Farmers Insurance Open
It was a great week for us in the Californian desert at the American Express as we bagged the winner with our 55/1 pick Si Woo Kim, whilst also topping the coffers up a little further with a full place return on Abraham Ancer.
Along with Kim’s recent solid form my main line of thinking in siding with him last week was his liking for Pete Dye tracks and this strategy was rewarded in spades as the young Korean went bogey free across his 54 holes on the Stadium Course.
Most impressive was the way he closed out the event on Sunday with a 64, which included two birdies in his last three holes, which was enough to pip Patrick Cantlay who had posted the clubhouse target with a scintillating 61.
A fantastic performance all round then from Kim and one would hope a springboard to more great things from him this year.
So, with the American Express behind us for another year we move on, and for its second week of the West Coast swing the PGA Tour heads about 80 miles South West in California from La Quinta to La Jolla, San Diego for the Farmers Insurance Open.
The Farmers Insurance Open originally graced the PGA Tour as the San Diego Open way back in 1952.
In 1981 title sponsors were added to the tournament and after a succession of different sponsors Buick took over as lead sponsor in 1992. They then continued in this role until 2010 at which point Farmers took over.
After being held at a few different courses over the early years the event landed at Torrey Pines in 1968 and there it has remained to the present day.
Finally this years event holds some extra significance in the run in to this years Major's as the US Open returns here in June. On that basis several players this week will no doubt be using this event as a 'sighter' for the bigger challenge to come in the Summer.
The market is currently headed up by Jon Rahm who at the time of writing is marginally pipping Rory McIlroy, who arrives here straight from Abu Dhabi, for favouritism. Behind this pair we then have local man Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau and the inform Harris English.
For the second week running we have a tournament which uses multiple courses with all players playing one round on the host course, the South Course, over the first two days, along with one round on the North Course.
Those making the cut then play their final two rounds on the South Course.
The North Course is a par 72 coming in at 7258 yds. Whilst the North Course had a redesign from Tom Weiskopf in 2016, which toughened it up slightly, it’s still by far the easier course of the two and the one to take advantage of over the first two days. The greens are bentgrass.
The South Course is pretty much the longest Par 72 course on tour stretching to over 7700 yds.
The greens are Poa Annua.
Whilst it’s not impossible for shorter hitters to compete here big hitters do have an advantage on the South Course.
Let’s start by taking a look at the last ten winners;
2020 M Leishman
2019 J Rose
2018 J Day
2017 J Rahm
2016 B Snedeker
2015 J Day
2014 S Stallings
2013 T Woods
2012 B Snedeker
2011 B Watson
The event was dominated by Tiger Woods through the early part of the 2000s with four consecutive wins coming from him from 2005 – 2008. The most recent of his 7 wins at the event came in 2013.
As we can see from the above list over the years this has been an event on the whole for the big names with only Scott Stallings being seen as shock winners in the past 10 years.
In addition to Tiger the other course specialist over recent years has been Brandt Snedeker who as well as having 2 wins to his name has 7 other top 10s in the last 14 editions.
Looking at the winners over the past ten years form in previous events in the calendar year coming in does not seem to be particularly significant.
This can be seen by the fact that only three of the winners since the turn of the decade had a top 10 finish to their name in the calendar year already.
These were Brandt Snedeker [twice] and Jason Day in 2015.
Up until two years ago though at least one previous start in the year to shake the rust of did seem to be important however two years ago Day won here on his first start of the year and Justin Rose managed a similar feat last year.
Multiple winners are also common place in this event as following on from Tiger’s domination we have seen both Snedeker and Day win twice this decade.
One other striking point to note is that previous course form does appear to play a significant part here and if we look back at the past ten winners we will see that only two of them, Scott Stallings and Jon Rahm, did not have at least one previous top ten finish here, while three of the past ten winners, Woods, Snedeker and Day had actually triumphed here before.
This trend was rubber stamped once more last year by Leishman who triumphed here having previously notched four top tens including two runner up finishes.
To then take this further when Snedeker and Day gained there first wins here and when and Rose [and indeed Ben Crane in 2010] were victorious they had all finished in the top ten the year before.
It should also be noted that not only does previous course form appear to be important but overall experience on the course certainly seems to hold value.
A perfect example of this was Leishman last year who bagged the title on his twelfth visit here while Justin Rose, the 2019 Champion, bagged the trophy on his eighth start of the decade after finally cracking the top 10 in start number six.
Conversely the only first time PGA Tour winner in the event this century was Rahm in 2017 and obviously he was no ordinary ‘maiden’.
One other trend that had clearly developed over recent years was the habit of the winner playing the South Course on Thursday and the North Course on Friday and this had been the case every year from 2011 to 2018.
Invariably what we had seen over this period is the eventual winner shoot somewhere around level par or even over par on day one leaving them way down the field before storming through in to contention with a strong round on the Friday.
However this trend has been bucked over the past two years as Leishman opened up with a 68 on the North Course last year before posting 72 on the South on Friday while in 2019 Justin Rose stormed out of the gates with a 63 at the North Course before adding an impressive 66 at the South on Friday.
