Taking the tee for the opening round of the Farmers Insurance Open is like arriving for spring training — everyone is brimming with optimism and believes they have a chance to win.
The course hasn’t yet knocked such notions out of them, especially those who start on the relatively easier North Course.
So dare to dream, Sam Ryder, Aaron Rai and Brent Grant.
There isn’t a PGA Tour title among them. Heck, Grant is a tour rookie. But they share the first-round lead after each shot 8-under 64s Wednesday on the North Course.
“I’m thankful to be out here and thankful for this good round,” said Grant, balancing the positives with what it’s taken to get here, “but so far it’s been one hell of a grind and it’s not going to stop, it never does. So to think that I’ve made it or that I’ve done something special doesn’t aid me in any way.”
It can be a grind, even for the best of them.
World No. 3 Jon Rahm, aiming to win his third straight start, had a frustrating day on the South Course, carding a 1-over 73.
One young fan, holding a sign that read, “I skipped school to see you win Jon Rahm,” was given a ball by the Spaniard during the round.
There was another ball Rahm wished he had back on the par-4 seventh hole. His second shot flew over the green and went out of bounds, and Rahm was forced to take a particularly painful double-bogey.
“The rough is thick as always,” Rahm said. “No. 7 was arguably the best swing of the day, (but) that cost me two shots. …
“I mean, I’ve hit that shot over 25 times in the past with the same wind and I’ve never seen a ball get pin-high, and today I don’t know what happened.”
On the ninth hole, Rahm slammed his club to the ground in anger after his shot landed in the sand.
A birdie on the par-3 16th hole prevented it from being worse. Still, Rahm must pass the 115 golfers ahead of him over the next three days if he is to make it three tournament wins in a row.
“The main thing on the round today, with the tee shots I hit on 6, 7, 12 and 13, I was 3 over par,” Rahm said. “In any other given round that I’ve played here in the past, I’m actually playing that at least even par to under par, so it’s easily a three- to five-shot swing, and that’s the difference.”
The first-day leaderboard included more players trying to make a name for themselves than those with established resumes.
Brendan Steele, Ryder’s playing partner, was a stroke back of the leaders at 65.
Six others players were at 66. They included Sam Stevens and Andrew Novak, who posted the best scores on the South.
Defending champion Luke List opened with a 67 on the North Course, the same score posted by Collin Morikawa.
Two-time Farmers champion Jason Day shot 68 on the North Course. That tied him with Justin Thomas, who played the South Course.
Local favorite Xander Schauffele worked for an even-par 72 on the North Course.
It was no surprise that the North Course produced 12 of the top 14 scores and 26 of the top 32.
Ryder, a Florida native, opened with an eagle 3 on the par-5 10th hole (his first) and looked like he might threaten Brandt Snedeker’s course record (61 in 2007) when he carded a five-under 31 at the turn.
It wasn’t to be, but completing his round at 8-under was just fine with Ryder.
“This is a place where I had a little bit of success,” said Ryder, who had a top-10 finish at Torrey two years ago. “I’m pretty comfortable on the course, it’s just a matter of playing well. … You know, don’t want to complain or act like I should have made more birdies or putts.”
Rai also had some positive memories at Torrey Pines to draw on after a tie for sixth at last year’s Farmers.
The Englishman also stated on No. 10 North, opening with a birdie. A couple of birdies down the stretch made for a strong finish.
“Really drove it great off the tee, which is probably the most important thing to at least give ourselves an opportunity with those approach shots,” Rai said. “As soon as you miss the fairway here with anything more than a short iron is very, very difficult. So that was key today, drove it very well. Hit a lot of real good iron shots and made a few putts around the turn there, so all in all a very good round, very good start.”
It gets real for the leaders in Thursday’s second round, when they tackle the more challenging South Course.
The forecast includes wind gusts of 30 mph, which can blow the smile off even the most optimistic golfers.
Grant remains cautiously optimistic.
“I grew up in the wind,” said Grant, who was born in Jacksonville, Fla. “Being right off the ocean it’s going to be full force tomorrow, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the South Course didn’t bear its teeth all the way.”