A loaded field makes it way to Torrey Pines this week as the Farmers Insurance Open kicks off a five-week stretch of elite tournaments.
The story of the PGA Tour season to date has been the low scoring - donâ€™t expect that to be the case this week. Torrey Pines is one of the longest courses the tour plays and with the deluge Southern California has received in the last few weeks, the track will play even longer.
The elite field makes this weekâ€™s event one of the premiere events on the PGA Tour. Much of the pre-tournament hubbub will be about Tigerâ€™s debut. Although he played at the Hero World Challenge in December, this week marks the first PGA Tour sanctioned event he has participated in since August 2015.
Tiger owns Torrey Pines. Heâ€™s won there eight times in his career and in years past, his C+ game was good enough to win.
That Tiger, however, wonâ€™t be teeing it up Thursday, but there is optimism in the golfing circles that his improved health and game can propel him to a comeback.
Woods will play with Dustin Johnson and Jason Day in the first two rounds. That pairing will be an interesting test of Tigerâ€™s patience. Both Day and Johnson can drive the ball 325 yards with no problem - Tiger doesnâ€™t have that type of length anymore.
Can Tiger play his own game and be comfortable hitting his approach shots from 20-25 yards behind his playing companions? Weâ€™ll find out Thursday.
The bottomline is that Tigerâ€™s game is still shrouded in mystery like it has been for much of this decade. No one knows the shape of his game, but everyone would agree that simply making the cut this week would be a huge step in the right direction.
The event is played over two courses for the first two days, while the South course takes center stage for the weekend. For years, there was a drastic dichotomy between the North and South courses. The South was a major championship venue, while the North was nothing more than a muni.
However, the North course has undergone a $12.6 million renovation and can now be talked about in the same sentence as the South. The North course now incorporates the coastline, which is a staple of golf course architecture in the San Diego area. The course used to feel like you were playing in a park, but the renovations make it championship caliber and it is worthy of hosting such a prestigious event.
The South Course is as tough of a test as any on the PGA Tour. The track went under a renovation about 10 years ago in preparation of hosting the 2008 U.S. Open, and it is a monster. Torreyâ€™s length is its main defense, but because of the amount of rain the region has received, the rough will be especially thick - placing an enhanced importance on hitting the fairway.
The season theme of low scores will come to an end this weekend. The soft conditions will make the greens easier to hit, but the players will be coming into the green with much longer clubs and will have a tough time even reaching the green if they find the rough. I would be shocked if the winning score was any lower than 12-under.
Last Yearâ€™s Event:
The 2016 Farmers Insurance Open had one of the strangest final rounds in recent memory. Jimmy Walker and K.J. Choi were tied for the lead after 54 holes, but Sundayâ€™s conditions were brutal. Rain and 40 mile-per-hour winds swept across the golf course and scores skyrocketed.
Brandt Snedeker, who began the day at T-26, shot an incredible three-under 69 to give himself the clubhouse lead at six-under. Snedekerâ€™s provided the only under par round of the day and he bested the fieldâ€™s scoring average by more than six shots.
With the leaders in the early stages of the back nine, conditions worsened enough to where play was called for the day. When the final round resumed on Monday, there was sunny skies, but the wind was just as menacing as the day before.
The weather continued to get the best of those in contention and Snedekerâ€™s six-under total proved to be good enough for his eighth career win and second victory at Torrey Pines.
Most Memorable Moment(s):
The 2004 Famers Insurance Open (known as the Buick Invitational at the time) saw John Daly defeat Luke Donald and Chris Riley in a playoff to earn his first win since the 1995 British Open. Daly hit a superb 100-foot bunker shot with water just a few feet beyond the hole to tap-in range for a birdie, while Donald missed his birdie putt and Rileyâ€™s birdie attempt succumbed to one of the cruelest horseshoes Iâ€™ve ever seen.
The 2012 Framers Insurance Open was in the bag for Kyle Stanley. He came into the final round nursing a five stroke lead and eventually held a three-shot advantage heading into the last hole. Stanley and had just under 80 yards for his third shot into the par-5 18th, but that was when disaster struck.
Stanley spun his ball off the green and into the water. He eventually made a triple bogey eight and went into a playoff with Brandt Snedeker. Both players birdied the first playoff hole, but Stanley missed a five-foot putt on the second playoff hole to lose to Snedeker.
Amazingly enough, after that brutal heartbreak, Stanley rebounded to win the Waste Management Open the very next week.
The 2001 Farmers Insurance Open was lost more than it was won. After Davis Love III bowed out on the 16th, the second playoff hole, Phil Mickelson and Frank Lickliter made their way to the 17th hole. Phil had the honor on the hole and sliced his drive into the ravine, seemingly gifting the tournament to Lickliter. Lickliter ripped his tee shot and picked up his tee briskly, usually a cue that the drive is right down the middle - not this time. Lickliter had in fact followed Mickelsonâ€™s ball into the ravine as well.
The both hit provisionals and it got stranger from there. Both provisionals found the fairway, but some fans were looking for the initial tee balls, against the wished of Mickelson and Lickliter (if the balls were found, they would be deemed an unplayable instead of a lost ball, so the player would have to re-tee as opposed to playing their provisional already in the fairway).
Both balls were found and both players had to go back to the tee. Eventually, Mickelson made double bogey and Lickliter had 12 feet for bogey and the win. He blasted the putt six feet by the hole, missed the comeback attempt, and Phil won the event with a six on the third playoff hole.
The video is here and a little long, but this will show how bizarre the sequence of events were on that hole.
Jon Rahm: I am expecting a break out year for Rahm and that form could start this week. After a decorated amateur career at Arizona State, the Spaniard turned pro last year and is one of the “canâ€™t-miss” prospects on tour.
Otter Room Pick:
Dustin Johnson (-11): Dustin Johnsonâ€™s length will be a huge advantage this week at Torrey Pines. Although he has not had a ton of success in this event, Johnsonâ€™s improved wedge game will be on display as he turns long par-4s into pitch and putts.
Sidenote: If you are unfamiliar with the “No Laying Up” podcast, you should definitely give it a listen. It gives great insight to life on tour both inside and outside the ropes. This week Alan Shipnuck of Sports Illustrated was the guest and he told a great story regarding Johnson, his girlfriend, and Natalie Guilbis - the Johnson story begins at the 47:00 mark.
Below is another great story about Johnson - dude has the life.
A buddy of mine has a fantastic DJ story from his amateur days pic.twitter.com/z9anmnme7t
— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) January 25, 2017