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Torrey Pines a worthy Open venue

FOR THE FIRST time since 1948, when Riviera Country Club in suburban Los Angeles was the venue, a U.S. Open is taking place in Southern California.

FOR THE FIRST time since 1948, when Riviera Country Club in suburban Los Angeles was the venue, a U.S. Open is taking place in Southern California.

That's also the only time it was held there, although the national championship has been played eight times in the northern part of the Golden State in the last 53 years. And it's going back to Pebble Beach (Monterey) in 2010, and The Olympic Club (San Francisco) in 2012.

This time, it's being hosted by Torrey Pines Golf Course (South Course) in La Jolla, just outside San Diego. Which hosts the PGA Tour's Buick Invitational in late January. An event that Tiger Woods, who grew up not too far away, has of course owned.

Torrey Pines is a public course, much like Bethpage (Black), which hosted the Open in 2002 and will do so again next June. Unlike Pebble and Pinehurst (No. 2), which are also open to any double-digit handicapper who can afford the greens fees, Torrey Pines and Bethpage remain much more municipal than resort. Which is never a bad thing, even if you sometimes have to get in line at midnight to snag a tee time.

Anyway, the course got a serious face-lift from Rees Jones around the turn of the century. It now measures as much as 7,643 yards from the tips, making it the longest layout to ever host a major.

When Tiger won here 5 months ago, he shot 269 (67, 65, 66 and 71) to win by eight (over Ryuji Imada). In 1999, he shot 266, but the course played way shorter. And they also play the easier North layout 1 of the first 2 days at the Buick.

Nobody has ever gone lower than 272 in an Open. It has been done four times. In 2000, at Pebble, Woods became one of those who did.

In January, the course played at 7,569 yards. Word is that the U.S. Golf Association, which has never met a track it couldn't toughen, won't use all of the back tees. Unless, of course, the scores are too low after the first 2 days. Supposedly, the rough won't be much deeper, or the fairways much narrower. But the greens should be faster. Just because.

The last two Opens, at Winged Foot and Oakmont, were even more brutal than usual. So if nothing else, this should be a tad more user-friendly, although that's a relative term. It's still the Open. Which by definition makes this the longest, most excruciating week on the golfing calendar.

One thing about this site: The weather shouldn't be a concern, unless you're not a fan of occasional fog.

Like Pebble, though, the setting is postcard material. As long as you're not trying to win a trophy. Then the views can only become a distraction. Torrey Pines sits atop cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. So wind can be a factor. Yet unlike Pebble, the water really isn't hazardous to your score. It's simply a big part of the photo-op. Nothing wrong with that. I'm sure NBC agrees.

Torrey Pines, which was built in 1957, isn't one of Golf Digest's Top 100 Golf Courses in America, though it once was (1969 to '76). The last time an Open layout wasn't on that list was 1976 (Atlanta Athletic Club).

So was this a worthy choice? We'll find out. It's at least a familiar destination, which makes it different.

"I think it's good to introduce these muni courses to the U.S. Open," said David Fay, the executive director of the USGA. *