Torrey looks subpar to Jones

LA JOLLA, Calif. – It has been four years since the winner of the U.S. Open carded a score below par, but the man responsible for making Torrey Pines Golf Course into a track worthy of hosting golf’s national championships thinks it will happen this week.

“I think you’ll see red numbers,” said golf course architect Rees Jones, who redesigned the course in 2001 and ’02, “and probably 2 or 3 under par by the end of the championship.”

The winning score in the last two U.S. Opens was 5 over par, but that was on par-70 layouts. Torrey Pines will play to a par 71 this week, as U.S. Golf Association officials opted to shorten only one of the par-72 course’s par-5 holes.

Jones was on the course with USGA officials, including Mike Davis, the man charged with setting up the course for the U.S. Open, a few weeks ago.

“They’re really good,” Jones said. “They’re going to rotate them around the green so there will be some easy hole locations, there will be some hard ones. They’re going to mix it up.”

A few holes will be played from different tee boxes during the tournament. The par-3 third hole will play from under 150 yards to over 190. And No. 4, which runs along a sea cliff, will be shortened by about 40 yards when the pin is on the ocean side of the green. Jones also expects the tees to be moved up on the finishing hole for the final round.

“They’re going to probably play 18 a little bit shorter on the last day,” Jones said, “so that every player has a chance to go for it in two. When the bank (to Devlin’s Billabong) is shaved, it’s not an easy shot. And plus if you go in the bunker behind the green and you have to go down the slope, you can go in the water that way, too.”

Some of the course modifications, particularly the position of the tee on the 614-yard 13th, caught Del Mar’s Pat Perez a little off guard.

“When I played it today, I couldn’t believe there was a tee box back there,” said Perez, who grew up playing Torrey Pines and later worked there. “… There’s no chance getting there (in two) from back there. There’s not even a chance. It’s a long way.”

Roughing it

Escondido native John Mallinger is coming off his best finish in three months, a tie for 10th at the Memorial at Muirfield Village Golf Club.

This will be his third U.S. Open after playing at Pinehurst in 2005 and Winged Foot in ’06, but obviously things are a little different this time around. Like Perez, Mallinger is playing in what amounts to his backyard.

“This is a big one for me,” he said, “being from here and everything. I try not to put too much pressure on myself, but it’s always in the back of my mind.”

Commenting on the rough, a sure-fire topic of lively conversation at every U.S. Open, Mallinger allowed that the rough at Torrey isn’t the worst he has seen … in the last month.

“At Muirfield a couple of weeks ago, I think the rough there was actually worse,” he said. “I think it’s set up pretty fair (at Torrey). The first cut is still playable. The second you’re going to get some bad lies. But if you get in the really bad rough, you’re going to have to pitch it out with a wedge.”

Talking ‘bout the weather

Murrieta resident Rickie Fowler is the youngest player in the field, at 19 years and five months. He is just about a month younger than his college teammate and fellow qualifier, Kevin Tway, son of longtime PGA Tour player Bob Tway.

Fowler and Kevin Tway played their practice round on Monday with Cowboys alumni Scott Verplank and Charles Howell III. Also tagging along with the group was Barry McDonnell, Fowler’s longtime personal coach, who came down from Riverside County. Oklahoma State’s college season ended just nine days ago at the NCAA Championships in Indiana.

“(Fowler) did say he was glad to be back here and out of the humidity,” McDonnell said.