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Tommy Fleetwood and Jon Rahm produced wins last week at 22/1 and 10/1 respectively. Both victories were ominously impressive, with Fleetwood moving to World Number 12 after successfully defending his Abu Dhabi title and delivering another great winner for our European Tour previewer Paul Williams. Rahm on the other hand showed that he’s both motivated and more than capable of challenging for the World Number 1 position by defeating 200/1 shot Andrew Landry in a playoff at the CareerBuilder Challenge. He travels to San Diego this week, set to defend his Farmers Insurance Open title he won here 12 months ago.
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 including Rickie Fowler, John Rahm, Justin Rose and Jason Day have been attracted to the classical Torrey Pines course on the Pacific coastline. But naturally the full focus on the golfing media and betting public will be on the return of Tiger Woods, who makes his PGA Tour return this week.
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the Dubai Desert Classic – you can read his thoughts on that event here.
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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 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. 2017: 72.77 (+0.77), Rank 14 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:6,400 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. Re-Design 2017: 71.28 (-0.72), Rank 32 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 Designer Links: For research purposes other Rees Jones & Tom Weiskopf designs include (incorporates re-designs):
Course Overview: I’ll 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 received a Tom Weiskopf re-design which was played for the first time last year. The course was effectively lengthened, re-routed and featured new pure Bentgrass green complexes. Scoring was slightly up as players became accustomed to the nuances of the course, especially the greens, and it’s true that the North Course is no longer a total pushover. However if you want to contend, you need to make a score on the easier course. 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 likes of which are only seen here and at Riviera each year on the PGA Tour. As many of you witnessed in 2016, 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 is extremely difficult in terms of proximity to the hole from the rough since the re-seed. Given firm conditions which we should see this week, Greens in Regulation percentages have also slumped since the re-seed, 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 differences between the South and North courses are quite stark. Birdie or Better Conversion on the South Course last year ranked 13th toughest on the PGA Tour as a whole, compared to 36th toughest for the North Course. Naturally the North was a new test and we were playing softened golf courses as well, so that split is likely to get bigger this year. 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.
Winners: 2017: Jon Rahm (-13); 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. NEW! Combined Current and Course Form is now available here.
Published Predictor Model: Our published predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 5 of my published predictor are Jon Rahm, Justin Rose, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler and Brian Harman.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the Andalucía Valderrama Masters / CJ Cup and includes PGA Tour and European Tour events, plus the Hero World Challenge. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2017: Jon Rahm 55/1; 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: 64/1. Past 4 Renewals Average: 84/1. For a full summary of winner’s odds on the PGA Tour since 2010 click here.
2017: Thursday: Mostly sunny, with a high of 58. Wind NW 8-15 mph. Friday: Sunny, with a high of 61. Wind NW 8-15 mph, with gusts of 20 mph. Saturday: Sunny, with a high of 64. Wind NW 8-14 mph. Sunday: Sunny, with a high of 67. Wind NW 8-15 mph.
2016: Thursday: Mostly sunny. High of 67. Wind WNW 7-12 mph. Friday: Mostly sunny. High of 66. Wind WNW 8-12 mph. Saturday: Mostly cloudy, with a high of 61 degrees. Wind WSW 12-15 mph. Sunday: Overcast, with heavy rains off and on throughout the day. Strong SW winds were sustained at 15-25 mph, with gusts to 45 mph. Play was again suspended at 1:57 p.m. A total of 49 players were left on the course. Monday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 60 degrees. NW wind sustained at 15-30 mph, with gusts to 35 mph.
2015: Thursday: Fog delays in the morning. After the fog, it became sunny in the afternoon. High of 70. Wind WNW at 6-12 mph. Friday: The restart, scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m., didn’t start until 9 a.m. due to fog. Fog gave way to afternoon sun. High of 70. Wind WNW at 6-12mph. Saturday: Mostly sunny, with a high of 71. Wind WNW at 6-12 mph. Sunday: Sunny, with a high of 72. Wind NW at 8-15 mph.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for La Jolla, San Diego, California is here. I’m expecting firm and fast conditions this week akin to 2014 and 2015. The course did get a good dousing 2 weeks ago, but since then has received very little and we know that Southern California had major drought issues across November and December. Wind-wise expect breeze in the afternoons, with Friday gusting up to 15mph. Temperatures will be relatively cold across the first 36 holes of action, but warming to 20-23 degrees Celsius across the weekend.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 8 winners of the Farmers Insurance since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this classical test:
Tournament Skill Average:
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 8 Farmers Insurance Open winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
For the record, here’s the breakdown of pure Poa Annua and Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
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 was exclusively made up of Major winners and previous PGA Tour winners, until Jon Rahm’s dramatic victory here 12 months ago. US players dominate the champions list, but Jon Rahm and Jason Day in 2015 added their names to an exclusive list of international winners which reads Gary Player (1963) and Jose Maria Olazabal (2002). If an international player is going to triumph, they need to be top-notch.
