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    Swanson: Unheralded field grinds it out at Farmers Insurance Open – can you dig it?
    • January 27, 2024

    LA JOLLA — The third-round leaderboard of the Farmers Insurance Open was a real who’s who of professional golf.

    As in, spectators watching the lead group Friday were asking one another: “Who is who?” And: “Which one’s the leader?”

    That would be the bearded fellow in olive pants and the light purple-and-teal striped shirt.

    Stephan Jaeger, a 34-year-old German who shot a 1-over-par 73 to maintain a one-stroke advantage, sits atop a leaderboard that looked a lot like a World Cup soccer draw: France, Denmark, Belgium, Argentina, England, South Korea and, yes, us too, the United States, all were also represented among the top nine players at the start of Friday.

    The real who’s who list: Who isn’t here.

    That’s due, in part, to the fact that five of the eight players who came in ranked in the top 20 of the world golf rankings missed the 36-hole cut, including Collin Morikawa and Jason Day.

    Also, LIV golf. Saudi Arabia’s controversial alternative tour has siphoned off significant star power from the PGA Tour, the winners of the past five majors, John Rahm, Brooks Koepka and Cam Smith among that group.

    That doesn’t mean the PGA Tour isn’t still teeming with notable talent – just maybe not every week?

    The tour’s most recognizable names don’t play every event, and many of them didn’t play this one. There’s no Rory McIlroy or Scottie Scheffler. No Viktor Hovland or Rickie Fowler. No Justin Thomas or Wyndham Clark.

    And no Nick Dunlap – the 20-year-old who skipped the tournament to catch his breath after becoming the first amateur winner on the PGA Tour in 33 years last week, when he triumphed at the American Express tournament in La Quinta.

    That left a host of relative unknowns – and Tony Finau – jockeying for position Friday on the South Course, which played nearly 7,800 yards, the longest of any regular tour stop, and which felt even longer because it was softened and slowed by three inches of rain that also fed its sticky, stubborn, ankle-deep rough.

    The course didn’t care about the names on the golf bags. It proved as obstinate as ever, as scary. Basically, it told the best golfers … playing this week … in La Jolla: “Put your hands up, nobody move!”

    And nobody did, much.

    On a glorious day along the Pacific Coast, the average score was a shade over 73. No one shot better than 68, a score that was good for only a share of a nine-player, 10th-place logjam. So much for moving day.

    That meant Finau – the name you heard while walking with the lead groups Friday, “To-ny! To-ny!” chanted, on occasion, by his supportive gallery – could shoot 74 and remain in the top 10, within four strokes of the lead.

    The local contenders – San Diego’s Xander Schauffele (72), Torrey Pines High graduate Michael Kim (77), and Rancho Santa Fe’s Charley Hoffman (79) – ended the day tied for 10th, 38th and 65th.

    Defending champion Max Homa, a Valencia High product, is tied for 27th after shooting 71.

    And the gentlemen at the top of the pile, whose names you likely wouldn’t have recognized before this week?

    What about those extras from across the pond? Those players who got promoted to headliner duty this week – including Belgium’s Thomas Detry, the victim of a most unfortunate spin-off? He watched his ball trickle the length of the 18th green and disappear into the pond below, setting up a double-bogey 7 that cost him the lead and landed him in fourth.

    Still, in the end, he – and Jaeger and France’s Matthieu Pavon and Denmark’s Nicolai Højgaard, who are tied for second – survived their day at the beach. And now they’ll have a slight inside track in the final round on the $1.62 million winner’s share of the $9 million purse.

    And probably a few more fans will be able to pick a few of them out of a lineup Saturday than would have at the start of the week.

    Probably you who love golf so much you’ll tune in for regular events even if your favorites aren’t in the field; you, who are open-minded enough to appreciate anyone’s valiant effort in such patience-testing conditions, whether or not you’re familiar with their games.

    You, who can get behind a leader like Jaeger on a course that will reward mental fortitude as much as shot-making, because he has worked so hard the past few months to dedicate himself to meditating, reading, journaling. The mental game that might tell you that it’s all how you look at a thing, an unheralded PGA Tour field included.

    “Today,” Jaeger said, “was a blast. I loved it.”

    ​ Orange County Register