Farmers Insurance Open
It was a disappointing week for us at the American Express as none of our selections managed to get seriously in the hunt with Ben An our best performer coming in at 41st..
The event as a whole was won by Jon Rahm who continued his superb run of form to win for the second time in two starts this year and for the third time in his last four starts worldwide.
The Spaniard didn’t have it all his own way however as young rookie Davis Thompson battled him all the way on Sunday before finally losing out by a shot.
All in all though it was a superb performance from Thompson and the former world number one amateur looks sure to make a huge impression on the tour over the coming months and years.
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.
In addition of course Torrey Pines also features on the US Open rota and the years second Major visited La Jolla last June.
The market is dominated by the rampant Jon Rahm who of course not only has one Farmers title to his name here but also the US Open. Rahm is then followed by Tony Finau, San Diego native Xander Schauffele and Justin Thomas.
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;
2022 L List
2021 P Reed
2020 M Leishman
2019 J Rose
2018 J Day
2017 J Rahm
2016 B Snedeker
2015 J Day
2014 S Stallings
2013 T Woods
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 and then to a certain extent last years winner Luke List 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 2018 though at least one previous start in the year to shake the rust of did seem to be important however that year Day won here on his first start of the year and Justin Rose managed a similar feat in 2019. Normal service has resumed on this front though over the past three years with List, Leishman and Reed.
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 over the past three years with Leishman who triumphed here in 2020 having previously notched four top tens including two runner up finishes, Reed again fitting the bill perfectly having finished sixth here the year before and last years champion List triumphing on the back of 10th here the year before and 12th in 2018.
Allowing for List in 2021 then, Reeds sixth place in 2020, Snedeker [in 2012] and Day when they gained there first wins here, and Rose when he was victorious here, five of the last 11 champions here 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.
Reed triumphed here on his sixth visit, Leishman 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. Meanwhile last years victor List again fitted the profile perfectly as he triumphed on his eighth start here.
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 was bucked from 2019 through 2021 as Reed opened with a 64 on the North Course in 2021 before posting 72 at the South on Friday, Leishman with a 68 on the North Course in 2020 before posting again 72 on the South the next day, 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.
Last year though it was a return to the norm with List as he opened with a strong 67 on the South on Thursday before posting 68 at the North 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 8yrs, however in 2020 Leishman triumphed with -15 and the previous year Justin Rose won with a score of -21!
In 2021 perhaps in the build up to the US Open played a bit tougher with only the winner Patrick Reed who landed a five shot victory, posting a double digits under par score at 14- under, while list year List and Will Zalatoris posted 15- under before List edged the playoff.
We look set for a dry week with temperatures around the low to mid 60s throughout.
The wind, which can often be an issue here could be a bit of a factor on Thursday in particular with gusts in the region of 25mph – 30mph showing as a possibility for the opening day before they settle down to 15mph or so for the remainder of the week.
As I always say though this could all change!
I have gone with four players this week as follows;
SUNGJAE IM – 20/1 – 2pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 4th
There is no doubt that the spectre of John Rahm looms large over this weeks event and no one including myself would be at all surprised to see the Spaniard land a third consecutive PGA Tour trophy at a venue that he loves.
Ultimately though as we know it only takes one player to beat him and although he triumphed on Sunday there were enough signs of frailty in that final round to think that even if he is right where he wants to be come day four it is not a foregone conclusion he will triumph. After all it takes a bit of luck to close things out on the final day and there is enough quality in this field to think it may just be someone else’s week.
That said though, with one or two exceptions, this has been an event over the years where the cream has risen to the top so I will largely keep my team to players who have pedigree at a high level and good course history, starting with Sungjae Im.
Im like many has taken a while to get to grips with Torrey Pines however he has eye catching progressively improving results here having finished 52nd on debut, 36th, 32nd and then sixth last year. Furthermore he was solid here at the US Open in 2021 finishing 35th. Overall then with his top ten here last year he has the perfect previous event form profile of many winners here over recent years.
Sungjae produced a solid 13th in week one of the year at the Sentry before struggling, as he regularly seems to do at the Sony, before then bouncing back at the Amex to finish 18th. A very similar opening in fact to 2023 to that which he had in 2022.
A look at Im’s resume on the PGA Tour shows us that he has produced a lot of his best stuff on tracks, which would be seen as ‘big boy’ courses comparable to the South course here, for example he has two top five finishes at Bay Hill, a tenth at Memorial, two top tens at Augusta and of course a win at the Honda, which ties nicely here through last year’s winner Luke List who narrowly lost out in a playoff at PGA National in 2018.
With limited strokes gained data from the week at the Amex it is hard to gage Sungjae’s performance there as a whole, however he was very strong from tee to green on the Stadium Course on Friday, gaining over two shots, before struggling slightly on Sunday on this front. If we go back a couple of starts though to the Sentry the Korean was dialled in from tee to green ranking fourth so if we put the Sony blip to one side all seems to be working pretty well.
Married in the winter break all seems good in the 24yr old’s world at the moment and you would also have to think that he has taken some inspiration from the success of his fellow countrymen Tom Kim and Si Woo Kim of late, and I am keen to side with him to deliver another great week for the Korean contingent.
MAX HOMA – 22-1 - 2pts E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 1st!!!!
Next up in a team which admittedly has a fair degree of predictability about it I will turn to Max Homa.
A native of California Homa is well known by now as something of a specialist in the Golden State having won three of his five PGA Tour titles on home turf, twice at the Fortinet and then at Riviera.
