A decade later, Tiger Woods' US Open magic still draws many fans to Torrey Pines

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A decade later, Tiger Woods' US Open magic still draws many fans to Torrey Pines

SAN DIEGO -- In the parking lot at the Torrey Pines golf courses, there are a handful of spaces reserved just for those visiting the pro shop.

For most of the day, every day, those stalls are occupied. With no intention of ever playing golf, people pile out of their cars and take a walk that may have been on their bucket list for years.

They stop near the putting greens to take photos beside the elegant, green Rolex clock, with "Torrey Pines" inscribed in gold. They make their way to the west-facing deck that offers one of the grandest views in golf: two lush courses in the foreground, shimmering Pacific Ocean on the horizon.

Reverent tones are usually in order.

This is where it happened. Tiger Woods won the U.S. Open here.

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"I hear it every day. Every single day," said Susan Casagranda, the pro shop president who has worked at Torrey Pines for nearly 30 years.

"It's still about Tiger, and it's still about that championship."

The Torrey Pines facility has been in operation since 1957. It has hosted a PGA Tour event since 1969. But there's never quite been a milestone anniversary like the one that arrives this week.

Tuesday marked 10 years since the start of the 2008 U.S. Open that was played for the first time on San Diego's prized municipal layout, the South Course at Torrey Pines.

"Time is ruthless," Casagranda noted with a sigh.

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If Lee Westwood won the 2008 U.S. Open (he came close), it would have been considered a worthy result for the championship, and for a highly accomplished player who still hasn't captured a major and likely never will.

If Robert Karlsson or D.J. Trahan prevailed (they tied for fourth), it might have gone down as one of the all-time snoozers.

But San Diego and the sporting world got sucked into a drama that had few equals in major golf, with Woods, wounded but still in his prime at 32, being pushed to his limits by 45-year-old journeyman Rocco Mediate in an 18-hole (plus one) Monday playoff.

Woods won his 14th major, and last to date, on the 91st hole the two played for the week and the first in sudden death.

Of course, the highlight that will define Woods' career long after he is gone is his wild, double-fisted celebration after he made a 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole Sunday to force the playoff.

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Woods has won the regular PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines on seven occasions, but not like that, and never with the stakes so high.

Golf Digest called it "the greatest one-man performance in a major ever."

"The Open made Torrey Pines a historical course," said longtime head pro Joe DeBock. "It's on people's bucket list. And some of them don't even have to play to come out to enjoy it."

The public can't just stroll onto the grounds at private clubs such as Shinnecock Hills or Oakmont, but they can here. Lunch is served on a patio mere feet from the putting green, where locals and visitors can roll shots any time they want without fear of a disapproving glance.

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Torrey Pines toes the rare tightrope of municipal course with a world-class pedigree. A second U.S. Open, in 2021, has been awarded by the U.S. Golf Association.

Once ignored by the golf magazines, Torrey Pines South now is recognized as one of the better public facilities in the country. For 2016-17, Golf Magazine ranked it No. 22 among America's "100 Courses You Can Play." Last year, Golf Digest rated it the third-best public course in California, behind Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill.

While most golf courses tread a razor's edge of profitability, the tee sheets for the South Course and North (renovated in 2016 by Tom Weiskopf) are filled to capacity nearly every day, depositing millions each year into the city's golf enterprise fund.

The automated computer system that came into being after the U.S. Open begins taking reservations at 7 each night for tee times seven days out. Quick fingers and luck are required, because in a few minutes most of the times are gone. (Though it should be noted that getting on as a single or twosome as walk-ups on weekdays is not terribly difficult.)

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Mostly gone, it seems, are the "Dawn Patrol" denizens who once lined up their bags and slept in their cars to secure the first tee times. The city's system now leaves little room for them.

Golfers at Torrey Pines are either city of San Diego residents or visitors (whether they live in Del Mar or Tokyo). According to Scott Bentley, a city golf manager, about 40 percent of the South's tee times are used by visitors (26,000 per year) _ many of whom make an advance reservation that costs $45 per person.

When visitor green fees were raised in January, the cost to walk the South rose to $202 Monday-Thursday and $252 Friday-Sunday. Add in a $20 per person cart fee and an advance reservation, and the total for a weekend golfer to do battle with the South is $317.

Even at those prices, Bentley said the visitor times are snapped up at better than a 95 percent rate, and this year, he said, revenue from advance reservations for visitors and locals is 50 percent ahead of where it was a year ago.

"I feel like the demand for the golf course has only strengthened in the last year or two," Bentley said.

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For a cost comparison, it's $150 for a non-New York resident to walk (there are no carts) at Bethpage Black, the first non-resort public course to host a U.S. Open in 2002. Chambers Bay in Washington, which held the 2015 U.S. Open, is $275 in the summer months to walk, while Wisconsin's Erin Hills, which hosted the Open last year, charges $295.

Locals who have been playing at Torrey Pines for years shake their heads at the inflation, but smile sheepishly when they note that their costs have gone up little. They pay $63 to walk the South on the weekdays, $78 on weekends. (Bethpage is $65, $75.)

"I'm spoiled, so I wouldn't shell out what the non-residents pay, but I can see a visitor doing that for a special occasion. You have a chance to play a U.S. Open course," said John Hoffman, who lives 10 minutes from Torrey Pines and has been playing there for 30 years.

"When (visitors) play, that helps us. That's more money in the city coffers. I say, 'Come out and play; just play quickly.' "

With higher green fees come expectations for quality, and Torrey Pines' current state of well-manicured, nearly wall-to-wall grass is a far cry from the pre-Open years, when dusty hard pan allowed golf balls to easily careen into the canyons.

