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Golf never disappoints with the talented young duo of Tommy Fleetwood and Hudson Swafford producing impressive wins across both Tours last week. Both played very well and delivered some nice returns for their backers at 60/1 and 66/1 respectively. This week is the 'real' start of the PGA Tour in many fans' eyes though as we return to La Jolla, just North of San Diego, for the Farmers Insurance Open at the iconic Torrey Pines. A high-class field and the return of Tiger Woods will see much interest this week and who can forget the scenes here 12 months ago when Brandt Snedeker played an amazing round in Open Championship type conditions to deliver a huge punt at 18/1 for masses of golf punters.
Sky Bet, for the first time in 2017, have gone 6 places each-way at full 1/4 odds at the Farmers Insurance Open. They also have two promotions to choose from for new customers: £10 No Deposit Required or Bet £/€5, Get £20:
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
With the interest in Fantasy Golf growing, I've also written a dedicated preview for DraftKings for the Farmers Open - click here to read it.
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, specialised kikuyugrass fairways and green complex designs that repel approach shots makes scoring particularly difficult. The North Course, which has received a Tom Weiskopf-inspired renovation since Brandt Snedeker won here 12 months ago, is a relatively short Par 72 that will continue to set 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 freshly installed pure Bentgrass 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; Holes with Water Hazards: 1; 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, 2016: 74.50 (+2.50), Rank 2 of 50 courses.
Torrey Pines North Course: Designer: 1957, Tom Weiskopf re-design 2016; Course Type: Coastal, Resort; Par: 72; Length: 7,258 yards; Holes with Water Hazards: 0; Fairways Bermudagrass, Perennial Rye, Kikuyugrass mix; Rough: Perennial Rye with Kikuyugrass 3.5"; Greens:6,000 sq.ft average featuring Bentgrass; 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. 2016: 70.93 (-1.07), Rank 38 of 50 courses.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for Torrey Pines South Course and how they compare to recent courses on Tour:
Course Overview: I will talk about the classical and sometimes brutal Torrey Pines South Course which hosts 54 holes of action this weekend in a short while, but it's worth recognising that the North Course has received a Tom Weiskopf re-design since 2016. He's added 206 yards of length and re-routed the course, but ostensibly the North, with new pure Bentgrass green complexes, will still be a resort-style challenge. As Weiskopf put it when the new course was launched in November, "I think everybody is going to enjoy this golf course. We have to get people around here. It wasn't its purpose for us, to make it equal in difficulty to the South Course. It’s for those who come out and play and we want them to come back and play."
So to cater for the 80,000 rounds of golf played at the North Course each year, Weiskopf has reduced the number of bunkers from 60 to 42 and made them generally easier from which to play. Average green sizes have increased from about 4,500 sq.ft to 6,000 sq.ft. and there is now a driveable par-4, the 7th hole. The fairways are marginally wider and he’s softened playability in areas fronting the greens. Weiskopf has also reversed the nines, with players now playing the iconic, coast hugging holes, on the way home. Expect scoring still to be low on the North Course.
Rees Jones' South Course is naturally 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. As many of you witnessed last year, conditions across the final round - which was completed over Sunday and Monday - were harsh on the South Course. But even across Thursday to Saturday, the South was a technical test and much of that is down to the fact that rough was re-seeded prior to the 2014 renewal which has significantly increased the difficulty of the task. Longer and thicker Kikuyugrass rough means that the South Course has now ranked as the hardest or second 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 11th (2016), 5th (2015) and 4th (2014) toughest for Greens in Regulation Percentage, compared to 26th (2013), 34th (2012), 13th (2011) and 28th (2010).
However the true difference between the South and North course is quite stark. Birdie or Better Conversion on the South Course last year ranked 6th toughest on the PGA Tour as a whole, compared to 34th toughest for the North Course. It's also imperative to note that the South Course's Poa Annua greens are notoriously difficult to putt on, so look for those who have done well here previously, or at Pebble, Bethpage Black and of course Oakmont.
Southern California has seen a particularly rain-soaked winter, so expect lush rough. Scott Bentley - Golf Course Manager for the City of San Diego - commented over the weekend, "The tour was out and took the rough down a little lower, for preparation for not being able to mow it. But it’s thick and juicy. It’s healthy. It’s going to be difficult."
Fairways will be soft early, but the course dries well so will get progressively tougher across a dry 4 days of competition.
Winners: 2016: Brandt Snedeker (-6); 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 (No.1), Jason Day, Jimmy Walker, Brandt Snedeker and Phil Mickelson.
