Last week, the PGA Tour stopped at iconic Torrey Pines Golf Course to host the 2021 Farmers Insurance Open for its fourth event of the calendar year. In some ways, this event truly kickstarts the PGA Tour season: it marks the tour’s second full-sized field of the new year, plays at a historic US Open course (which will host our country’s national open later this June), and is scheduled a week after the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, one of the European Tour’s flagship events. To add to this list, Torrey Pines and the Farmers Insurance Open are intrinsically linked to Tiger Woods who has won seven times at the event and eight times total at the San Diego venue.
As usual, the tournament attracted many of the world’s top players including World No. 2 Jon Rahm, World No. 5 Xander Schaufelle, World No. 6 Tyrell Hatton, and World No. 7 Rory McIlroy. However, Patrick Reed would dominate the conversation. Unfortunately, though, his eventual Sunday victory played only a small part in his garnering this attention.
The Farmers Insurance Open belongs to a small group of tournaments on the PGA Tour that require their competitors to adapt to multiple courses. In the first two rounds, half the field starts on Torrey Pines North and half play Torrey Pines South. On Friday, the players alternate courses before they all tackle the South Course over the weekend.
The RSM Classic, the American Express, and the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, which will be held in a couple weeks’ time, are the other events that share this multi-course distinction. Ultimately, the lack of daylight hours that plague these November, January, and early February events, respectively, make splitting the field between two courses ideal for hosting a regular-tour event’s 156-player field.
The sunny and calm conditions to start the week led to low first-round scoring. Patrick Reed and Alexander Noren, who both started on the North Course, shared the 18-hole lead at 8 under par. Granted, the North Course is decidedly easier than the South (the North is just over 500 yards shorter and the South sports a scorecard rating of 78.2 from the tips compared to the North’s 75.8). Therefore, players with Thursday starts on Torrey Pines South, like Rory McIlroy at 4 under and Jon Rahm at 3 under, were also off to very solid starts.
In Round 2, the forecasted inclement weather halted good scoring and suspended play for roughly an hour in the mid-afternoon. While the morning rounds were somewhat unaffected and even enjoyed blue skies, the later conditions, consisting of intermittent rain, 30 mph gusts, and hail, raised the scoring average from 71.31 in Round 1 to 72.71 in Round 2.
As the leaders struggled to match par, Viktor Hovland bested the average by nearly eight shots with a 7-under 65, giving him a one-shot lead heading into the weekend. The 23-year-old attributed his performance to his deep-rooted familiarity with blustery weather:
“It got really cold and, obviously, raining and hail, so being Norwegian, I think that also helps.”
A front-nine 31 on Moving Day, saw Patrick Reed surge to a three-shot lead. However, it was what happened on the 10th hole that headlined the third round. Whether his embedded ball ruling was an act of cheating or not, it certainly seemed to mark a turning point in his play. In the last eight holes, Reed posted four bogeys to fall back into a tie with Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz at 10 under.
The intense scrutiny and criticism that Reed received after his round found him in a position to which he has become accustomed and in which he has learned to thrive. Back in his breakout year in 2014, during the final round of the WGC Cadillac Championship, NBC aired an interview in which Reed referred to himself as a “top-five player in the world” despite his actual ranking of 44th. However, he preserved through the negative reactions from the golfing world and became the youngest player to win a WGC event. Later that year at the Ryder Cup, Reed was heckled by the European crowd. Instead of showing trepidation as a Ryder Cup rookie, he was energized, leading to a 1-Up victory over Henrik Stenson and his shushing of the crowd which sparked his role as Captain America.
His win at the 2018 Masters further exemplifies Reed’s ability to flourish amidst adversity. Over the weekend, in a post-round interview, Reed acknowledged his less-than-stellar reputation with fans. As the crowd’s roars reverberated around Sunday at Augusta National to cheer on favorites such as McIlroy, Rahm, Spieth, and Fowler, Reed navigated his way to a coveted green jacket.
Finally, in February 2020, Brooks Koepka accused Reed of cheating at the 2019 Hero World Challenge where Reed was assessed a two-stroke penalty for improving his lie in the sand. Five days later, Reed claimed the WGC Mexico Championship.
Based on this past performance, a victory for Reed on Sunday at the Farmers Insurance Open was all but a certainty. Consequently, by Sunday evening, he had again demonstrated his knack for playing the role of the underdog. His short game proved effective in negotiating Torrey Pines’ kikuyu-rough, which has been described as bermudagrass on steroids. Specifically, he successfully completed crucial par saves at the 10th and 11th holes. In contrast, his fellow competitors faltered down the stretch. Tony Finau rinsed his ball on the eighteenth, Jon Rahm dropped two shots on the back nine, and Adam Scott finished his round with a 1-Over 73. All in all, Reed triumphed by 5.
Unfortunately for Reed, whether deservedly so or not, this week will be remembered not for his strong play, but for the incident during Saturday’s round. Now a nine-time winner on the PGA Tour, though, that may not be the worst thing for a player who is fueled by such storylines.