By Garrett Johnston
San Diego, CA – As one glances at the leaderboard of this week’s PGA Tour event at majestic Torrey Pines, it is easy to concede formality.
Tiger Woods, the greatest player of his generation, stands alone and in strong command of the field at a course he has won seven professional victories on.
He leads the 2013 Farmers Insurance Open by six shots with eleven holes to go as play suspended due to darkness on Sunday.
The tournament lost essentially the whole of it’s third-round Saturday to an immense Pacific Coast fog layer. As a result, players had to get in as many holes as possible as the sun rose in fine fashion along the cliffs of La Jolla on Sunday.
Brilliant was the performance of Tiger Woods.
He posted a 3-under 69 in the third round on Sunday, and is 3-under through seven holes of his final round as dusk overtook Torrey on Sunday night.
Woods is looking to close out his pursuers tomorrow, something that he has done handily when leading through three rounds to the tune of 49 out of 53 attempts.
A closing record even Brian Wilson would smile at.
On a course he’s very familiar with, it may take a tremendous charge from his closest pursuers Brandt Snedker and Davis-native Nick Watney. Both stand six strokes behind Woods but have at least some laurels to point to at Torrey Pines.
Snedeker won this event last year, coming back from seven shots in the final round, and Watney won this event in 2009 for his second career victory.
But Woods wasn’t even on the property for those two events.
During Watney’s win in 2009, Woods was recovering from knee surgery after his ’08 US Open title at Torrey. Last year, as Snedeker made his impressive comeback, Woods played in Abu Dhabi.
“(I’m) trying to put as much pressure as I can on him,” Watney said on Sunday.
He started his final round with three birdies on the first four difficult holes before finally cooling down with a stretch of pars.
It may take a miracle from Watney and Snedeker to remain in the same zip code as Woods tomorrow, but stranger things have happened.
Snedeker partook in a miracle last year when he shot a final round 67 and ended up almost unfathomably in a playoff when Kyle Stanley, who led by three standing on the final tee box, posted a surprising triple bogey that tied him with Snedeker and placed them in a playoff. Snedeker eventually prevailed and has catapulted him to number eight in the world and helped him win the Tour’s $10 million dollar season-long FedEx Cup.
Watney’s miracle fits this current context like a glove.
He torched the back nine of Torrey Pines two years ago with a 28, 8-under par, the lowest in that stretch since 1983.
That just happens to be the very stretch of real estate that awaits him and Woods on Monday for the completion of this championship. Snedeker is through thirteen holes at the moment and thus has much more out of his control.
“I’m going to try and make as many birdies as I can,” Watney said on Sunday night.
“We’ll come out and see how close we can get.”
Watney has beaten Woods one-on-one in matchplay as recently as the World Golf Championships Accenture Matchplay in Tucscon, Arizona last February.
Monday they are not paired together, but nonetheless Watney and the pursuers will have to deal with reacting to what Woods does.
“(What he does) doesn’t really affect me, I can’t control him,” Watney said.
Yet to catch Woods, especially in this fine form, there may be reason to find another gear as in 2011.
“Hopefully you find it but around the course that is this difficult there’s not much you can do. You can make bogeys just as fast as you can make birdies. Hopefully you roll some putts in and it’s a matter of we’ll see what happens,” Watney said.
We will indeed.
Woods, who is looking to win his seventy-fifth PGA Tour event Monday, understands the importance of sticking to his gameplan.
“I’ve got to continue with executing my game plan. That’s the idea. I’ve got 11 holes to play, and I’ve got to go out there and play them well,” Woods said.
He’s played them well before.
Garrett Johnston is a free-lance sports journalist based in Sacramento, California.