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There's no Tiger in Torrey's tank

Woods won't be playing the Buick Invitational on a course where he has dominated, leaving a title open for someone else.

February 05, 2009|Chuck Culpepper

SAN DIEGO — In a startling development at Torrey Pines, they're evidently planning to hold a Buick Invitational and award its title Sunday to one of 156 people not named for a large, ferocious, striped feline.

That's right. Lacking the ingenious despot who has ruled these bluffs with an iron scorecard, 156 talented golfers who include Padraig Harrington suddenly possess the freedom to win here, so long as they all don't freak out from seeing Tiger Woods around town on the tournament billboards.

Can they feel the openness?

"I think so," said Hunter Mahan, the Ryder Cup revelation who ranks No. 47 in the world.

"I mean, any time Tiger is not in the field, you feel like you have somewhat of a better chance just because he wins 30, 40 percent of the tournaments he plays in, or whatever ridiculous stat that is," said Luke Donald, the No. 40 player who in 2005 achieved the noted milestone of second in the Buick, the highest perch known to normal humanity.

The ridiculous stat is 27.54%, except here it's almost 100, so that during the winner's remarks this weekend, he might thank Woods' left knee.

For where in most places the 156 might feel a diminished chance at winning where Woods has entered, here that chance had diminished to nil. Woods won the 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 Buicks. He has shot over par precisely once in 43 Buick rounds, his wretchedly unforgivable 77 in the second round in 2002 when he finished a horrid fifth.

Because he had not demonstrated quite enough mastery overlooking the Pacific, he then won the 2008 U.S. Open here while using only one of his legs, which almost made it fair.

His six Buick titles in the last 10 years have so skewed the record books that the aforementioned 156 include only one previous winner, Phil Mickelson.

Contrast that with the Sony, the Bob Hope and the FBR, earlier 2009 tour events whose fields each included nine winners from their previous 12 tournaments.

This Buick, though, rests in an odd place on the golf-history calendar, what with Woods' comeback rumbling, especially after he took to his website this week and said, "I'm full-bore with my practice sessions and have no restrictions; it's just a matter of getting my golf endurance up. I don't have my golf stamina back yet."

Mahan said he and his cohorts feel the curiosity, "trying to speculate and guess and see when he's going to return," if not necessarily when his wife, Elin, might deliver their second child, due this month. And in this humming grapevine, Mahan said he'd heard Hank Haney went on the Golf Channel and said Tiger looked great.

That would be Woods' swing coach, and here would be Mahan's prediction: "I think we all expect greatness. . . . I think he's going to walk tall, and I think he's going to be fine."

"I think that this tournament certainly misses his presence," Mickelson said. "You know, he's been such a mainstay of this event." Told he would be the lone champion from the last 12 occasions, Mickelson said, "I didn't realize that. I wasn't really reading through the fine print of the program."

Also in the program are Charles Howell III (two top-fives in the last four years here), Rory Sabbatini (third last year) and San Diegans such as Mickelson and Bob Hope champion Pat Perez.

Another probable contender is Harrington, who does, after all, hold down No. 3 in the world and is the current British Open and PGA champion, yet Harrington sort of yearns for Woods' return just to turn down the volume on his life.

"When it comes around to those majors, I am looking forward to Tiger coming back and taking some of the spotlight off me," Harrington said. "It's much easier to win any tournament under the radar. It's a lot harder when somebody asks you on a Monday of a tournament or somebody asks you two months before the event, 'Are you going to win?'

"A lot of players won't be asked that question until they're leading on a Saturday night, so they only have to deal with it 24 hours, whereas the week of Augusta, I'll have lots of people coming up to me saying, 'You're going to win.' "

If only Woods had returned this week, none of the 156 would have to hear such chatter.



Buick Invitational

Where: Torrey Pines.

When: Today through Sunday.

TV: Golf Channel (today and Friday), Channel 2 (Saturday and Sunday), noon.

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