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, Jason Day and Jon Rahm are all longer hitters. So realistically we need a 285+ yard driver. Ideally they will have course experience, but Rahm became the first player since 1957 to win on course debut here 12 months ago. He’s a little bit special though, I think you would agree! I’m working on targeting players who played well on testing, old-style courses in 2017. As you can see, previous winners here have all recorded strong results on classical or technical tracks in the season prior to winning here:
Bookmaker Offers: Latest offers and extended each-way places are detailed below.
My selections are as follows:
It’s the mark of the 23 year-old that Jon Rahm not only attended the CareerBuilder Challenge last week (no doubt ignoring a rather large cheque from Abu Dhabi organisers as a result), but won a tournament which hadn’t seen an elite player victorious since Phil Mickelson in 2004. In doing so Rahm, as I mentioned at Kapalua when we were on-board him at 12/1, destroyed a set of well established tournament trends. It’s obvious that the World Number 2 is just that kind of phenom who’s taking apart well-established trends and records to boot.
It took Rory McIlroy 113 events to capture 4 main Tour titles, Justin Thomas 88, Dustin Johnson 80, Jordan Spieth 63 and Tiger Woods 17. Rahm slots in with 38 and you can include top-5 finishes across TPC Scottsdale (as an amateur in 2015), Congressional, Glen Abbey, Pebble Beach, Club de Golf Chapultepec, Eagle Point, Colonial, Glen Oaks, TPC Boston and Conway Farms. Remember he also finished runner-up at the WGC-Dell Matchplay. So with current form of 1-2-1, on a course where he triumphed 12 months ago, I was a little surprised to see 8/1 about him. Yes naturally it’s a huge ask and Rahm will have plenty on his plate this week, but back-to-back victories are nothing new these days and particularly for a man of his talent.
Rahm spent 60 weeks as World Amateur Number 1 and just a look at his amateur history shows back-to-back wins plus victories in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Utah. Asked last week about his love for California, Rahm answered, “The main reason why I don’t live in San Diego or in California is taxes, to be honest. I love Phoenix, but San Diego is probably my favourite spot in the world. I go there as much as I can. I went there before I came here, it always makes me play good. I have a really good record in California in college as well. I played here in Palm Springs three times, I think I finished runner-up and third in two of them. I played in San Diego three tournaments as an amateur, won two of them, finished fifth in the other one, and as a pro won one of them. So I just, I don’t know, I get a good vibe in California. I like it.“
Statistically he has everything a Torrey Pines winner needs as you’d expect and in recent times we’ve seen Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose go back-to-back. With a favourable course split, there is no reason to suggest that Jon Rahm can’t add his name to that elite list. RESULT: T29
Marc Leishman is a Torrey Pines specialist who as we know is in cracking form right now. Talk of coastal golf, Kikuyugrass fairways and tough, technical scoring conditions on the South Course shouts Leishman from the rooftops and he certainly has the tools at his disposal to make a serious challenge this week, with no attention on him whatsoever.
A tournament average score of 70.75 is only beaten by Tiger Woods, Brandt Snedeker and Charles Howell III amongst tournament regulars. Leishman was 2nd here to Ben Crane in 2010 and 2nd to Scott Stallings in 2014, no shame in that, and you can add a 9th (2011), 27th (2015) and 20th (2017) to his list of achievements here which has earned him a smidgen over $1m. At 13th on the OWGR, Leishman enters the tournament off the back of 2 wins in 2017, both on firm courses which have correlating course form namely Bay Hill and Conway Farms. Tiger Woods is an 8-time winner at Bay Hill, with Jason Day winning there in 2016. Australian Number 2 Day also won at Conway Farms in 2015 and naturally the former World Number 1 has a win (2015) and 2nd (2014) to his name here on the Pacific coast.
