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THE U.S. OPEN

Torrey Pines might be a monster that Woods and Mickelson have never seen, but the USGA could give players some tantalizing choices

June 11, 2008|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

La Jolla Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, No. 1 and No. 2 in the world and partnered for at least the first two rounds of 108th U.S. Open, have won so many get-togethers at Torrey Pines they could . . . play this week blindfolded from the back tees?

Actually, if they did that, both might be picking bogeys out of the bluff.

Woods has won six Buick Invitationals, including the last four. He also won here as a 15-year-old, at the Junior World Championships, wearing a yellow T-shirt with a giant tiger's head stenciled on the front.

Mickelson, raised locally and almost as famous as the zoo, has won three Buick events.

But this isn't quite the same Torrey. It's more pain now than pine.

What makes this year's U.S. Open different from this year's Buick is slicker greens, yes, but even slicker moves by the U.S. Golf Assn.

Interestingly for Woods and Mickelson, who know every Torrey nook and cranny, there is a fear of the unknown.

The USGA has traded its masochistic tendencies -- remember the baked greens at Shinnecock Hills in 2004? -- for a bit of sleight-of-hand chicanery.

The USGA is not telling the players which South Course they'll be playing. It could be the record 7,643 yards everyone's talking about or, it could be shorter.

The great unknown lies with alternate tee-box locations on critical holes, particularly at No. 3, No. 13 and No. 14.

The new launching area at the par-five 13th stretches to 614 yards and bears little resemblance to anything Woods and Mickelson have seen.

"Well, we're almost on Black's Beach," Woods joked Tuesday of a tee-box location that has been backed toward the bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. "So, I don't know, maybe we can hit up and over the cliff to get to the fairway. It's unbelievable how far back that is. That usually is where they start their hang gliding over there."

Players probably will play No. 13 at 614 yards only once, on the weekend, but that didn't stop Mickelson from ripping the setup.

"That new tee box is terrible," Mickelson said. "It's the biggest waste of money that I've ever seen. But it doesn't matter what I think, we're going to end up playing it and I've got to be ready for it. But it's terrible."

For years, Woods has had all the answers at Torrey Pines.

Tuesday, he had questions.

"How many days are they going to play it up on 13?" Woods asked. "How many days are they going to play it up on 14? Same on three. We just don't know."

Woods said where the tees are played will determine whether this year's winner will finish over or under par.

The winning total at the last two U.S. Opens has been five over par, stirring the wrath of professionals who don't like being embarrassed annually on national television.

Woods said juggling the tee-box distances gives the USGA some flexibility on the fly.

"What happened at Shinnecock," Woods said, "they don't want to get into that situation again."

Here are the daily options for the three holes that may decide the fate of this year's U.S. Open.

* No. 3. This picturesque downhill par three, with the Pacific as backdrop, will play at either 142 or 195 yards. The longer tee may require a long iron while pitching wedge might be the club to play on the shorter setup.

Unlike 13, Mickelson loves the options here.

"It will be exciting," he said. "Because you're going to see some birdies, but you're also going to see some fours and fives."

* No. 13. Tiger's "Black's Beach" setup will play 614 yards from the tips and require a 240-yard carry to the fairway. Mickelson says the new position eliminates the risk/reward of trying to reach the green in two.

"But from the back tee nobody can reach it," he said. "Everybody's going to be laying up to the same spot. . . . It's like a par three from the bottom of the hill."

The USGA can also opt to play the hole from 539 or 599 yards.

* No. 14. This should be fun for players and patrons. The par four normally plays to 435 yards but could be pushed up to a tantalizing 278 yards, giving players the option of trying to drive the green. Think of No. 10 at Riviera Country Club.

Woods said he was "very surprised" that golf's governing lords would offer the players such a treat.

Mickelson said trying to drive the green from 278 yards will depend on pin placement.

"Certain pins there's not much reward for going for the green," Mickelson said.

The USGA has indicated the move to the shorter tee box would be made to encourage players to go for the green, meaning the pin placement probably would be forgiving.

"I never thought the USGA would actually give us a break, give us a chance of making a birdie like that," Woods said.

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chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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