Superintendent Mark Woodward sees even par for Torrey's U.S. Open winner. Torrey Pines superintendent chief Mark Woodward projects even-par for U.S. Open winner

Tiger Woods might roll his eyes at this. Phil Mickelson would probably downright laugh. And other more mortal PGA Tour players could only scream in dumbfounded disbelief.

But Mark Woodward - the man in charge of the superintendent staff at Torrey Pines, a man who knows the South Course's setup for next week's U.S. Open better than almost anyone - believes the winning score will be right around even par.

"I think somewhere around even par, maybe two over depending on certain factors, would hold up," Woodward said in an exclusive interview with WorldGolf.com. "I'm not big into the prediction business, but the course, while challenging, is set up to be a fair test for the players. You're going to see significantly shorter rough heights than you've seen at recent U.S. Opens by design.

"Somewhere right around even par could very well hold up."

The last two U.S Opens have been won by five-over scores. Unheralded Michael Campbell did win with an even par 280 in 2005, and as recently as 2003 four players finished under par at Olympia Fields. That already seems long past to many of today's players, who believe that the United States Golf Association sets out to make them look bad.

USGA officials have long maintained that they do not go into U.S. Opens with target scores in mind. And Woodward wasn't saying there is one at Torrey. He just answered this sports writer's question with his personal opinion.

As the golf operations manager for the city of San Diego for the last three years - and the future CEO of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (he starts there July 1) - Woodward's is one of the most knowledgeable opinions in golf, however.

Torrey Pines greens faster than ever

He believes the increased speed of the greens at Torrey Pines will be the biggest adjustment for the pros used to playing the South Course during the Buick Invitational - despite all the focus on this being the longest U.S. Open course ever (7,643 yards) and the intrigue over the kikuyu grass rough.

While the Torrey Pines South greens typically run around 11 on the stimpmeter during the Buick, they will be up to 13 during the U.S. Open.

"They've never played Torrey Pines where the greens have been this fast," Woodward said.

This particularly shows up on greens that have hidden, subtle contours - with breaks becoming a lot more pronounced when the putts are zooming. Woodward believes that the 18th green could present a particularly perplexing - and perhaps championship deciding - closing riddle.

"There are going to be some interesting putts on 18," Woodward said. "Especially with certain pin locations. Again, nothing unfair, but the guys are going to earn it on 18."

U.S. Open gives superintendents Tiger treatment

You earn your keep in more ways than one as a superintendent at a U.S. Course.

Imagine starting work at 4:30 a.m. every day, often not finishing up until after 7:30 p.m., day after day after day, knowing all the while that you're waiting for the best golfers in the world to scream bloody murder about the results of your efforts.

Welcome to the reality of Mark Woodward and his staff. And Woodward's quick to emphasize the staff part.

For getting Torrey Pines South geared up to the United States Golf Association's very specific and exacting demands takes a small army.

"Twelve and 14 hour days have been the norm for a good amount of time now," Woodward said from the course he rarely leaves. "We like to say that sleep and food are both overrated."

The U.S. Open has long provided arguably the greatest showcase for golf superintendents in the world. It is the one golf tournament where the course, its condition and its setup stands out as a major story year after year after year. You'll hear the name of the course superintendent at a U.S. Open.

The catch is that it's often being taken in vain.

"I don't concern myself too much with what type of things the players are saying," Woodward said. "The players can have their own motivations and reasons for saying things about the course. You just want to make sure it's the best it can be from an agronomy standpoint."

Mike Davis, the USGA's senior director of rules and competitions, will have final say in the daily setup next week. Woodward seems just as excited that the changes made for the Open - like moving No. 4 closer to the cliffs to make it much more of an ocean hole - will be there long after the last putt is hit this U.S. Open.

"All the changes are permanent - excepting things like the driving range we built on the North Course," Woodward said. "And the average golfer who comes out to play will be able to enjoy them for years. I'm confident this whole process has made Torrey Pines an even better golf course."

Of course, the kikuyu grass rough will not be cut anywhere close to where it is now for regular municipal play. It is the density rather than the height that figures to befuddle Mickelson and Co. this Open. "A blade of this grass is double and triple the width of a blade of your usual rye grass," Woodward said. "It's hard to move a club head through it."

With the USGA using its graduated rough system, the first cut of rough off the fairway will be two to two and a half inches tall, with the next cut of rough stretching to three and a half to four and a half inches tall, a height where Woodward says it can be very difficult to even find the ball.

"If we had grown that rough up to five, six inches we could have made it too rough or unfair," he said. "Very easily. But that's not what it's about."

Which is why the superintendent in charge of an all-star team of superintendents at Torrey Pines sees the U.S. Open winner being right around par. We'll know by Father's Day whether anyone believes him.

June 5, 2008

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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