SAN DIEGO — The best score belonged to Stewart Cink. The best round belonged to Pat Perez. Tiger Woods didn't come close to claiming either Thursday in the Farmers Insurance Open, where the seven-time champion failed to break par in the opening round for first time in his career.
Cink ran off three straight birdies late in his round on the easier North Course at Torrey Pines for an 8-under 64. That gave him a one-shot lead over Gary Woodland, who also was on the North, which is more than 600 yards shorter.
Perez was on the South Course, host of the 2008 U.S. Open and with greens so firm this year that it felt like a major. Perez had a 67, the best score on the South by two shots, and even more astounding is that he played bogey-free.
The South played nearly four shots harder than the North.
Woods, making his 2014 debut, failed to birdie any of the par 5s and had to settle for a 72.
“Even par is not too bad, but I didn't play the par 5s worth a darn today,” Woods said. “Obviously, that's (tantamount) to try to get any kind of scoring on the South Course. You've got to take care of the par 5s because there's not a lot of holes you can make birdie here. Subsequently, I didn't finish under par.”
Even at eight shots behind, he wasn't worried about a chance to win at Torrey for the ninth time — including a U.S. Open. The courses are so different than it's difficult to gauge where anyone stands until everyone has had a crack at both courses. The weekend rounds are on the South.
“I'm going to have to go out there and get it a little bit tomorrow to not be so far behind come Saturday or Sunday,” Woods said.
Cink did what he was supposed to do. The rough is up on the North, too, so it was important to get the ball in play. He did that, allowing him to take on some pins.
“You want to really take advantage of the North Course because it will yield to you a little bit, and the South Course will not,” Cink said. “I did a great job of going out there, just playing shot-by-shot, not really getting too caught up in, 'I have to birdie these holes.' As a consequence, I actually made a few birdies and it felt great.”
Phil Mickelson, meanwhile, felt awful.
He was coping with a back locked up on him, unusual for Mickelson because he doesn't have a history of back pain. It got so bad at one point that Mickelson thought about withdrawing from his hometown event, especially after his 4-iron on the par-5 18th at the North Course nearly went out-of-bounds. Mickelson used his short game to make birdie, and then made another birdie on the next hole and he scratched out a 69.
“Never thought about not starting, but around the turn I thought about maybe taking this week off and seeing if I could get a little bit better,” he said. “I kind of fought through the back nine and gave myself a chance.”
He described it as a muscular problem and was hopeful treatment would help. Mickelson swung easy on the North. Players have to swing for the fences on the 7,698-yard South Course, where the average score Thursday 74.45.
Not many would have predicted a 67 on the South, though Woods wasn't surprised when he heard who did it.
“Why? He grew up here,” Woods said. “This was his home course. He's playing it more times than any tour pro certainly.”
Perez has such a history at Torrey that his father, Tony, continues to announce the players on the first tee at the South Course. And here's even better history — Perez won a Junior World Championship at Torrey Pines, by beating some Orange County kid named Tiger Woods.
“Best day of my life,” Perez said. “I've known him forever. He's always been great to me. He gives me advice here and there, but to beat him that year was fantastic. ... I've got to hold onto that, so that's about all that I got over him. But it hurts him. I'll you tell, it hurts him.”
Perez was joking. He is full of bluster and always fun, a favorite among the players.
That's what made Thursday so enjoyable. The weather was close to perfect, with hang gliders filling the sky left of the fourth fairway on the South. Perez had no bogeys on his card, and he can't remember if that ever happened since the South was stretched out to prepare for the U.S. Open.
It was only one round, but it was a great for Perez — and for Cink, who hasn't won since his British Open title at Turnberry in 2009. The test for Cink is Friday on the South, especially considering that only three players broke 70 on the South — Perez, Charley Hoffman (another San Diego native) and rookie Kevin Tway, whose father (former PGA champion Bob Tway) won this event in 1986.