Other results across Leishman’s CV also link inexorably to Woods – and that is clearly never a bad template. 4th at Augusta (TW 4 wins), 5th at Muirfield Village (TW 5 wins), 2nd at St Andrews (TW 2 wins), 8th at Congressional (TW 2 wins), 3rd at Firestone (TW 8 wins) and 2nd at Cog Hill (TW 5 wins) certainly paints a picture. This season has started well with 2nd to Justin Thomas at the CJ Cup and Leishman knows he should have been Dustin Johnson’s only challenger at Kapalua where a Saturday +3/76 was surprising. However 20th for Birdie Average, 21st for par-5 Birdie or Better Conversion and 28th for All-Round on the PGA Tour season to date, plus 10th position in my 10-week Putting Average tracker, highlights a Torrey Pines specialist you simply can’t ignore this week. RESULT: T8
As Barry O’Hanrahan stated in this week’s Farmers/Dubai podcast, younger players on the PGA Tour will take note that Jon Rahm won his first PGA Tour title here 12 months ago. That kind of extra motivation could prove the final piece of the jigsaw for talented non-winners this week and Ollie Schniederjans fits that category perfectly. He sat out the CareerBuilder last week so arrives at Torrey Pines in excellent form and with birdie-making at the forefront of his mind. An Eagle and 24 Birdies at Waialae placed him at the top of the field for Birdie and Better Conversion on his way to a very solid 7th place. That following on from a season which has seen him finish 17th at Silverado, 23rd at TPC Kuala Lumpur (top 5 again for Birdie or Better Conversion) and 19th at Nine Bridges, highlights a 2nd year PGA Tour professional who is ready to contend and make the next big step.
As an amateur Ollie finished 12th at the 2015 Open Championship hosted at St Andrews and that liking for the coast continues to this day. In his first web.com season last year, Schniederjans finished 2nd at the coastal TPC Cartagena set-up in Columbia. He then landed his first PGA Tour top-10 finish in November 2016 at Sea Island. 2017 saw 27th at Waialae, 9th here at Torrey Pines and 3rd at Harbour Town. Throw in 7th last time out at again at Waialae and we see a definite liking for sea air. Taking his 9th here 12 months ago, Ollie was 4th at half-way, ranked 5th for Greens in Regulation, 2nd for Strokes Gained Approach but 64th in Strokes Gained Putting. With far more confidence in the flat stick at present – he currently ranks 5th in my 10-week Putting Average tracker – a repeat of his tee-to-green game from last year would undoubtedly see him go very close.
Ollie is also undoubtedly growing in stature when it comes to handling being in contention and that was clear to see at Sedgefield back in August where he gave Henrik Stenson all he could handle at the Wyndham Championship. After his first-ever PGA Tour runner-up finish, Ollie stated, “Well, I’ve been in the mix like probably four times this year where I felt this same heat on the back-9 where I had a chance. I like to think I’ve gained some experience this year playing on Sunday, s, this was the best performance I’ve had in that situation, the cleanest, bogey-free, which is really good. Gained a lot on each aspect of my game and so close today.“
We all know it’s coming and this week is a huge opportunity for the Georgia Tech product. RESULT: MC
I’m always preaching patience so let’s stick with Jhonattan Vegas for a further week on a course where he has a habit of playing well. As I noted last week, Vegas has certainly turned a corner of late and that’s best highlighted by the fact that he only conceded 4 bogeys at PGA West last week, beaten only by Andrew Landry. That will stand him in very good stead this week on a course where the talented Venezuelan has finished 3rd (2011 on debut), 11th (2015), 18th (2016) and 28th (2017). Indeed Vegas could be the perfect storm this week – a big hitting player, who traditionally hits plenty of greens at Torrey Pines, his putting and short-game usually hold him back. But the World Number 37 has made some significant improvements both with the putter and his scrambling game of late. Ranking 30th for Strokes Gained Off the Tee, 19th for Strokes Gained on Approach and 45th for Strokes Gained Putting season-to-date highlights a player full of confidence at the moment. He’s definitely become a little more conservative to avoid those ghastly big numbers we were always accustomed to seeing, but 3 eagles over his last 7 rounds highlight that he can still cause damage on the par-5s.
A 3-time PGA Tour winner, Vegas has won both the 2016 and 2017 RBC Canadian Opens held at Glen Abbey. The 2016 win featured Bentgrass/Poa Annua mix greens and 3rd at Glen Oaks last August, in addition to his 3rd here in 2011, highlights that Jhonattan is comfortable on Poa Annua. 4th at the monster Congressional classical course in 2012 also jumps from his CV and a confident Vegas, who’s finished 11th and 7th on his last 2 outings, could be arriving at Torrey Pines at just the right time. RESULT: MC