Farmers Insurance Open Preview

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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 – don’t expect that to be the case this week. Torrey Pines is one of the longest courses the tour plays and has a U.S. Open pedigree, which breeds a quality course, but not the most entertaining from a viewer’s perspective. While the scenery is superior, Torrey Pines always reminds me of Firestone with the abundance of tough, long par-4s and limited leaderboard volatility.

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The elite field makes this week’s event one of the premiere events on the PGA Tour. Much of the pre-tournament hubbub will be about Tiger’s debut. Although he played at the Hero World Challenge in December, playing this week is a different beast.

Tiger owns Torrey Pines. He’s won there eight times in his career and in year’s past, his C+ game was good enough to win.

U.S. Open - Final Round

That Tiger, however, won’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 Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman in the first two rounds, which should be a comfortable pairing for Woods. That was not the case in this event last year as Tiger had to play with Dustin Johnson and Jason Day in the first two rounds. Tiger is close with both players, but their prodigious length could not be ignored and Tiger was uncomfortable playing 20-30 yards behind is playing partners.

Tiger is no doubt comfortable on this course, but I was of the mindset that he should have played at the Sony or Palm Springs. Both courses allow a ton of birdies and they are friendly climate to an aging player with back issues.

Although the weather seems to be in Tiger’s corner this week with warm, dry temperatures in the forecast, Torrey Pines is a demanding course, especially from the tee – not Tiger’s specialty.

The damp and cool weather in the past has caused some issues to his back, but this week the narrow fairways and demanding approach shots will be his main competition.

The bottomline is that Tiger’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 Course(s):

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.

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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 over 10 years ago in preparation of hosting the 2008 U.S. Open, and it is a monster. Torrey’s length is its main defense and the rough is always troublesome.

The soft conditions will make the greens easier to hit, but the players will be coming into the green with much longer clubs. The bumps poa annua always causes fits as it grows in the afternoon and players 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 Year’s Event:

Powered by two eagles in his final six holes, rookie Jon Rahm earned his first career victory at the 2017 Farmers Insurance Open.

Rahm was the first Spaniard to win at Torrey Pines since Jose Maria Olazabal in 2002 and his win marked the first time since Jay Don Blake in 1991 that a player made the Farmers Insurance Open their first tour victory. Rahm’s final round 65 was the low round of the day and included a back nine 30.

The leaderboard was cluttered for much of the final round. At one point, there were 16 players within two shots of the lead. While most of the lead groups were stuck in neutral, Keegan Bradley and Charles Howell III made early charges before Rahm put his hat in the ring with an eagle on the par-5 13th.

Rahm then broke out of a tie for the lead with a birdie on 17 and punctuated his win by holing a meandering, downhill 60-footer for eagle on 18. Even with some groups remaining on the course, the eagle put Rahm’s lead out of reach and will go down as one of the most memorable moments in tournament history.

What a difference a year makes. One year ago, Rahm did not have a permanent status on the PGA Tour and now, if he defends his title, he will move to No. 1 in the world.

 

Most Memorable Moment(s):

The Good:

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 Riley’s birdie attempt succumbed to one of the cruelest horseshoes I’ve ever seen.

The Bad:

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 Ugly

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 Mickelson’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.

Dark Horse:

Martin Laird: Laird is a quality ball striker that can contend if his putter cooperated. The Scotsman, while inconsistent at times, tends to find himself on the leaderboard at big events.

Otter Room Pick:

Justin Rose (-11): Humble-brag, but we are 2/3 with our picks this year with our calls of Dustin Johnson at Kapalua and Jon Rahn at the CareerBuilder last week. This week we are going with Justin Rose. Rose was hot at the end of last season and had a dominant run overseas in November and December. The former U.S. Open champion has the length to compete and the championship pedigree to win at a U.S. Open track.

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