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Rickie Fowler showed his true class in Abu Dhabi last week beating a decent field and withstanding strong pressure from Thomas Pieters who Paul Williams had backed at 50/1 pre-event. Fowler, who was paired with McIlroy and Spieth across the opening 36 holes, showed Major class in dispatching a top-quality field on a tough course and his win was his 4th victory in 18 appearances. The latest 2016 US Masters betting reads: Spieth 11/2, McIlroy 7/1, Day 8/1, Watson 16/1, DJ 20/1 with Fowler an appealing 22/1 at the time of writing. Phil Mickelson after his top 5 last night in California has been cut to 28/1. This week though we move on to one of the highlights of any domestic PGA Tour season as we visit the classical Torrey Pines for the Farmers Insurance Open.
Over on the European Tour Paul Williams previews the Qatar Masters - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
Before we move onto Torrey Pines, for the 4th successive year we're running our popular Majors Competition in association with bet365 with an increased £250 free bet prize fund up for grabs. The competition is in the form of a one-and-done, so all you need to do is give us a single player for each of the 4 Majors to enter - full details are here.
From the crispness of the California desert we move to picturesque coastline of the La Jolla district of San Diego for the Farmers Insurance Open. Torrey Pines South Course plays as the host course to the tournament which has seen Tiger Woods win 7 times with recent winners including defending champion Jason Day, Bubba Watson and the lesser-known Scott Stallings at 250/1.
Course Guide: The Farmers Insurance Open is played on the South and North courses at Torrey Pines. The mammoth 7,698 yard South Course, which was re-designed in 2001 by Rees Jones prior to the 2008 U.S. Open, hosts 3 rounds in total with each entrant also playing 18 holes on the North Course on Thursday or Friday. The world famous South Course, which runs above the Pacific Ocean, is a classical design that plays as the longest course on the PGA Tour. Penal rough and green complex designs that repel approach shots makes scoring particularly difficult. The North Course, which receives a Tom Weiskopf-inspired renovation after the this tournament finishes, is short, receptive and sets up for low scoring which can prove pivotal in tournament play. To add to the complexity, the South Course features pure Poa Annua greens whereas the North features far softer but smaller Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix greens.
Torrey Pines South Course, San Diego, South California: Designer: Bell 1957, Rees Jones re-design 2001; Course Type: Coastal, Classical; Par: 72; Length: 7,698 yards; Fairways: Kikuyugrass; Rough: Kikuyugrass 3.5"; Greens: 5,800 sq.ft average featuring Poa Annua; Tournament Stimp: 11.5ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 72.36 (+0.36), Difficulty Rank 21 of 49 courses. 2013: 72.66 (+0.66), Difficulty Rank 16 of 43 courses. 2014: 73.80 (+1.80), Rank 6 of 52 courses. 2015: 73.52 (+1.52), Rank 6 of 52 courses.
Torrey Pines North Course: Designer: 1957, Rainville re-design 1975; Course Type: Coastal, Resort; Par: 72; Length: 7,052 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 0; Fairways Bermudagrass, Perennial Rye, Kikuyugrass mix; Rough: Perennial Rye with Kikuyugrass 3.5"; Greens:4,500 sq.ft average featuring Bentgrass with Poa Annua; Tournament Stimp: 10.5ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 69.55 (-2.45), Difficulty Rank 47 of 49 courses. 2013: 70.67 (-1.33), Difficulty Rank 35 of 43 courses. 2014: 70.24 (-1.76), Rank 44 of 48 courses. 2015: 70.23 (-1.77), Rank 46 of 52 courses.
Torrey Pines South Fairway Widths (yards): 250 yards from tee: 27 yards wide; 275: 27; 300:26; 325: 25; 350:24.
Course Overview: Rees Jones' South Course is the star of this tournament. The longest course on the PGA Tour schedule features six 450+ yard par 4s whilst 3 of its 4 par 5s are over 550 yards. The course is tree-lined and features Poa Annua greens the like of which are only found on the west coast and north-east of the United States plus Canada. Both courses also feature Kikuyugrass rough, the like of which are only seen here and at Riviera each year on the PGA Tour. The role of the North Course can't be overlooked this week either. The past 6 winners have all shot -5/67 or lower on their one look at this shorter Par 72 which, by design, features slower Bent/Poa mix greens and the past 5 winners have all played a South/North course rotation.