DraftKings Predictor Model: For those of you who play DraftKings there's now a dedicated predictor model available here.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Portugal Masters / CIMB Classic and includes 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: 2016: Snedeker 18/1; 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: 65/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for La Jolla, San Diego is here. Torrey Pines has seen 102mm of rain in January with 66mm of that dropping over Friday-Sunday. So initially expect soft conditions, but the course will quicken with no rain forecast across the tournament and plenty of breeze. Expect 15 mph north-easterly winds across Friday and Saturday's play.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 7 winners of the Farmers Insurance since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this classical test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
Let's take a view from players as to how the Farmers Insurance sets up and what skill sets the course favours:
Brandt Snedeker: "I love, what I love most about poa annua is you have to be aggressive and you have got to hit a putt almost perfect. You got to give it a chance to go in, you got to get it rolling hard on the green. And I think that's what my stroke does best, because I hit them aggressive, get the ball rolling really fast. When you do that, the ball holds its line. If you miss a putt a little bit, or hit a weak putt, it's going to bump off. And I love it because it eliminates half the guys, like Kevin Kisner. Because they don't like it and they don't want to be on it. So, it makes my putting even better. Because they don't want to be a part of it and if they get a bad bounce they think the greens are awful, I'm never coming back here, whatever, which helps me."
Dustin Johnson: "The golf course I think sets up well. It sets up good to my eye. Just got to go out and execute. But around here, too, it's all about where you leave your ball, controlling your ball, leaving yourself uphill putts so you can be aggressive with it. If you're putting downhill all day, it's hard to make putts, it just is. I don't care how good a putter you are, it's just tough. So controlling the golf ball, controlling your distance, and leaving yourself in the right spot is a big key."
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: "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 7 winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
Course Designer Links: For research purposes other Rees Jones and Tom Weiskopf designs include:
Rees Jones (inc Re-Designs)
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 - the advantage of having a solid round under the belt on the South Course, seemingly freeing up contenders on the North Course on Friday. 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 24 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, 2012 and 2016 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 and I'm working on targeting players who played well on technical tests in 2016.
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 tracks in the season prior to winning here:
Bookmaker Offers: Latest offers and extended each-way places are detailed below. New customers can also get a free £10 no deposit required bet with Sky Bet - perfect for covering off one of the favourites this week:
My selections are as follows:
Dustin Johnson shares leadership at the top of the betting market with Jason Day and he ticks all of the boxes this week. For me winning at the legendary Torrey Pines must be a goal that is yet to be achieved for the current U.S. Open Champion. An exceptional coastal golfer, Johnson is also a top level Poa Annua putter who's won 3 times on the surface across Pebble Beach (2009 & 2010) and naturally at Oakmont 6 months ago. Throw in Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix wins at Plainfield (2011 The Barclays) and Firestone (2016) and you get the true picture that Johnson thrives on these types of greens; hardly surprising when he practices so much at Sherwood Country Club, a 55 minute flight up the California coastline. A brace of runner-up finishes, with another 3 top 4 finishes at Riviera Country Club, again highlights Johnson's taste for technical challenges and the fact that he's more than comfortable on Kikuyugrass fairways.
6th at Kapalua, plus a fine runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood on course debut in Abu Dhabi last week, highlight the level DJ now plays at. Only 4 bogeys at Abu Dhabi GC and a change to his old putter after Round 1 saw him charge up the leaderboard, falling only a shot shy after an incredible Eagle on the 72nd hole. 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, 3rd in 2011 and 18th last year came after similar finishes at Kapalua. He was 3rd here 12 months ago after 36 holes, but was too brittle in contention, still suffering from his post Chambers Bay 3-putt. But the same can't be said a year further down the line for the 12-time PGA Tour winner who looks to be gearing up for another win right now.
Whilst many were rejoicing 12 months ago, we were on Jimmy Walker at 28/1 who, like everybody else, was blown away by Brandt's closing 69 (which was arguably better than any 59 you will see). Walker survived for the each-way place and I'm happy to re-load at this specialist event with the Texan 12 months later with an extra place available and 2 points longer in the betting. Walker's form is very similar to 12 months ago: 2nd at the World Cup of Golf was a strong effort in Australia and 13th at the World Challenge could have been a lot better. A fast start at Kapalua saw Jimmy challenging Justin Thomas for 36 holes before finishing 9th and we can write Waialae off completely as Walker was suffering from illness. Instead I'm drawn to Jimmy who last term finished 4th here, 6th at Doral (technical), 3rd at TPC Boston (30mph winds in the final round) and naturally won the PGA Championship on the soft, long, classical set-up at Baltusrol which featured Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix putting surfaces.
Since 2012, Walker's record at Torrey Pines reads 8th, 4th, MC, 7th and 4th. That's impressive. He won at Pebble Beach in 2014 and has further top-4 finishes at the 2010 U.S. Open host course and a couple at Riviera Country Club where there's the Kikuyugrass fairway/rough connection. He also won his first PGA Tour title back in 2013 at CordeValle in California which again features Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix greens. Soft conditions this week will also suit Jimmy who's a very wind-positive player.
When interviewed here 12 months ago, Walker had this to say about Torrey Pines and Poa Annua putting in particular, "I just think that both golf courses, there's just nothing real gimmicky about them. They're just right in front of you. Not a lot of water, it's real golf. I liken it to Riviera, where it's just right there in front of you and it's good bunkering and tough pins and sight lines are interesting and hard sometimes and it's just really good golf course. Putting on Poa Annua is all about just trusting what you're doing and there's nothing you can do. The only thing you can do is make your stroke. It's just putting. Just putt. Just hope for the best. Because -- and they're going to bounce. No doubt about it. But they will bounce in."
