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Jordan Spieth steals Torrey Pines spotlight with a 63

The 20-year-old leads by one at the Farmers Insurance Open. His playing partner, Tiger Woods, can manage only a 71 on the North Course and is nine back. Phil Mickelson withdraws.

January 24, 2014|Bill Dwyre

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LA JOLLA — It was difficult to know the significance of what took place in the featured group at the Farmers Insurance Open here Friday. Golf has many moving parts, and many were moving when Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth teed it up together on the North Course at Torrey Pines.

Numbers help.

Woods is 38, Spieth 20. Woods shot a one-under-par 71 and made the cut by a shot. Spieth shot a nine-under 63, nine birdies and no bogeys, and led the field by one shot going into Saturday’s third round.

Woods has won 79 tournaments and 14 majors. That puts him four shy of breaking Sam Snead’s record and five away from breaking Jack Nicklaus’. He won five tournaments last year, including this one for the seventh time. He is the face of golf, even after leaving a few scars on it a few years ago with his off-course behavior.

Spieth has won one tournament, last year’s John Deere Classic. He left the University of Texas in 2012 to join the tour, played eight amateur events and missed the cut in his first pro try. That was exactly a year ago, at this event. He has played in three majors, making the cut in only one, last year’s British Open.

Woods was player of the year last year, Spieth rookie of the year. The tour players voted on those honors and Woods and Spieth sat together Wednesday and were handed their trophies in a joint ceremony.

Yet, as the two marched alongside each other in a threesome that included Fed-Ex Cup points leader Jimmy Walker — on an overcast day that should have made scoring even easier on the less-challenging North Course used only in the pre-cut rounds of this event — questions were inevitable.

Was this the day, the exact round, that we would look back on as the beginning of a passing of the torch in golf? Was this both an arrival and a departure? Was youth being served? Was aging Tiger now a fine wine who could no longer putt?

We know what Woods is. He is a jaw-set, fist-clenched, fire-in-the belly competitor. There are other things in life besides winning, but he doesn’t spend much time on them. He has been around for nearly two decades and is not the least bit interested in going quietly into the night.

Spieth is young, but hardly restless. He oozes normalcy. He is 6 feet 1, 185 pounds. When they designed the body shape of a pro golfer, that was it. He knows all the records, respects all the elders, but doesn’t seem interested in waiting around until somebody tells him it is OK, that it is now his time.

The theme of the questioning of Spieth came as no surprise. If only for a day, you knocked the king off the hill, obliterated him, made him look ordinary. How does that feel?

“I wasn’t intimidated by any means,” Spieth said. “I grew up watching him.… I idolized him.…When you see some of the shots he pulls off, it’s cool to play with him.”

Woods’ theme for his postgame rehash — he always has one — was a version of one often used previously. His game was “just a fraction off.” He was only one shot lower than Thursday, when he shot even-par 72 on the more difficult South Course, where the rest of the tournament will move now.

He also knew that his pairing, and head-to-head result against a highly touted player 18 years younger, would trigger questions. His answers may have been heartfelt but they seemed robotic.

“The kid’s got talent, hits it a long way, phenomenal putter,” Woods said.

He also talked about where he might be and how he might get there. With Woods, there is always a tomorrow, which is clearly the mark of a driven champion.

“It’s a four-round tournament,” he said. “I’m just trying to get myself, to five [under]. … I’m at one now and, hopefully, I can get off to a quick start tomorrow, get to five, and get going from there.”

History says he knows what he is talking about. In 2006, the only other time he shot a score on the North Course as high as one under par, he ended up winning the tournament in a playoff.

There were many other story lines Friday. Phil Mickelson shot a one-over 73 on the South and hinted that the he might withdraw because of a back injury. Hours later, he did withdraw.

Stewart Cink stayed sharp with 64-71 and had second place alone at nine under. Nicolas Colsaerts and Billy Horschel each shot 67 — Colsaerts the day’s best on the South — and are third and fourth, respectively.

Among the notables missing the cut were Brandt Snedeker, Davis Love III, Lucas Glover, Rickie Fowler and Walker. Rocco Mediate pulled out with an injury.

But the buzz was about Woods and Spieth, Father Time and Baby Rolex.

Afterward, as he had been throughout and tends to be on all levels, Spieth remained calm, cool and collected. Already, he knows the right things to do and does them.

He made sure to seek out and deliver a signed golf ball to the man who had carried the scoring placard the 18 holes for the group, Tom Schmedake. Then he sought out and thanked the woman who had been the walking scorekeeper, Gail Church.

“He’s a sweetheart,” she said.

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