Torrey Pines South had its rough re-seeded prior to the 2014 renewal and that has further increased the difficulty of the task. Longer and thicker Kikuyugrass rough means that the South Course has now ranked as the hardest course in terms of Proximity to the Hole from the Rough since the re-seed. Greens in Regulation percentages have also slumped with the South Course ranking 5th (2015) and 4th (2014) toughest for Greens in Regulation Percentage, compared to 26th (2013), 34th (2012), 13th (2011) and 28th (2010). The course is traditionally firm and fast, but it's likely to be more receptive this year as Southern California has received plenty of rain in January. The technical nature of the test at hand these days is highlighted by the fact that the South Course has ranked 3rd lowest for Birdies or Better across the past 2 renewals. The task doesn't get any easier on the Poa Annua green complexes as putting average, putts from inside 3', putts from 4'-8' and putts from all distances outside of 10' rank in the top 10 most difficult on Tour. Of the 18 holes, only a single par 4 (10th) and all of the par 5s played under par last term, so maximising scoring on these holes is critical.
The difference between the South and North course is stark. On the North, hitting fairways is fairly inconsequential with softer Bent Poa mix greens complexes that are easy (Greens in Regulation Percentage = 49th from 52 courses in 2015) to hit. Birdie Average (44th), Total Birdies (5th), and Par 5 Birdie or Better Conversion (47th), highlight that this is the course where deep inroads have to be made. The par 3s are quite tricky but length from the tee helps to unlock the par 5s which have to be capitalised on if players want to seriously contend.
Winners: 2015: Jason Day (-9); 2014: Scott Stallings (-9); 2013: Tiger Woods (-15); 2012: Brandt Snedeker (-16); 2011: Bubba Watson (-16); 2010: Ben Crane (-13).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week's event that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published Farmers Insurance Open predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 5 of the predictor are Dustin Johnson (Predictor Number 1), Jason Day, Justin Rose, Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10 tournament window that stretches back to the Shriners / Hong Kong Open and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2015: Day 14/1; 2014: Stallings 250/1; 2013: Woods 15/2; 2012: Snedeker 22/1; 2011: Watson 66/1; 2010: Crane 80/1; Average: 73/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2015 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for La Jolla, San Diego is here. It won't surprise you to read that the weather this week will be a little more complex than the 'dome-like' conditions what we witnessed in La Quinta last week at the CareerBuilder. It will be interesting to see how the heavy rain (87mm) in early January affects conditions this week, but the course will play slightly less fiery than it has in the past 2 renewals as a consequence. With a course that plays longer and softer you would assume that the power hitters have even more of an advantage in 2016. However the star of the show could be Sunday when rain all day (non-electrical) allied to 30 km/h south westerly winds will make this a true challenge.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 6 winners of the Farmers Insurance since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this classical test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
So let's take a view from players as to how the course sets up and what skill sets it favours:
Phil Mickelson: "I think the length is a challenge and the firmness of the greens is a challenge. I think that patience is going to be a big challenge, because when you tuck the pins here, every green repels from the outside to the centre. So, every ball's working to the centre of the green and it's very difficult to get it close to a lot of the tough pins. So, you have to be patient. You have to accept 30, 40 footers, that you just can't knock it too close, and you have to make some putts. I think that patience will be the key."
Jimmy Walker: "Yeah, you said it, it's tough. So any time you shoot under par out here is pretty good on the South Course. Even with light winds, it's still really tough. They tuck the pins, greens have got a little firmness to them, so it's tough to get it close. You want to throw the ball behind the hole and spin it, but it just won't do it."
