SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - Little-known American Billy Horschel will enter the frenzy of ‘Tiger territory’ for the first time at the Farmers Insurance Open on Saturday and hopes his 2007 Walker Cup experience will help him cope with the huge galleries.
Horschel, a member of that triumphant U.S. Walker Cup team at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland, has been grouped with tournament leader Woods and fellow American Casey Wittenberg for the third round at Torrey Pines.
“I know there are going to be crowds but it’s nothing that I haven’t dealt with before,” Horschel told reporters after shooting a three-under-par 69 on the South Course on Friday to end the second round two strokes behind Woods.
“I’ve played the Walker Cup ... and there was a guy I competed against three times called Rory McIlroy,” he said of the current world number one from Northern Ireland.
“So there may have been 10-12,000 people following us, and only a couple of thousand following the rest of the groups. So I’ve dealt with crowds. It’s going to be exciting.”
The Walker Cup is a biennial team event played between the top amateur golfers from the United States and Britain and Ireland.
Horschel has never previously played with Woods but has spoken to him on a few occasions and long admired the 14-times major champion.
”He’s one of the golfers of the many I’ve looked up to when I was a young kid, and now I get to play with him,“ the 26-year-old Florida native smiled. ”It’s going to be nice.
”I’ve met him a couple of times. He was gracious enough to give me a spot right out of college at his tournament, the AT&T National, in 2009.
“I introduced myself, and we’ve talked a couple of other times. It’s going to be a good day no matter what.”
Asked what Woods had told him when they first met, Horschel replied: ”He said, ‘I know you’ve had a pretty good college career and you’ve done pretty well. Just keep doing what you’re doing. You’ll be fine, and you’ll be out here in no time.’
“I thought that was something cool at the time. Obviously, he meets tons of players and for him to sort of mention my college career and a couple of things I’ve done was, I thought, pretty remarkable.”
Horschel, a PGA Tour rookie in 2010, regained his card for this year by tying for fourth at the tour’s qualifying school and was delighted by his form on Friday at a rain-swept Torrey Pines.
”I had a good day,“ he said after mixing six birdies with three bogeys. ”Playing the South Course, it’s obviously tougher than the North Course but I started out striking the ball well.
“The way I finished, three birdies in the last five holes, was good. I played in some bad conditions. Once I made the turn, the rain came down a little bit harder. I‘m excited about tomorrow.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Peter Rutherford