Staying in California, the PGA Tour treks to La Jolla, San Diego for the 2018 Farmers Insurance Open, hosted by the highly coveted Torrey Pines.
This event produces elite winners year-by-year and was won a record seven times by Tiger Woods, from 1999-2013. Other multiple winners include Phil Mickelson (3), Arnold Palmer (2), Brandt Snedeker (2) and Tom Watson (2).
The South Course at Torrey Pines also hosted the 2008 U.S. Open which Woods famously won by way of play-off against Rocco Mediate. Woods managed to grab this win despite a dreadful knee injury, which effectively meant he was playing on one leg. The U.S. Open was Woods’ first event in two months, following knee surgery in April and he would have to undergo further surgery after winning that week, keeping him out for the rest of 2008.
Onto this week, and we have another star-studded field assembled here, headed by the new World No.2, Jon Rahm, who comes into the week as Defending Champion. Fresh off a win at last week’s CareerBuilder Challenge, Rahm’s current form now reads 1-2-1 in his last three events, dating back to his win at the DP World Tour Championship last November and he makes obvious claims as the favourite this week.
Other notables in the field this week include; Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Marc Leishman, Jason Day and Tiger Woods.
Day is another winner of this event (2015), whilst Marc Leishman has twice been a runner-up in both 2010 and 2014. Fowler and Rose both have top-5 finishes at this event, leaving Matsuyama as the only player of the group without a top-5 or even a top-10 to his name.
Matsuyama did finish 16th on debut here, so he is clearly capable of playing round here and could well figure it out this week after four attempts.
The Course and what it will take to win
Torrey Pines (South), 7,698 Yards, Par 72, Ranked 14/50 in terms of difficulty in 2017 (POA Annua Greens)
Torrey Pines (North), 7,258 Yards, Par 72, Ranked 32/50 in terms of difficulty in 2017 (Bentgrass Greens)
Torrey Pines South has been the same design since Rees Jones put his stamp on it back in 2001, however the North course was re-designed after the 2016 renewal by Tom Weiskopf.
In light of the North re-design it is important to see how the players fared in the 2017 renewal on the course in comparison to years gone by. The previous 18-hole record at the North Course was 61, with Brandt Snedeker (2007) and Mark Brooks (1990) both achieving this impressive score.
Last year, the lowest score shot at the newly re-designed North Course was 65 by England’s, Justin Rose.
In terms of stats this week, it is difficult to pinpoint the biggest one to look for. You would think with the narrow fairways that you would want to side with accurate hitters, however because the field averaged just over 50% last year, it doesn’t appear that anyone hits that many fairways here.
Hitting plenty of greens will of course help but the average Greens in Regulation ranking of the last five winners is just 18th, with Jason Day the sole winner to rank inside the top-10 (8th in 2015) for Greens in Regulation the week they won.
Overall Ball-striking is key though, so a combination of good Greens in Regulation and Total Driving, sprinkled with some good Scrambling numbers this week will prevail, in what is a classic all-round test of golf.
Those longer hitters will have a lot better chance of hitting the greens from the thick rough here and that may well be a significant difference this week. Looking at the recent winners list, it is littered with those that can get it out there off the tee, and this is why.
Some shorter hitters have been successful here (Brandt Snedeker the best example) but the rest of their games has had to be razor sharp and in Snedeker’s case in 2016, the weather wreaked havoc and played the biggest part in the end.
The last seven consecutive winners here have started their week at the South Course, so read into that what you will. Playing the South Course for three days in a row may take its toll mentally on a player, so a one-round break in-between to play the easier North Course may just give the winners an edge. The last winner to open up their week at the North Course was Ben Crane in 2010.
There has also only been one player to convert a 54-hole lead in the past 13 years and yes you guessed it, it was Woods back in 2008 who put his foot down in the final round, to secure an eight-shot victory.
Jon Rahm (8/1)
Rickie Fowler (12/1)
Justin Rose (16/1)
Hideki Matsuyama (18/1)
Jason Day (25/1)
Marc Leishman (25/1)
Tiger Woods (25/1)
Rahm is the obvious favourite this week, and for good reason. A run of current form that reads 1-2-1, coupled with him winning here on debut last year makes Rahm the man to beat. I would not rule out back-to-back wins for Rahm, who is the second quickest player to four wins (38 events) behind Woods (17 events).
Rose played well here last year, setting the record on the renovated North Course with a 65, and he too has been in good form in recent weeks.
Each of the first six will fancy there chances, but Matsuyama is the only one of the group to not have posted a top-10 in this event previously, with his T16 finish on debut in 2014 still his best result.
It is unclear what Woods will do on his first real test since coming back from injury, but he will be looking to build on his play at the Hero World Challenge where he finished middle of the pack. If he is as healthy as reports suggest, then there is a chance he flirts at least with the top-20 here, but I feel expectations needs to be tempered. This is a tough place to play golf, even for Woods who has dominated it for years, and it will punish any part of his game that is not at its best, following the long lay-off.
Ollie Schniederjans 55/1 (Betfred & StanJames 6 places 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:
Ollie Schniederjans had a great debut season on the PGA Tour in 2017 and he will now be looking for a win in 2018.
In his first start at this course he finished T49 but he returned last year as a full PGA Tour member, finishing T9 and he can kick on to better things this week.
With two starts, one of which was a very good finish now under his belt, Schniederjans will know exactly what to expect and can build on what was clearly a decent strategy last season. He opened the week with two 69’s and posted two 71’s over the weekend, so he managed three rounds under-par on the South Course and four rounds under-par overall, which is no small feat.