Finally, being a coastal event the wind can have a big impact on the winning score and who can forget Snedeker’s ‘round of the year’ 69 in the gales [certainly not me as I was on him!] in 2016 to pinch the trophy from nowhere, with all around him struggling to break 76.
In general though it is not uncommon for the winning score to be single figures under par and this has been the case in 3 of the last 7yrs, however last year Leishman triumphed with -15 and the previous year Justin Rose won with a score of -21!
Temperatures look set to sit in the mid to 60s throughout the week with the possibility of a shower here or there.
The wind, which can often be an issue here could be a bit of a factor at times as well with gusts in the region of 15mph forecast across at least a couple of the days.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with five players this week as follows;
CAMERON SMITH – 55-1 – 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
The market is dominated this week by the pair of Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy and it goes without saying no one would be surprised were either to triumph. Personally if I had to side with one I would give the nod to Rahm based on his more extensive bank of form here and the fact that he hasn’t, unlike Rory, jetted in from Abu Dhabi.
However with the Spaniard still bedding in new equipment I am happy to pass up on the single figure odds and instead hunt for some each way value, starting this week with Cameron Smith.
Smith last graced these pages in November at the Masters and on that occasion he did us proud by bagging a full each way return whilst becoming the first player in history to post all four rounds in the 60s at Augusta.
Following on from that performance 2021 has started in a relatively low key fashion for the Aussie as he followed a 24th place at the Sentry ToC with a 62nd place at the Sony Open where he was the defending champion.
The fact that Smith finished down the field at Waialae was not too surprising bearing in mind that it was his first experience of defending a trophy on the PGA Tour and on this basis I am happy to take the positives from the fact that for the first three rounds he gained strokes in all areas of his long game and it was only really his putter, usually of course a great strength, that held him back.
So hopefully with any rust well and truly knocked off Smith now arrives at a course that after missing the cut on his first two visits, he has played strongly at over the past few years.
What I particularly like about Cam’s form here is the fact that he steadily improved each year from 2017-2019 with results of 33-20-9 before finishing 64th last year, a finish I am happy to put a line through as it came straight after he bagged his first PGA title at The Sony Open.
Not the longest off the tee Smith has shown he can compete strongly on a course that favours bigger hitters with his two top fives at Augusta and of course his top ten finish here showing he has what it takes around Torrey Pines.
This event has proven a strong hunting ground for the Aussie’s over recent years with three of the last six editions being won by Marc Leishman and Jason Day [x2], and you would have to think this will give Cameron positive vibes when teeing it up here. In addition the fact that both of these two have performed so strongly at Augusta over the years also links nicely to Smith’s great play there.
A strong player in the wind like most Australians, Smith will be more than comfortable around here if the wind does pick up this week and with doubts in my mind around several of the market leaders he looks strong each way value to me this week.
BILLY HORSCHEL – 60-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Next cab off the rank for us this week is another player who has built up a really steady bank of form here over the years, Billy Horschel.
Horschel has proved a tough man to follow over the past few years as it will be four years this spring since he last tasted success on an individual basis at the AT&T Byron Nelson.
As we know though Billy is not afraid to win in big company when the mood takes him and it is clear to me that he is building up a head of steam at the moment to a big result.
Looking firstly at Horschel’s course form and he fits the bill here of a winner perfectly as a player who has made multiple starts in the event over the years posting two top ten finishes along the way.
Where things get really interesting to me though is Horschel’s recent form as he has played the weekend on all seven starts so far this season posting two top ten finishes in his last three outings.
Last time out at Waialae Horschel made only one bogey across the four days however his strength that week was more with the flat stick than with his long game, the previous week however at the Sentry ToC, for days two and three in particular where he posted back to back bogey free 66s, his long game was in strong shape so it really is just a case of putting it all together.
If we look at the Florida Gator’s first two starts this year he has posted six rounds of 66 or better out of eight and if you add in his 65 64 finish at the Mayakoba in his last start before the break that’s eight out of ten rounds of 66 or better.
Clearly there is some great golf in Horschel at the moment and if he can just sharpen up the approach play slightly, historically a strength of his, I believe he has a great chance of bagging another tour title this week.
GARY WOODLAND – 70-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 48th
Next up for me this week is Gary Woodland.
The former US Open Champion has had a pretty grim time of things on the course since he posted a top five finish at the Workday Open last summer and prior to last weekend his five starts this season read three MC, a WD and a 72nd place in a limited field event.
The source of Woodland’s poor form last fall can clearly be linked to injury issues as a torn labrum in his hip, which he reported he was suffering from after missing the cut at the US Open, was followed by a back injury, which lead to his withdrawal at the Zozo Championship.
Woodland tee’d it up twice more after that withdrawal to no avail however a six week break since the missed cut at the Mayakoba has clearly had the desired effect as he played very nicely at the American Express to finish 16th in his first start of the year.
Woodland talked over the Christmas break about how he was working hard on his game to get ready for 2021 and one would assume therefore that the injury issues which were troubling him have now cleared up.
