Feb 7, 2015 3:53 AM
English takes the lead at Torrey Pines as big names depart
The Associated Press
SAN DIEGO (AP) A wall of fans four-wide stretched for over 100 yards while making its way to the exit at Torrey Pines, and it didn't take long to figure out why. Dozens of them were wearing blue-sleeved shirts that said, "Team Phil."
Another day, another big name headed home.
Tiger Woods left the Farmers Insurance Open after 11 holes on Thursday because of tightness in his back.
Phil Mickelson left after 36 holes on Friday because he couldn't make a putt.
"You can't compete when you putt like that," Mickelson said after an even-par 72 on the North Course. He took 64 putts over two rounds.
Harris English is competing just fine. He made it around the South Course on Thursday with a 68, and then the North Course with a 66, and what was remarkable about both was that he kept bogeys off his card both days. He was at 10-under 134 and had a two-shot lead.
That's not easy at Torrey Pines, where the rough is thicker than usual and the poa annua greens are never easy. On his second hole of the tournament English chipped through the green and was facing bogey when he chipped in for par. He hasn't had too many close calls since then, though he was particularly pleased with a 5-foot par putt that he made on his 11th hole Friday.
"Those are the putts, the momentum savers, that really keep your round going," English said. "I really, really focus on those because those can keep you playing aggressive."
And that's what he did, all the way to the end.
English was thinking about an eagle on the par-5 18th hole when he was between 7-iron and 6-iron, chose the 6-iron and went long into a nasty lie that kept him from chipping close. He still birdied the other par 5s, dropped an 8-iron on top of the flag on the par-3 17th and was in good shape going into the weekend.
Already a two-time winner on the PGA Tour, English was two shots ahead of Nick Watney (65), Jhonattan Vegas (69) and Martin Laird, who had another 68. Laird was tied for the lead with two holes to play in Phoenix last week until a bogey-double bogey finish.
Trophies aren't handed out until Sunday, and the tournament doesn't really get started until Saturday because the final two rounds are on the South Course, which hosted the U.S. Open in 2008 and will get another one in six years.
Most significant about Friday was how it ended for so many others.
It wasn't just Mickelson.
Justin Rose, at No. 5 the highest-ranked player in the field, made his 2015 debut in America and shot 70 on the North to miss the cut by one shot.
Jordan Spieth, who tied for sixth in Phoenix last week in his first start of the year, needed an eagle on the par-5 18th hole on the South Course to make the cut. He put his second shot in the water.
Hideki Matsuyama, a runner-up last week in Phoenix, needed a birdie on the 18th and reached the green in two. And then he three-putted for par, and was headed home.
Dustin Johnson, playing for the first time since a six-month break to get professional help for "personal challenges."
"The last two days, I think normally I probably would be at least 5 or 6 under right now instead of even par," Johnson said. "But I'm happy with where it's at. Just a little rusty, that's all."
Even those who are still around had a tough time, particularly Phoenix Open winner Brooks Koepka.
He reached the par-5 18th in two on the South Course and a two-putt birdie would have put him three shots out of the lead. Koepka missed his 6-foot birdie attempt, and then missed a pair of 2 1/2-foot putts and wound up five-putting for double bogey. That gave him a 74 and he was six shots behind.
Koepka, who might lead the PGA Tour in being the best at not letting anything bother him, put out this tweet after his round: "How many putts does it take to finish off a round..1...2...3...4...5."
But at least he still has a chance, and that's something Mickelson and Woods cannot say.
Mickelson missed the cut in back-to-back weeks for the first time since his early departure from Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines in 2002. And so this was the first time that Woods and Mickelson have played in the same tournament two weeks in a row and failed to make the cut.
Mickelson is not playing the last two weeks of the West Coast Swing because his kids are on spring break.
"My putting is beyond pathetic," Mickelson said. "And if I can't get back to the levels of 2013, I'm not sure what I'm going to do. Because this is very frustrating."