J.B. Holmes: "Yeah, it's really kind of the main premium right now I feel like. The rough probably plays worse than it did at the U.S. Open when they had it here in 2008. The Kikuyu rough was nasty, but you could also get it where it would set up on a tee. It would either drop down to the bottom and you couldn't hit anything or it was up on the tee. So it was kind of 50/50. Where, this week, if you hit it in there, you just have a bad lie. So you're not going to be able to hit it very far. Most of the ones I hit in the rough have been bad lies. I'll get a decent one every now and then, but I wouldn't say I really got a good lie in the rough this week yet."
Jason Day: "You know what, it's just, it's a lot of a patience game out there. Especially with how this course is, how tough it is around here now. It feels like a U.S. Open. If you're not hitting fairways, the rough is so brutal that where the pins are tucked, you hit it to 30, 40 feet. If you miss a lot of fairways and you're hitting it to 30, 40 feet, it's very difficult to hole those putts. So, it's just about just getting it on the green, maybe snagging a long putt here or there, and really trying to capitalize on the good drives off the tee which give you the shorter club in and an opportunity to get at the flags. Because the pins are very difficult today. The greens are very firm and fast. So with a wedge they're still bouncing a good five to 10 yards. So, it's very difficult. It's a fun challenge."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 6 winners:
Some interesting trends have established themselves and help to explain the poor Round 1 positions of recent winners. Since 2011, all winners have had a South/North Course draw across the opening 36 holes - if you can explain how that advantage works don't hesitate to send me a tweet @Bamfordgolf! For those who like to bet in-play or trade, it's also worth recognising that only Tiger Woods since 2008 has led (2008 & 2013) going into the final round and gone on to capture the title.
Torrey Pines is one of the most iconic and classical golf courses in the world and naturally its association with Tiger Woods across both this tournament and the U.S. Open adds kudos. The winners' list since 2000 is exclusively made up of Major winners and previous PGA Tour winners. US players dominate the champions list, but Jason Day 12 months ago added his name to an exclusive list of international winners which reads Gary Player (1963) and Jose Maria Olazabal (2002).
For the record, here's the breakdown of pure Poa Annua and Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
So what's the right recipe for success this week? Well both the long bomber and the accurate type with a great short game can contend around Torrey. 2010 and 2012 saw Ben Crane and Brandt Snedeker triumph, but Bubba Watson, Tiger Woods, Scott Stallings and Jason Day are all longer hitters. So realistically we need a 285+ yard driver who's made a minimum of 2 appearances here. You would have thought that a classical course such as Torrey Pines would be dominated by players who were playing their very best golf on arrival in La Jolla, but that's pushing reality a little bit. True, Brandt Snedeker won here in 2012 the week after finishing 8th at PGA West and Jason Day's form going into last year read 17(Waialae)-3(Kapalua)-1(Franklin Templeton Shoot Out)-5(Hero World Challenge). But other winners in Stallings, Woods (MC Abu Dhabi), Watson and Crane were undoubtedly in poor form. For a summary of 2015 winners' current/event form prior to winning their respective events click here.
Players with previous appearances at the venue though clearly do have an advantage, even if they are Missed Cuts - Scott Stallings won here after 2 appearances and 2 Missed Cuts. For me though previous winners here have all recorded strong results on classical / technical tests in the season prior to winning here:
So I'm working on the same premise this week, targeting players who played well on technical tests in 2015. I'm also a believer that high ball flight is an advantage at Torrey Pines and it makes sense to select players who are comfortable with whatever Mother Nature throws at them if Sunday's forecast is to be believed.
Bookmaker Offers. A number of bookmakers have extended their each-way terms again this week:
My selections are as follows:
Dustin Johnson has been quietly going about his business and I'm happy to back the coastal specialist at 18/1, the same price at which he went off at the HSBC Champions last November in a Shanghai field that included Spieth, McIlroy, Watson, Stenson and Fowler. A true California classical course specialist, DJ has 2 wins at Pebble Beach to his name (2009, 2010) plus a 2nd, 4th, 5th and 7th at the AT&T sponsored tournament. At Riviera Country Club he's finished 3rd, 4th and 2nd for the past 2 renewals being beaten by Bubba Watson and James Hahn in a play-off last term. Throw in an infamous 8th place finish back at Pebble Beach at the 2010 US Open when he capitulated in a major way in the final round and Johnson's Golden State record is exemplary.