Gary Woodland seems another to me who's perfect for the Torrey Pines test this week and is long overdue a PGA Tour win. Nothing motivates like a winless streak and Butch Harmon product Woodland has been playing consistently well since last summer. 4th at Muirfield Village, 2nd at Montreux and 12th the week after at Troon were all on Bentgrass/Poa Annua putting surfaces. 4th at the long and technical Bethpage Black in August was both on a Rees Jones re-design and pure Poa Annua greens. Since then 10th at East Lake, 2nd at El Camaleon and 6th last time out at Waialae highlight a player who's consistently in contention. As both Fleetwood and Swafford highlighted last week, the more you put yourself in strong Sunday afternoon positions, the more chance that eventually the win comes. Gary is maturing nicely and at Waialae in interview stated, "I play a little more conservatively than I did, when I was young. I want to pull driver out every hole but it just doesn't set up here. So the key is get the ball in play, get it on the greens and attack from there. Playing a little bit more conservatively, a little smarter, a little wiser."
Woodland's performances on the West coast and California in particular are worthy of close scrutiny. He hit the PGA Tour scene back in 2011 when finishing 2nd to Jhonattan Vegas at PGA West (La Quinta, California) and 5th at TPC Scottsdale soon followed. 2013 saw Woodland take his 2nd PGA Tour title at Montreux (Bent Poa Annua greens) with 2014 seeing Gary almost triumph at Torrey Pines - co-leading right-up to the 71st hole, before a costly wayward drive (he took driver over a 3-wood) led to double bogey; he eventually finished 10th. 2015 saw Woodland finish 3rd at Waialae before he went on to land his best world-level finish to date at the WGC-Dell Matchplay Championship where he finished runner-up to Rory McIlroy at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco. Since then his West Coast outings have rendered a form line of 13-18-33-2-6. The 18th was Torrey Pines 12 months ago where again he led after 36 holes and was 3rd after 54, before succumbing to the severe wind and rain of Sunday.
Martin Laird has always loved playing his golf in the western United States and the Glaswegian, as you'd expect, is more than okay with Poa Annua within putting surfaces. His first top-5 on the PGA Tour was at Montreux (Arizona) back in 2008, which he backed up 12 months later with a runner-up finish - as we know, Montreux is a long Par 72 which features Bentgrass/Poa Annua greens. He didn't have to wait long for his 1st PGA Tour victory which came in October 2009 at TPC Summerlin in Nevada. His CV also contains 2nd (2012) and 4th (2010) at Kapalua, 3rd (2011) and 5th (2015) at TPC Scottsdale (Arizona), another 2nd place finish at TPC Summerlin (2010 when defending) and 3rd at Silverado (2015) - a course again which features Bentgrass/Poa Annua.
His current run of form also includes 8th at Silverado, 27th at TPC Summerlin, 13th at Mayakoba and 9th last week at PGA West - so that's another couple of California top 10s. But dig deeper and you see that the upwardly mobile Scot has plenty of correlating course form on classical/technical tracks. Wins at Bay Hill (2011) and TPC San Antonio (2013) were both on hard golf courses. 7th (2008) and 2nd (2010) at Ridgewood jump off the page as both feature Poa Annua and as recently as late August Laird was 4th after 54 holes at Bethpage Black. Remember he was also 2nd at the classical Glen Abbey last July. So after finishing 7th and 8th here on his last 2 visits, I can see Martin - who is now putting at a far more competitive level (19th in Putting Average season to date) on top of his trademark ball-striking - playing well this week at a nice each-way price.
Seeing James Hahn at 250/1 was a bonus especially with 7 places available. I agree that 3 made cuts from 4 appearances does not overly fill you with enthusiasm, but it's worth remembering that Hahn has won twice on the PGA Tour in the last 23 months. These wins also speak for themselves as James won at the Bent Poa Annua greened, classical and particularly difficult Riviera back in 2015 with a -6/278 winning total. He was a 200/1 shot who went on to beat Dustin Johnson (2nd), Paul Casey (2nd), Sergio Garcia (4th), Hideki Matsuyama (4th) and Jordan Spieth (4th). No mean feat. Naturally you can write that off as a fluke - these players are all so good that anybody can win on any given week - but Hahn highlighted last May that his liking for tough, classical tracks is there for all to see. His win at Quail Hollow - defeating Roberto Castro in a playoff - came this time at 500/1 (he never telegraphs these things) with Justin Rose (3rd), Rickie Fowler (4th), Phil Mickelson (4th) and 5/1 favourite Rory McIlroy (4th) left trailing in his slipstream. So it's proven that he beats top-quality fields on tough, classical tracks. 3rd at Pebble Beach on course debut back in 2013 also appeals and Hahn is a real rarity this week, as he sits in the rolling top 20 across my Driving Accuracy, Greens in Regulation and Putting Average 10-week rolling performance trackers. Form of 5 (Deutsche Bank)-24 (BMW)-MC (Safeway)-9 (CIMB)-15 (Shriners)-22 (SBS)-36 (Sony) is strong and he could be a Scott Stallings 2014-type spoiler this week.
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