Thursday's golf: Reed, Noren beat the rain to take 1st-round lead in Farmers

Associated Press

San Diego — Patrick Reed birdied his first three holes and finished with a bogey-free 8-under 64 on Thursday for a share of the lead with Alex Noren after the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open.

Patrick Reed, right, greets Rickie Fowler after the two finished on the ninth hole of the North Course during the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open golf tournament Thursday at Torrey Pines in San Diego.

Reed, Noren and Scottie Scheffler — who was one stroke back — all played Torrey Pines' easier North Course and will play the South Course on what could be a wet Friday. Heavy rain was forecast for overnight and into the second round at the municipal course overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Peter Malnati and Ryan Palmer each shot 66 for the lowest scores on the South Course and were in a group of 12 at 6 under. Malnati capped his round with an eagle on the par-5 18th. After a 321-yard tee shot, he hit his approach to 16 feet and made the putt.

Reed took advantage of nice weather and accurate tee shots to get off to the hot start. Starting on No. 10, he birdied the first three holes before making his first par. He closed with a flourish as well, with birdies on his 15th, 16th and 17th holes.

“I put myself in position today where I had to go out knowing that we’re going to get pretty good conditions, go out and try to make as many birdies as possible to be able to kind of weather the storm tomorrow,” Reed said. “I was able to kind of get off to a hot start and just kind of ride momentum going on through the rest of the round and continue attacking that golf course since that’s the one you’re able to attack.

“I was hitting the ball off the tee. You have to play from the fairway, shoot a low number and attack the course. Especially with what’s coming tomorrow.”

Reed said the closest he came to a bogey was on the par-4 fourth. He had a 35-foot putt for birdie and rolled it 3 feet to the right but saved par.

“That was the closest to a bogey, having a chance for a three putt, but besides that, everything else was pretty easy,” he said. “Definitely it felt easy out there just kind of with how I was hitting the driver, getting the ball in the fairway. I was working it both ways, which was nice. It’s not like I had only one way to go. I was able to hit the draws, hit the fades.”

Noren also started on No. 10. He eagled the par-7 17th and followed it with his only bogey. He birdied every other hole on his back nine.

Sheffler, who also played bogey-free, eagled the par-4 16th.

Noren, from Sweden, also took advantage of nice weather to get a low score on the North Course.

“Yeah, I’m hoping that we’re going to not get too flooded during the night,” he said. “But I played the South Course two rounds this week and I know how long it is now, especially when they lengthened some tee boxes, put them back. It’s a test. You definitely need some good ball striking there, especially in windy conditions. It’s good to get some birdies on the North, yeah.”

Defending champion Marc Leishman struggled through a 1-under 71 on the South Course, including a triple-bogey 7 on No. 4.

Rory McIlroy shot a 68 on the South Course and was in a group of 11 at 4 under. He’s playing the Farmers for the third straight year and is hoping to file away some mental notes for the U.S. Open in June, which will be played at Torrey Pines for just the second time.

McIlroy birdied had four birdies on the front nine but didn’t get his fifth and final birdie until No. 17.

“I did well. I got off to a great start, 4-under through nine,” he said. “A little disappointed I didn’t pick up a couple more on the way in, especially with the two par 5s, not picking up any shots there. Yeah, I think anytime you shoot 68 on the South Course here you’ve got to be pretty happy."

Quiet course

The sense this is a year unlike any other at Torrey Pines is most evident around the 18th green on the South Course.

The finishing hole for the Farmers Insurance Open is normally presided over by a TV tower, surrounded by corporate sponsor boxes and grandstands and filled with fans.

The tower for this week’s Golf Channel and CBS broadcasts is in its usual spot. The boxes and grandstands are not.

With spectators precluded from attending the event amid the ongoing pandemic, there is no need to set up seating.

The pond that guards the 18th green is usually the dominant water feature. Glance west, however, and this year there is an unobstructed view of a much larger body of water.

This is the setting – Torrey Pines’ two courses looking much as they do the other 51 weeks of the year – with 156 players set to tee off Thursday morning for the PGA Tour’s annual stop in San Diego.

That 18th hole? It looks naked.

“That’s the polite word for it,” said Marty Gorsich, CEO of the Farmers Insurance Open. “The backdrops that they have gotten used to in this tournament, where the pin flag is on the finishing holes, will definitely be different.

“We normally have stands on them at 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18, so that changes it. The way you might play a shot. You might have said, ‘Hey, if I go over the green here, I’m OK, because if I hit the grandstand I get a free drop.’ Or maybe the wind pattern is a little different. … Who knows?

“The roars will definitely be missed, not having people out here. It’s great they can tune into Torrey and still watch it proudly, but to not have the roars is a bummer.”

Unlike sports like baseball, football and basketball, there will be no piped-in crowd noise.

Not that players will miss hearing someone yell “You da man” or “Get in the hole” after shots.

What will be missed are the crowd cues, the roars when a long birdie putt finds the bottom of the hole and the groans when a distant fairway shot rolls just past the cup. Golf claps are still encouraged for those watching from home.

Another strong field is on hand, with eight returning Farmers champions and 14 major championship winners, including San Diegan Phil Mickelson, who leads in both categories (three and five).

Seven-time champion Tiger Woods is absent, but 24 of the top 50 players in the World Golf Ranking will be playing, led by No. 2 Jon Rahm, No. 6 Xander Schauffele and No. 7 Rory McIlroy.

Some tour events have allowed a limited number of fans – 5,000 spectators a day will be allowed at next week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open – but California is under strict guidelines.

The course will be limited to players and caddies and other essential personnel. Player spouses aren’t even allowed.

Most noticeable, of course, will be the absence of fans. The tournament typically attracts 150,000 people during the week, Gorsich said.

Not having fans – and the accompanying loss in sponsorships – will cost the tournament more than 80% of its revenue, Gorsich said.

Dubai Desert Classic

Richard Sterne took a one-stroke lead at the Dubai Desert Classic with an 8-under 64 in the first round.

The South African rolled in his ninth birdie of the day – on his ninth and final hole – to move ahead of American rival Kurt Kitayama (65) at the Emirates Golf Club. Sergio Garcia and Justin Harding (66) were tied for third.

The 39-year-old Sterne, who has battled an array of injuries in his career, last won on the European Tour nearly eight years ago. His only blemish on Thursday was a bogey on the sixth.

“When I was in trouble, I got out of it and made some good par putts and kept the round going and I hit a lot golf shots as well. Made quite a few birdies,” said Sterne, who has had knee, hip and wrist problems in the past.

Robert MacIntyre, Paul Casey, Adrian Otaegui and Thomas Detry (67) were all tied for fifth.

Tyrrell Hatton’s hopes for a desert double took a blow with five bogeys en route to a 4-over 76. The Englishman reached a career-high No. 5 after winning the Abu Dhabi Championship on Sunday.