SAN DIEGO—All eyes were on Phil Mickelson in the first round of the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course, but he was making his 2010 debut on the burly South layout.
Translation: The San Diegan knew he probably wouldn’t be among Thursday’s leaders. And he wasn’t, although a 2-under-70 wasn’t too shabby and has him tied for 40th.
As is normally the case in the first round, pace-setters teed it up on the shorter North, and the man who posted the first target number of the week was former San Diego State men’s golfer Scott Piercy. The 31-year-old, in his second full season on Tour, shot an 8-under-par 64 to hold the lead by one stroke over four players, including Torrance native Chris Tidland.
“It was just one of those days where you kind of go en fuego for a while,” said Piercy, whose flatstick was the hottest part of his game — he needed only 22 putts.
At first glance, it wouldn’t have appeared Piercy, who garnered $2 million by winning the 2007 Ultimate Game and finished 90th on the 2009 PGA Tour money list, was geared for going low. He missed the cut by sizable margins at both the Sony Open and Bob Hope Classic, but while the final round of the Hope was happening Monday in La Quinta, he participated in a pro-am in Palm Springs and made nine birdies.
“It’s something that you guys don’t see all the time, and that’s why it’s like, where did you come from,” said Piercy.
Also arriving under the radar at Torrey Pines’ North course was Tidland. The 2009 Nationwide Tour graduate tied for 46th at Sony and then missed the cut at the Hope.
Despite not making birdie on any of the four par 5s, he still mustered a 7-under 65 thanks to missing only three greens and taking just 26 putts.
Born in Torrance, Tidland grew up in a house at Placentia’s Alta Vista Country Club, where his parents still live. Interestingly, his wife-to-be lived right next door.
His dad is in town and so are a bunch of his friends, watching him at a venue where he has many fond memories from competing in the Junior World Golf Championships.
“I eagled the last hole one year to finish ninth, and I thought that was the greatest thing ever,” Tidland said. “Every time I go down the 18th hole my caddie gets sick of it, I tell him this is where I hit and this is the putt I made. He’s like, ‘Yeah, I know.’”
Tied with Tidland at 7-under are Ben Crane, Matt Every and Ryuji Imada, who also all played the North. Imada has done well in this event before, winning the battle for second place in 2008 when Cypress native Tiger Woods cruised to an eight-shot victory.
While those scores look great on paper, perhaps the player who helped himself the most in the first round was Robert Allenby. The Aussie posted a bogey-free 67 on the South course and will play the North in the second round with a chance to go lower.
Unlike Tidland and Piercy, Allenby came into this week with a lot of notoriety. Prior to a runner-up finish at the Sony Open earlier this month, he won the Australian PGA Championship in December.
“Obviously, today was a continuation of where I left off at Sony,” said Allenby, who is No. 15 in the Official World Golf Rankings.
The only man ranked higher in the Farmers Insurance Open field is Mickelson, the world’s No. 2. Not surprisingly, the 39-year-old hometown favorite had large galleries, and, also not surprisingly, had a round filled with plenty of ups and downs. He followed up two of his three bogeys with birdies, but also dropped a shot at the par-4 10th, traditionally one of the easiest on the South. At even-par on the 16th tee, he salvaged his day with a birdie there and then another on the par-5 18th.
“I’ll take a couple-under on the South course,” Mickelson said. “I played a little cautious today, trying to not make too many mistakes and keep myself in it.”
Here’s how other golfers with Southern California ties fared in the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open:
• Apparently, the solution to Rickie Fowler’s swing woes was simple — take the club a little further outside to start the backswing. That’s what the 21-year-old did on the North course Thursday, and he posted a 5-under-par 67 that included an eagle and four birdies. A Murrieta native now living in Las Vegas, Fowler missed the cut in his first two events of the year and had broken par only in six rounds before his effort Thursday.
“I just talked to [my coach Barry McDonnell] on the phone for about five minutes and just kept working on a few things that I’ve been working on,” Fowler said. “He gave me a swing tip, and I worked with it a little bit. We’re getting there, it’s definitely a lot better.”
When asked if his opening round at Torrey Pines was the most comfortable he’d felt on the course in 2010, Fowler responded, “By far.” He is in a tie for seventh.
• Fifty-year-old Tom Pernice Jr. is fully exempt on the Champions Tour by virtue of winning the SAS Championship last September, but he’s not quite ready to abandon the PGA Tour after finishing 140th on the money list and missing the cut in the final stage of Qualifying School by one stroke. Pernice, who gained entry into the Farmers field thanks to a sponsor’s exemption, posted a 6-under 66 on the North to hold sixth place by himself.
“[I’m] trying to make the most of it when I get my opportunities out here,” he said.
• Another competitor playing on a sponsor’s exemption, Blake Trimble, tallied a 4-under-par 68 and is tied for 16th. After opening with a double bogey on the 10th and then a bogey on the 13th, Trimble recovered with seven birdies in his last 14 holes. The Rancho Santa Fe resident turned professional last year after a stint on the University of San Diego men’s golf team.
• Former San Diego resident Pat Perez fired a 3-under 69 on the South course and is tied for 23rd.
• Other local notables: San Diegan Chris Riley is tied for 40th at 2-under, John Mallinger (Escondido native), John Merrick and Paul Goydos (both of Long Beach) are tied for 57th at 1-under, while Poway native Charley Hoffman struggled with a 2-under par 74 on the North course.
For a complete leaderboard, visit PGATour.com.
Check back throughout the week for more coverage of the Farmers Insurance Open.
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