Farmers Insurance Open
It was a great week for us in the Californian desert at the American Express as although we were nowhere near finding the winner, Andrew Landry, one of our big e/w selections, Sepp Straka, bagged a full place e/w payout for us, which based on his starting price of 300-1 gave us a profit of over 50 points on the week.
The Austrian was bogey free for his final 54 holes and what was particularly impressive was the way he shot 64 and 66 in his two spins around the Pete Dye designed Stadium Course.
One of the main reasons I had sided with Sepp was because of his undoubted strength in the ball striking department, which I felt would be suited to this track and he showed that in spades. Sepp is now certainly in the notebook for any time he tees it up on a course where ball striking is known as a key attribute.
With the return we bagged on Straka following on from a great week the previous week in Hawaii courtesy of Gmac and Palmer we have now bagged nearly 90 points of profit in the past fortnight without having the winner. It just goes to show that there is plenty more to this game than just looking to find the man who comes home first.
So, with the Desert Classic 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.
This years field is a strong one, with Rory McIlroy heading up the betting followed by 2017 champion Jon Rahm and Tiger Woods he is making his 2020 bow. This trio is then followed by last years champion Justin Rose, Xander Schauffele and Hideki Matsuyama.
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 just under 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;
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
2010 B Crane
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 Ben Crane and 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 6 other top 10s in the last 13 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 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.
To then take this further when Snedeker and Day gained there first wins here and when Crane and Rose 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 Justin Rose last year who 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.
Last year however Justin Rose bucked this trend as he opened up with a 63 at the North Course before consolidating with a 66 at the South on Friday.
For those who like to bet in running this is definitely something to bear in mind when looking at betting after round 1.
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 6yrs, however again last year this all changed as Justin Rose won with a score of -21!
Rain will not be an issue this week and the wind does not look to be an issue either over the first three days with nothing more than about 8mph in the forecast.
Sunday does though show a possibility for gusts around the 15mph mark. There is also a possibility of a shower on Sunday.
Temperatures look set to sit in the mid to high 60s throughout the week with a mixture of sunshine and clouds. The days leading also look set to be dry so we could see a relatively firm golf course.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with 4 players this week as follows;
HIDEKI MATSUYAMA – 18-1 – 2.5pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 45th
When looking at the profile of recent winners of this event the man who I just can’t get away from this week is Hideki Matsuyama.
The Japanese star is a five time winner on the PGA Tour however in what has undoubtedly been a frustrating period for him it is now well over two years since he last tasted victory at the 2017 Bridgestone Invitational.
The root of Hideki’s absence from the winners enclosure can be traced back to a wrist injury which saw him withdraw from the Waste Management Phoenix Open in 2018, as when he returned from this lay off he struggled to regain his consistency for a while.
The back end of the 2017/2018 season saw Hideki right back on track as he posted five consecutive top 15 finishes and it looked only a matter of time before the next win came.
Unfortunately though despite posting no less than seven top ten finishes in his 18/19 campaign, and a further two early in the 19/20 season, a sixth PGA Tour title has eluded him.
Matsuyama began 2020 with yet another solid showing of 12th place at the Sony Open and that brings us right up to date.
So why do I think this could finally be Hideki’s week? Well first and foremost I can’t get away from the profile of recent winners, which I have highlighted above, whereby a player has gradually got to grips with Torrey Pines over the years before posting a victory here a year or two after bagging their first top ten at Torrey.
This was typified by Justin Rose last year as it has by several others in the past decade and Hideki fits this bill down to a tee.
16th on debut here in 2014 Hideki then missed the cut on his next two visits, however 2017 saw him finish 33rd, 2018 12th before he finally cracked Torrey Pines last year to finish third.
Returning to Hideki’s 2020 opening at Waialae recently and he was behind the eight ball from the get go after day one saw him post 74.
Thereafter though Matsuyama logged 67, 67 and 66 to haul himself up the leaderboard to finish the week in twelfth.
If we look at Hideki’s performance in Hawaii more closely and indeed his stats so far this season it is no surprise to see that it is his old nemesis the putter, which has held him back yet again.
As we know though all strong ball strikers are one strong putting week away from running rings around a field and this must surely be the case for Hideki who ranked second for SGTTG and fourth for SGATTG at Waialae.
Further encouragement can be found for the man from Sendai in the fact that this appears to be a venue where success with the flat stick is the least important key attribute.
This is born out by the fact that last years winner Justin Rose finished the week eighth in DA, second in GIR and only 28th in SGP, while the three previous winners Day, Rahm and Snedeker ranked 31st, 37th and 30th respectively in SGP for the week, but far higher up the charts from tee to green.
To sum up it is only a matter of time before Hideki wins again and this weeks course fit and key trends, along naturally with the state of Hideki’s game over recent months, lead me to believe that this could well be the week and I am keen to have him onside.
RYAN PALMER – 70-1 - 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 21st
I sided with our next selection Ryan Palmer recently at the Sony Open and having reaped the benefits of a nice e/w return courtesy of his fourth place finish I am more than happy to return to the well at another of his more favoured stomping grounds.
As I mentioned in my Sony Open preview Ryan has quietly put together a great run of form over the past nine months with no missed cuts on US soil since last years PGA Championship.
The 2019/20 season has seen the Texan step things up to another level as his last four events have seen him post two top tens and finish no worse than 17th.
Now 43yrs old Ryan is no slouch off the tee and he can still mix it with the young guns in this department and this coupled with his accurate long game from tee to green, along with a steady putting touch, is what has propelled him to his great form of late. Basically pretty much all areas of Ryan’s game appear to be working well.
Looking at Ryan’s all round strengths it is no surprise to see that Torrey Pines has proved a good fit for him since he brought it back in to his schedule in 2018 as, as noted earlier, a strong, longer than average tee to green performance is what is required here to get the job done.