Yes, Dustin can't get across the line in Major Championships (yet) - but 8 PGA Tour wins including 2 WGCs proves that at this level he's more than capable of getting the job done. Current form of 10(Kapalua)-15(Albany)-5(Sheshan)-MC-5(East Lake)-7(BMW) is very solid and at Sheshan he showed signs of getting back into the heat of contention for the first time since his 3-putt on the 18th at Chambers Bay only for one of the most unfortunate double bogeys you will ever see at the par-5 8th when his approach shot cannoned off the flag into the water. For me it's clear that the Torrey Pines test is right up his street and it's noticeable that his 19th here in 2009 and his 3rd here in 2011 came after similar finishes at Kapalua. A fantastic wind player, his Open Championship record highlights an American who can play in all conditions. RESULT: T18
I was hoping to see a little bit of (relative) value in Jimmy Walker this week so I'm happy to take the 28s about him when other firms are as short as 20/1. A new Butch Harmon-inspired head position seems to have bedded in nicely across Albany (when he first announced the change), Kapalua and Waialae and results of 8th, 10th and 13th across the corresponding tournaments are hardly panic-worthy. Jimmy now hits California where he won in 2013 (CordeValle) and 2014 (Pebble Beach) looking forward to Poa Annua green surfaces which have been amazingly kind to him since 2011. Back then Walker was hardly known, but 4th at Waialae was soon followed by 9th at Pebble Beach and 4th at Riviera - a west coast star was born. Results at Torrey Pines since 2011 read 29th, 8th, 4th, MC and 7th. The missed cut came immediately after his first win at Waialae which actually preceded a fantastic win over Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth in horrible conditions at Pebble Beach in his very next appearance.
Walker has always been as comfortable on a technical test of patience as he is on a resort course birdie-fest and Torrey Pines sets up perfectly for a player who loves to make eagles and birdies on par-5s. 4th and 3rd going into the final round here in 2013 and 2015 and if conditions get tough over the weekend then his wins at Pebble Beach and TPC San Antonio mark him out as a real contender. RESULT: T4
With Butch Harmon products playing well in the opening weeks of 2016, I was exceptionally impressed by Danny Lee who in 2015 broke his Tour maiden at the Greenbrier Classic and simply kept on trucking with 3rd at the John Deere Classic, 4th at the Quicken Loans National, 6th at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational and an exceptional 2nd at the Tour Championship. Now as I've already highlighted in this preview, players who have stepped-up and played well on classical/technical tests in the season previous are of real interest to us here at Torrey Pines and Lee fits the bill pretty perfectly. You see the Farmers Insurance Open has always been seen as a premium Tour event with its inevitable links to Tiger Woods and the fact that Torrey Pines is one of the most revered golf courses on the planet. Recent wins here for Nick Watney, Bubba Watson, Brandt Snedeker and even Jason Day last term - unbelievably 12 months down the line, this was only his 2nd PGA Tour stroke-play title - have acted as a springboard to much bigger things. All PGA Tour winners in their own rights - including Stallings - who went to the next level with a win at Torrey Pines.
So I can see Danny Lee fitting this pattern as last term he rose from 220th in the World Rankings to 47th. His win at Old White TPC was preceded by 7th at the tough Copperhead test and 10th at Colonial, where winner Chris Kirk was only 3 shots better off at -12/268. He then went head-to-head with Jordan Spieth and Zach Johnson at Deere Run and followed that up with a fantastic finish at Firestone South at WGC level. To cap it all he finished a superb 2nd to Jordan Spieth at East Lake against the very best players, before making his President's Cup debut in South Korea where he gained a full point (with Bae) and pushed experienced campaigner Dustin Johnson all the way in the singles under the most severe pressure. After 15th at Kapalua and 33rd at Waialae, I can see Lee right in the mix at a classical set-up (he was 32nd here last year before he hit his straps) he's thrived upon of late. RESULT: T58
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