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"The quality of golf course we play as a city residents, it's the best deal in the world," said Hoffman, a longtime member of the Torrey Pines men's club.

Wayne Carpenter, who began working as a superintendent at Torrey Pines in 2006, and now oversees agronomy at the Balboa Park and Mission Bay courses, said the Open preparation greatly boosted the staff level and that has been maintained since '08.

While there were once fewer than a dozen maintenance people for both courses, there are 45 now. The applicants for those jobs have changed.

"We have a better quality of personnel," Carpenter said. "For a number of years, people were there because it was a city job. When we got closer to the Open, there were more people who wanted a career working on a golf course."

Hoffman, who schedules the Torrey Pines men's club tournaments on weekends, has watched the dramatic changes to locals' golf habits since architect Rees Jones renovated and toughened the South Course in 2001 in the first step toward getting the Open.

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The men's club roster boasts 1,240 people, but Hoffman usually can't put together a full field on the South, mostly due to the difficulty and cost. North Course tournaments have wait lists to play.

Hoffman noted some older players have returned since the South's length was made more palatable (5,467 yards from the silver tees), but added, "It's almost too difficult for the average golfer on some occasions. When the rough gets up before the Farmers Open, you can't get away with a weak shot. There's no place to escape at Torrey Pines."

Roy Burchill, the current men's club president who plays at Torrey Pines at least once a week, said he revels in the South's difficulty.

"It's a hard course, but it's all laid out in front of you," Burchill said. "There are no blind shots. That's the way a golf course should be."

Burchill often goes on the computer system and books himself as a single the night before he wants to play. He enjoys meeting up with other golfers, especially if they're from out of town. He serves as a de facto tour guide.

One of his favorite tidbits is pointing out that the seventh hole was the site of Woods' final tap-in putt for par in his U.S. Open victory _ a fact many don't remember.

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"When you see people taking pictures by the clock or posing in front of the clubhouse, it reminds you it's a special place," Burchill said. "I never take it for granted. Every time I play Torrey Pines it's a treat for me."

DeBock has the ability to pull out one of the all-time conversation starters. For those who don't have the time or money to play, he offers clinics for which he brings along the facility's replica of the U.S. Open trophy.

Only Woods standing next to it would make fans more excited.

"It's a big hit," DeBock said.

For his students, DeBock spins tales about Torrey Pines and the U.S. Open. In the end, the talk always loops back to one guy.

"Tiger Woods," DeBock said. "He put this place on the map."

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2008 U.S Open memories

First round

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The tournament began with enormous crowds following the premier group of the top three players in the world _ Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott. But none of them could break par, which was set at 71 for the championship. Woods scored 72, while Mickelson _ who was not playing with a driver in his bag _ shot 71, and Scott 73. Woods was entered in his first event since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery after the Masters. Journeyman Justin Hicks and tour rookie Kevin Streelman shared the lead by shooting 68. Rocco Mediate was in a group that shot 69.

Second round

Friday, June 13, 2008

Woods scorched the front nine for a 30 _ one shot off the U.S. Open record for nine holes _ but didn't go really low for the round, settling for a 68 that put him into a tie for second with Mediate (71) at 2 under. They were one shot behind Swede Robert Karlsson and Australian Stuart Appleby, each shooting 70. Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez fired a 66 for the day's low round, and among the 80 players who made the cut was amateur Rickie Fowler (7 over).

Third round

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Woods began to show the signs of his leg injuries, grimacing on a number of shots. But he more than fought through it, saving his round with spectacular shots on the back nine. Woods eagled the 13th, and when he chipped in at 17 from a difficult lie, he turned toward caddie Steve Williams and laughed. Then more heroics at 18, with a 40-foot eagle. Woods' 70 put him at 3 under total and one shot ahead of Lee Westwood (70). Mediate carded 72 and was alone in third, two shots back. Brandt Snedeker notched the day's low score with a 68.

Fourth round

Sunday, June 14, 2008

Woods got off to a terrible start, losing his lead with a double bogey on the opening hole _ the third 6 of the week he made at No. 1. He also bogeyed No. 2 and would play catch-up the rest of the day. Woods made a routine birdie at the par-5 ninth and a great birdie at the tough, par-3 11th, but bogeyed the 13th. Meanwhile, Mediate was steady in shooting 71, making only one bogey over the last 13 holes. But he couldn't convert a good birdie chance at 17, and a poor approach at 18 led to only a par. He sat in the scoring room watching Woods finish. On the 18th tee, Woods and Westwood needed birdie to tie Mediate. They drove into bunkers, laid up, and after Westwood missed a 15-foot putt, Woods drained his 12-footer, setting off a wild celebration and securing a Monday matchup over 18 holes. The top pair finished with 1-under totals. Heath Slocum shot the week's low score (65).

Playoff round

Monday, June 15, 2008

On a day when there were reports that the stock market hit a trading lull during the playoff, a buzzing crowd estimated at 25,000 roamed Torrey Pines. The grandstands at 18 filled quickly, fans not caring they would have a four-hour wait before the players arrived. The lead changed hands three times early, but by the 10th, Woods had a three-shot advantage and seemed headed toward an anti-climatic finish. But Woods bogeyed 12, and Mediate reeled off three straight birdies (13-15) to shockingly seize a one-shot lead. And again, Woods caught Mediate with a birdie on 18, forcing the players into sudden death. The par-4 seventh was the first extra hole, and Mediate got in trouble by driving into the left fairway bunker. He missed the green left and couldn't make an 18-footer to save par. Woods tapped in for par to capture his third U.S. Open and 14th major. He has yet to win another major.

This article is written by By Tod Leonard from The San Diego Union-Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to