Second in 2018 and 13th last year Palmer’s is the classic case of course form meets current form, meaning that with the odds on offer giving us potential for a nice e/w return regardless of a victory, Ryan is a must pick for our team this week.
HARRIS ENGLISH – 90-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 71st
For my final two picks this week I am going to return to two players who I backed in this event last year and in the case of the first one a player I have actually sided with in this event for the past two years.
The man in question who warrants our support here for the third year running is Harris English.
English as we know has started his 2019/20 campaign like a house on fire and it appears that after several years in the wilderness he is now very much on the road to a return to the higher echelons of the game.
Currently 20th in the Fedex Cup standings Harris posted four top six finishes in his first five starts of the new season before missing the cut at the RSM Classic in his final start of the year.
English began his 2020 at the American Express last week and while his finish of 48th hardly set the world alight there was enough in his game, particularly in his third round 64 at La Quinta, to think that the Christmas break has not derailed his recent improvement.
When English was at the peak of his powers the strength of his game was undoubtedly from tee to green, however while he has been in the doldrums this area of the game undoubtedly deserted him.
This season so far though Harris’ numbers in this department have improved off the charts, for example he currently ranks sixth in SGTTG compared to last seasons finishing rank of 116th while his SGATTG number sits at 42nd compared to last seasons 171st.
As we can see this is a fantastic improvement but what makes this particularly interesting to me this week is that Torrey Pines has always been a venue which has suited English well meaning that, last years missed cut aside, even in his darkest times Harris has been able to produce a performance here.
Eighth in 2018 and second here in 2015 the Georgia Bulldog has made six cuts here out of seven visits and posted three top fifteen finishes.
With the competitive rust now brushed off after his week in the desert the 30yr old must be licking his chops at the thought of returning in his current form to what must be one of his favourite events on tour and I expect a very strong showing from him this week.
CAMERON DAVIS – 175-1 - 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 36th
My final play this week who I also rolled the dice with this time last year is Aussie Cameron Davis.
In last year’s preview I stated the following about young Cameron…
“Davis is very much a raw talent still and could just as easily miss the cut by half a dozen shots, however he has shown enough in his fledgling career to date for us to know that he is a real talent with a big future.”
In the end 2019 saw Cameron produce a solid but unspectacular week at Torrey Pines to finish 57th, a finish uncannily similar to his 2018 result, which saw him come home in 58th.
Interestingly though, and one of the main reasons that drew me to Cam last year was the fact that the finish of 58th in 2018 didn’t tell the full story ,as he performed really well over the first three days to sit handily placed on -5 before capitulating with a disappointing 80 on Sunday.
After his steady week here in 2019 Cameron largely struggled through his debut full season on the PGA Tour and after a slight rally towards the end of the campaign he found himself needing to produce the goods at the Korn Ferry finals, something which he managed to do to regain his card.
After a disappointing run of results in the Fall, Davis started 2020 with a ninth place at the Sony Open, his best ever finish on the PGA Tour, he then backed this up with a solid 29th place at last weeks American Express.
Brought up in Sydney on the Australian coast Davis already has an Australian Open title to his name, if you then add this to his 15th at the Mayakoba, his 16th in Puerto Rico, his recent ninth at the Sony and indeed his 39th place at the Open Championship in 2018 and it becomes apparent that the 24yr old plays some of his best golf when the sea is nearby.
One of the longer hitters on tour Davis has the game to handle the 7600 yard Torrey Pines South and the fact that Aussie’s have a strong recent record here will not be lost on him. In addition I would expect him to take inspiration from his fellow Aussie and indeed fellow Cam, Cameron Smith, who was victorious recently in Hawaii.
While a win for Davis in this company is naturally a huge ask there is enough to like about both his recent play and his fit for the course to think he can threaten the frame at big e/w odds and I am happy to wrap up our team by including him this week.
UPDATED 21st JANUARY
FANTASY DRAFT KINGS PICKS
It was a mixed bag for our Draft Kings picks last week as Maverick McNealy did us proud to finish in 37th place with a DK points total of 86 but Kebin Chappell unfortunately missed the 54 hole cut.
Still, two weeks in we have had three players out of four make the cut and perform well, which as we are focusing on sub 7000 points value players is a reasonably solid beginning.
So on to this weeks picks...
PICK 1 - MAVERICK MCNEALY - DK VALUE - $6600 - FINISHED 15th - 72.5 DK POINTS
As the old adage goes 'if it aint broke don't fix it' right?
McNealy continued with his solid run of cut making form this season to play all 72 holes for the seventh outing running as he finished a solid 37th for us at the American Express last week.
A native of California and now under the tutelage of Butch Harmon, McNealy played here at the Farmers in 2018 and shot four rounds of par or better to post a comendable 28th place finish. This remained his best showing on the PGA Tour until his 17th place in Houston last fall.
Now returning here a far more accomplished player and in a really solid groove of form there is no reason to think that Maverick can't build on that 2018 performance and he looks a good value play to me this week.
PICK 2 - SEPP STRAKA - DK VALUE - $6900 - FINISHED - MC - 13.5 DK POINTS
My second pick, Sepp Straka, is another player who did us a massive favour last week as the Austrian who was in our full betting team at 300-1 bagged a full e/w return for us.
On the back of that performance Sepp's odds with the bookmakers have been cut dramatically this week meaning that, when coupled with the far greater strength in the field this week, he did not appeal as a betting proposition.
From a DK prospective though avalable at $6900 Straka makes plenty of appeal as Torrey Pines in principal is another track, which plays to his strengths.
Sepp showed last week that when his game is 'on' he is a ball striking machine and this attribute should stand him in good stead this week as it did when he was 13th here on debut last year.