice green, head down, when he looked up and saw a familiar figure.
“Boom! He was right there in front of me,” Streelman said. “I was kind of awestruck for a second and I said, ‘Wow, I guess I am on the PGA Tour.’ It was pretty cool.”
Woods was asked if he knew Streelman.
“No, I do not,” he replied.
Can he recall the last time he played a weekend with someone he didn’t know?
“That’s a good question,” he said. “I don’t know that one.”
What he does know is that even with a four-shot lead on a course he has turned into his personal playground, with a rookie in only his seventh PGA Tour event right behind, the tournament is not over.
“If they handed out the trophy today, then it would be over and no big deal,” said Woods, who was at 12-under 132. “But since we have so many more holes to play … as you’ve seen on tour, anything can happen.”
In this case, “anyone” might be more appropriate.
Streelman played on a part-time scholarship at Duke and has been trying to reach the big leagues ever since. There were stops on the Hooters Tour, the Gateway Tour and the Nationwide Tour. One group of sponsors bailed out on him early, another group has stuck with him as he made it through all three stages of Q-school last year, finally earning his card.
And his biggest break might have been someone else’s misfortunate.
Streelman was still the third alternate Thursday morning, planning on catching a flight to Phoenix to see his fiancee, when someone tapped him on the shoulder and told him he had four minutes to get to the first tee.
That left enough time to call his fiancee, who got to Torrey Pines when he was on the 13th hole, and notify his sponsors, who took a little longer to get to San Diego.
“I ran to the first tee and fortunately found the fairway, and ever since then, the putter got hot,” Streelman said. “I’ve been making a good amount of putts and keeping the ball in the fairway. Everything has felt good, so it’s been a nice start.”
Woods has had few complaints.
After missing both ways on Thursday, his only problem Friday was putting too much shape on his ball — a draw with the 3-wood that wound up in the left rough on No. 11, a mammoth tee shot on the short par-4 second that put him left of the green, pin-high, setting up a tough chip but a birdie from 6 feet.
He still hasn’t hit the green in a par 5, but he played them in 3 under on Friday. That, along with a chip-in for par on 15th hole early in his round, paved the way for his rapid rise on the leaderboard.
“I just have to hit the ball better than I’m hitting it now,” Woods said.
Ditto for Phil Mickelson. The top two players in the world are making their 2008 debut at Torrey Pines, but Lefty has been left behind. He shot a 73 on Friday at the South Course, leaving him out of contention.
“I’m not sharp now,” Mickelson said.
For the second time in three weeks, nearly 20 guys left town with last-place money and no tee time.
The cut of top 70 and ties amounted to 85 players, and because that number exceeded 78, only 66 players advanced to the weekend. Among the casualties were Kenny Perry, Chris DiMarco and Jay Williamson, who was one of six players who signed a petition at the Sony Open to get rid of the new cut policy.
Fueling their frustration is that Jose Maria Olazabal won the Buick Invitational in 2002 after making the cut on the number. But that year, Olazabal was only eight shots behind the co-leaders, J.L. Lewis and Kent Jones.
The 19 players who made the cut and can’t play the weekend were 13 shots behind Woods.
Those who get to play Saturday might have another burden. The forecast was for rain to arrive Saturday afternoon, with heavy rain expected on Sunday. That leaves a dual challenge of trying to catch golf’s best player and cope with potentially miserable conditions.
“Chasing Tiger Woods is always the tallest task on the PGA Tour, so I get a chance to try again,” Cink said.