In fact a look at his record in California over the past three years reads, with most recent first, 1 10 MC 1 MC 1 7 18 21 5 6 9 48. That’s three wins and five other top ten finishes then in 13 starts so pretty impressive stuff.
The one slight concern of course is that the two MC’s both came here at Torrey Pines, once last year and once in 2021 at the US Open, however prior to that Max had finished 18th and 9th here so he has shown he can handle the track having posted the previous top ten here, which is so key.
A look at Max’s broader CV also offers encouragement as of course his maiden PGA Tour title came at Quail Hollow, which links nicely here through Jason Day, while he has also posted two top six finishes at The Memorial over the past couple of years, which again links very nicely here. Finally on this front he can boast two top 20s in his last two visits to Bay Hill.
Turning to Max’s form of late and having cooled off slightly after his win at the Fortinet he started 2023 in fine style with a third place finish at the Sentry where all areas of his game seemed in decent order so after a couple more weeks to work in his game he should be arriving back in California in a confident mood.
Twenty first on tour so far this season from tee to green and longer than average off the tee Max has all the attributes to perform well at Torrey Pines and I am keen to have him onside as he returns to his home state.
JASON DAY – 28/1 – 1.5pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 7th
Next up this week call me ‘Captain Obvious’ but I make no apologies for siding with Jason Day.
Finally, touch wood, healthy again there has been an awful lot to like about Day’s game over the past six months or so and he currently sits 41st in the Fedex Cup standings after a run of solid results in the Fall, which saw him post four top 21 finishes along side a couple of missed cuts.
Rolling in to 2023 and Day again caught the eye again at the American Express last week posting an 18th place finish, which saw him rank second on the greens over the two measured rounds on the Stadium Course while also performing strongly from tee to green.
Moving on from this and a look at Jason’s long game numbers for the season as a whole offers plenty of encouragement as he sits 22nd from tee to green, regularly the key here, and tenth in approach play.
In as positive a mindset as he has no doubt been with his game and indeed his health for a long while one would think Jason arrives this week at one of, if not his most favoured stops on the PGA Tour, Torrey Pines chomping at the bit. Granted there have been some blips here over the years with three MC’s in his last ten visits, however he also has two wins and four other top tens in his resume over that period including a third here last year.
In an event then that has a history of repeat winners, Day himself of course included, there is really not too much else to add to Jason’s blindingly obvious credentials this week and I feel compelled to have him onside.
GARY WOODLAND – 100/1 – 1pt E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 8 - FINISHED 62nd
Finally I am going to wrap things up this week by chancing that this will be a ‘go week’ for the somewhat inconsistent Gary Woodland, another player who fits the profile of winners here over the year perfectly.
Since bagging his career highlight, the US Open at Pebble Beach in 2019, it has been a rough ride for Gary with injuries, with a hip problem causing him to miss a chunk of time on tour.
The 21/22 season though at least saw Gary post some big finishes and it is notable for this week that his best efforts came at the correlating Honda and Bay Hill where he posted back to back fifth place efforts. Beyond that though in all honesty it was another disappointing campaign for Woodland as he only managed two further top ten’s, all be it with one of those coming at the US Open.
The 22/23 season has again started pretty patchily for Woodland although he landed a top ten in his last start before the Christmas break in Houston, before missing the cut in his first start of 2023 at the Sony.
Looking at that Sony performance though and it encapsulated where Gary’s game is at, at the moment, one poor round and one really strong one, as he followed Thursday’s 76 with a 65 on Friday! Encouragingly though he was really strong from tee to green on day two so we have to hope he has taken confidence from that having blown off some Christmas cobwebs on day one.
On to this week then and back to Woodland’s profile here, which is as a whole the key to this week and we see that he has made the cut here in nine of his past ten starts, posting two top tens along the way. He has the course experience we are looking for then and the big high finishes.
It has to be said you never quite know what you’re going to get from Gary these days however as we know he has a huge upside to him and at three figure odds on a course that plays to his strengths I can’t resist a roll of the dice.
UPDATED 24th JANUARY
SUB $7K DRAFT KINGS PICKS
PICK 1 - HARRISON ENDYCOTT - DK VALUE $6700 - FINISHED MC - DK POINTS 23
For my first play in this segment this week I will risk Harrison Endycott.
A rookie on tour this season Endycott earned his place in the big league courtesy of a 2022 Korn Ferry campaign, which saw him post a victory and two further top tens.
Based in Arizona while in the US the Aussie has performed well in his two California starts to date on tour finishing 12th at the Fortinet and 22nd last week at the Amex.
Endycott struck the ball really well from tee to green in the two measured rounds at the Stadium Course last week ranking ninth in this area and with this department also being his strength on the Korn Ferry Tour while not the longest off the tee Torrey Pines could well play to his strenghs.
With the 26yr old being a player on the 'up' then I am happy to risk him in this section this week at the price.
PICK 2 - KEVIN TWAY - DK VALUE $6600 - FINISHED 18th - DK POINTS 62
While my first selection is not one of the longer hitters on tour my second pick here Kevin Tway does fall in to that category.
While then Tway's tee to green stats over the years aren't necassarily what you would look for here in general, whether it be due to his length of the tee or just that the tracks fit his eye, he has always faired pretty well here making the cut in six of his seven visits. In addition with his lone PGA Tour title coming in California he no doubt has positive vibes when he returns to the Golden state.
Arriving then on the back of consecutive made cuts to start 2023 I will take Kevin here to stick around for all four days again.