In 2016 when he finished just T49 he opened with a 69 and shot two level-par rounds of 72 but a final round 81 in that horrific weather saw him tumble down the leaderboard. Had he have managed to shoot level par on the Sunday in 2016 he would have finished T4, something he could have easily achieved had the weather not turned.
His record of 7/8 rounds of par or better here is not to be sniffed at, and with conditions looking very fair this week, there should be no repeat of that awful final round in 2016.
Schniederjans started 2018 off in solid fashion, finishing T7 in Hawaii, just three shots shy of the play-off protagonists James Hahn and Patton Kizzire. He withdrew from the field last week citing flu, but looks good to go this week and will be looking to build on his form from three weeks ago.
At 55/1 Schniederjans looks a fair price to take on the favourites here, as he looks to have the potential to be a top class player in his own right. Since making his professional debut at the 2015 RBC Canadian Open, Ollie has two top-3’s and a further four top-10’s on the PGA Tour, as well as his win on the Web.com Tour. Schniederjans finished a very respectable T12 at the 2015 Open Championship, when playing as an amateur, mainly thanks to his final round 67, which was bettered by just three players, two of whom were Zach Johnson (winner) and Marc Leishman (play-off loser).
Shane Lowry 66/1 (Betfred 6 Places 1/5 odds) 1pt e/w:
Shane Lowry has an impressive résumé around Torrey Pines making his first three cuts here, including a 7th place finish on debut in 2015.
Lowry backed up his impressive debut with a 13th place finish in 2016, before finishing 33rd in 2017. Now the fear here looking at the results is that he peaked in 2015 and has not been able to replicate it since, but I would rather look at it on the more positive side of things.
In 2015, when making his debut here, Lowry was also making his first start of the calendar year, something he is doing again this week. His last three results in 2014 read 25-5-11, so it was fair to say he was in decent form before his break.
It was a difference story ahead of his start in 2016 however, as he struggled massively at the end of 2015. A 2nd place finish at the British Masters in the last week of October and a 8th place finish at the Turkish Airlines Open in the first week of November were two strong showings, however his form ended there. Lowry ended 2015 with finishes of; T68 in a 76-man field in China, T56 in a 77-man field at the BMW Masters, T48 in a 60-man field in Dubai and T25 in a 30-man field in South Africa.
With those horrendous finishes still fresh in his memory, Lowry had to shake that and his New Year rust off, before playing here in 2016 and still managed a T13 finish.
His form was better at the tail-end of 2016 but still wasn’t great, failing to finish any better than T18 since his T2 finish at the U.S. Open in the summer. It may well have been that heartbreak at the U.S. Open, as well as his average run of form at the tail-end of 2016, which led to his worst result here 12 months ago.
Roll on a year though and Lowry is now coming into this event off the back of some very good form. Lowry signed off 2017 with a T2 finish behind Rahm at the DP World Tour Championship and this was his fourth consecutive top-12 finish. With the way he ended 2017 still fresh in his mind and another year of experience under his belt, Lowry can add to his win tally here. It is perhaps a surprise that someone of Lowry’s quality still has just three wins to his name and he will desperate to put that right this season.
It feels like an eternity since the Irishman won the WGC Bridgestone Invitational in 2015, but he has shown flashes of brilliance since then. The T2 U.S. Open finish at Oakmont in 2016 was a clear reminder of just how talented Lowry is and with five top-8 finishes in 2017, it looks as though Lowry is ready to win again.
He has been pretty solid when playing on the PGA Tour, making 40 of his 60 cuts including majors and WGC’s and given he already has a win Stateside, there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot holding him back. Top-16 finishes at Pebble, Phoenix, Memorial and the Wyndham Championship in 2017 prove that his success on the PGA Tour in both 2015 and 2016 was no fluke.
Lowry will be keen to turn consistency into more wins on both Tours and a win in this sort of event will be another springboard to further success. At 66/1 he looks fair enough value given his course pedigree, his form at the end of 2017 and his Ball-Striking ability.
Harris English 125/1 (Betfred & UniBet 6 places 1/5 odds) 0.5pt e/w:
Harris English finished T11 last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge and I am hoping he can carry his good form into this week.
It has been four years since English’s two-win season in 2013, where he got his first, second and subsequently most recent wins. Since then, there hasn’t been an awful lot to shout about, but there has been flashes.
One place where English has gone close again since 2013, is here at the Farmers Insurance Open. He finished T2 behind Jason Day here in 2015 and is also 5/5 for cuts made at this event.
In his last three starts at Torrey Pines he has finished 14-31-2 and that T14 last year wasn’t far away from being a lot better. A level-par 72 in the final round halted the progress he had made last year, but had he have gone two shots lower on day four, he would have found himself inside the top-5.
That is all very much ifs and buts but you cannot take away from the fact that he went close to winning here three years ago and just last year he finished a couple of shots shy of another top-5.
When coming into this event last season, English was doing so off of the back of three straight missed cuts, so he managed to play well here even when seemingly out of form. In 2016 his three starts coming into the event were 56-25-MC as well so he has not been in the best of shapes coming to Torrey in his last two seasons.
In 2015 when he finished T2 here, he did have a 3rd at the Sony Open three weeks prior, but again stalled in terms of form in the most recent starts, finishing T40 and T30 between Hawaii and Torrey.
Simply put, English generally plays well in this event, regardless of his current form and now he is coming into the event off the back of a decent showing down the road, I think he has every chance of going well this week.
This feels very much like the Chris Kirk pick I made at the Sony Open (same odds), where it appears a player who has been out of form for a little while is starting to show signs of life once again.
At 125/1 it is worth chancing that English who is still just 28, can get back to his previous best, at a course he has come to love in recent seasons.
Total Points Staked this week: 5
Profit/Loss for 2018: -7.4