At the American Express Gary performed really strongly from tee to green gaining over four shots in this department on Thursday and just under four shots on Sunday. He also gained strokes off the tee every day and just under three shots in approach play on Friday. Cleary then the work he has been putting in on the long game over the break has paid dividends.
Moving on to this week then and if Woodland is to prove to us that last weeks strong showing is part of a bigger renaissance then this is a great venue for him to do it at as history here is strong with two top tens and only one missed cut in his last ten visits.
Long off the tee Woodland is certainly suited to the challenges of Torrey Pines and with the big bank of course history we are looking for I am happy to side with him this week.
KYLE STANLEY – 200-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FNISHED 18th
For my last two picks this week I am going to roll the dice at bigger odds starting with Kyle Stanley.
Stanley as longer term PGA Tour watchers will remember has ‘previous’ at Torrey Pines having blown a big lead here back in 2012 before gifting the tournament to Brandt Snedeker after making a complete mess of the final hole.
Move forward nine years and Stanley has never come close to matching that weeks second place finish however he has posted two further top 25s here so he clearly is comfortable at the venue.
Looking at Stanley’s 2019/20 campaign and his results clearly tell us it was a struggle as he finished 133rd in the Fedex Cup rankings, however he performed strongly at the RSM Classic just before the Christmas break to finish sixth so he is clearly not too far away.
What catches my eye about Kyle coming in to this week though is that after he missed the cut at the Sony Open in his first start of the new year, at the American Express where he posted a solid 32nd, place, his long game always his trademark strength when he is on song, looked to be working well and on Sunday he gained over four shots from tee to green.
Never the most flamboyant of players Stanley has made a habit in his career of grinding out good finishes on tough courses, which play to his long game strengths, and although he hasn’t shown it so much over recent years Torrey Pines is a perfect fit for that type of performance, particularly if the wind blows as it may well do at times this week.
Eighth at the Wells Fargo when badly out of form in 2019 sits very nicely here from a course correlation point of view as does his second place at the Memorial in 2018 and also at Firestone the same year, all finishes, which came on the back of nothing spectacular in the run up.
To sum up Stanley to me is very much a ‘punters friend’ of a player as you know the sort of courses he can play well on time and again and if there are signs the long game is there you can catch him at big each way odds.
All of this then fits nicely for me this week and definitely makes Kyle worth chancing at 200/1.
PATRICK RODGERS – 200-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED MC
Finally from a ‘steady eddy’ player in Stanley to anything but in Patrick Rodgers.
Plenty has been written about the hugely talented Rodgers over recent years and many like me no doubt start each calendar year thinking ‘surely this will be the one in which he breaks through’.
Well I am starting 2021 in the same vein and therefore am happy to chance him this week on a course he has shown over recent years he can handle.
Rodgers’ record here of three MC’s a fourth and a ninth is in all honesty a good reflection of his career to date as you never quite know what you will get from him, and in all honesty none of those finishes this week would surprise me.
What is clear though is that the Stanford grad has the talent to compete at this level and would not be afraid to win in this company if given the opportunity.
Patrick’s fourth place here in 2017 came after a MC in his first start of the year, while his second place finish at the Wells Fargo and his ninth place finish here last year came straight after some similarly unspectacular form.
Rodgers started 2021 with a missed cut at the American Express however he opened with a 69 on the Stadium Course so I am not going to cut too hung up about him getting the weekend off.
In addition If Rodgers was a little rusty last week he could certainly be forgiven for this as he and his wife have recently welcomed their first child Rafi in to the world and it may just be that this life changing event inspires him to produce that breakthrough performance, which has long been anticipated.
Speculation I know but on a course that clearly plays to Rodgers’ liking I am happy to wrap up our team by chancing him this week.
UPDATED 26th JANUARY
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - MARTIN LAIRD - DK VALUE $6800 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS 27.5
For my first sub $7K pick this week I shall side with Martin Laird.
Regular readers will be aware that Laird will forever hold a place in this columns heart after rewarded us with a 250/1 winner when we sided with him at the Shriners last October.
Since then the Scot has not exactly set the world alight as he has two MC a 17th at the Sentry ToC and a 47th at last weeks Amex to his name.
This week however Laird returns to an event he has made eight out of his last ten cuts posting two top ten finishes and with his confidence still surely high I would expect him to follow last weeks steady showing with another solid week.
PICK 2 - JAMIE LOVEMARK - DK VALUE $6300 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS 21.5
For our second selection I will return to the well with Jamie Lovemark who played solidly for us in this section last week.
As I pointed out last week Lovemark is in need of some big finishes to fulfill his Major Medical Extension and there are just signs with his two solid performances to start this year that he could be gaining some momentum.
Originally from Rancho Santa Fe in California very close to this weeks venue Lovemark has never quite produced his best here in front of his home supporters at a venue he must know well and you would expect to suit his game.
This week though without the added pressure of performing in front of local support he may just feel a bit more relaxed and I have a hunch that he can build on last weeks effort and turn in another solid performance.