Rees Jones, the USGA’s point man for overhauling Torrey Pines to meet USGA specifications, says that the course will play a lot tougher at the Open than it did this past week at the Buick.
Torrey Pines is going to add some teeth this spring and, as if for excruciating emphasis, par will be sliced from 72 strokes to 71. For one week, at least, the world’s greatest golfers should see a clear distinction between overlooking the ocean and a day at the beach.
“This isn’t the same golf course that it’s going to be,” said Rees Jones, the golf architect responsible for reshaping Torrey Pines to meet U.S. Open specifications. “I think if you saw Tiger putt the USGA greens last year (at Oakmont), he putted them a little more defensively than he is this week.”
If Torrey Pines’ greens have measured 11 on golf’s Stimpmeter this week, Open speed is typically 13. To a professional putter, that is a knee-knocking difference. Consequently, Jones said he expects the winning score at the Open to fall in the range between 3 and 5 under par.
Making courses longer, and more difficult: Conventional wisdom says that short of taking Tiger into an alley and breaking his kneecaps, it’s the only hope the other players have.
Or maybe not. I’ve often thought that “Tiger Proofing” plays right into the Great One’s hands. Lengthening the course, narrowing the fairways and growing the rough just eliminates the other players. You could actually reduce the number of wins that Tiger accumulates by making the courses more strategic. If a track offers multiple ways to victory, then others can play their game, instead of always having to play Tiger’s.
Tim Sullivan of the San Diego Union Tribune puts it succinctly:
The trouble with toughening a golf course to make it more challenging for Tiger Woods is that adding difficulty effectively subtracts the number of players who can be competitive. The surest way to a dramatic Open might be to make Torrey Pines South less daunting, to dial down the difficulty to make the results more random.
The USGA, however, is not interested in exciting golf. They’re interested in maintaining their reputation as the toughest test in golf. In spite of Sandy Tatum’s famous maxim (“We’re not trying to embarrass the best players in the world; we’re trying to identify them. “), that is indeed what the Open has come to. And in doing so, they’re going to guarantee a runaway Tiger victory.