Farmers Insurance Open: The dawning of a new Day the value play at Torrey Pines

Jason Day – one of The Punter’s four picks at Torrey Pines
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The PGA Tour returns to iconic Torrey Pines this week where Tiger Woods makes an eagerly awaited return to the fray so read Steve's comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's start here...

“Day turned 30 in November and that significant landmark birthday could kickstart a revival. And if there is to be a renewal in fortunes it may well come here. He’s a bigger price than Tiger and that doesn’t make much sense to me.”

Tournament History

Originally called the San Diego Open and first staged in 1952, the Farmers Insurance Open is now in its 66th year. It's been played at Torrey Pines since 1968.

The event is played over two courses, with the entire field playing both the North and South Courses over the first two days before the weekend play is staged entirely on the tougher, longer, South Course.

After his promising performance in his own event in December, when he finished tied for ninth, Tiger Woods appears for the first time in 2018. The South Course was the scene of his last major win - the 2008 US Open - and he's won this event seven times so it's going to be fascinating to see how he fares.

Venue

Torrey Pines, La Jolla, California.

Course Details

North Course, par 72, 7,258 yards, stroke average in 2017 - 71.28
South Course, par 72, 7,698 yards, stroke average in 2017 - 72.77

Both courses were designed by Billy Bell Jr. and were opened in 1957.

At a couple of paces short of 7,700 yards, the South Course is extremely long and it's a tough test. It was extensively revamped in 2001, by Rees Jones; after it had been awarded the 2008 US Open, which an injured Tiger Woods went on to win in a play-off over Rocco Mediate.

The North Course had always differed quite significantly to the South but it underwent a renovation by Tom Weiskopf prior to last year's renewal and the scoring differential between the two narrowed considerably.

The North is still more than 400 yards shorter than the South, even after being lengthened by Weiskopf by a shade over 200 yards. Eighteen bunkers were removed and many others were moved to be more strategically placed. The two nines were reversed and two holes had their pars changed. The old par four eighth hole became the par five 17th (the easiest hole on the course last year) and the old par five ninth is now a par four and the 18th. The old par four 16th hole, which is now the new seventh hole, was shortened and is now drivable but it was no pushover 12 months ago. It averaged 3.79 and was the fifth easiest.

The biggest change was to the greens. They were increased in size by 40% and converted to Bentgrass. They used to be significantly smaller and slower than those on the South Course but they're now around 6,400 square feet and bigger than those on the South. Both courses' greens are expected to run fairly fast again at around 12 to 12.5 on the stimpmeter.

The South Course greens were converted to Bentgrass by Rees in 2001 but the poa annua has taken over again now and they're now back to being described as poa annua so it will be interesting to see what the North Course greens are like this time. Charles Howell III described them as 'phenomenal' and without a blade of poa annua last year.

The Tournament Director Peter Ripa didn't expect the changes to the North Course to make much difference, saying. "It may be a half stroke or three quarters of a stroke more challenging than it was in the past," but it played a bit tougher than expected.

There was a 3.57 strokes differential in the bad weather of 2016 and the difference was 3.29 in 2015 but the North Course only averaged 1.49 strokes easier last year and only one player bettered 67 on either day. Justin Rose fired a seven-under-par 65 on day one.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days beginning at 20:00 on Thursday but there is also the bonus of live Featured Group coverage on Thursday and Friday, starting at 16:45.

Last Five Winners

2017 - Jon Rahm -13
2016 - Brandt Snedeker -6
2015 - Jason Day -9 (play-off)
2014 - Scott Stallings -9
2013 - Tiger Woods -14

What Will it Take to Win the Farmers Insurance Open?

This is a very difficult event to assess statistically with nothing standing out at all. The South Course is long but you can't just overpower it. The rough is thick and the fairways are fairly narrow. The field manages to find the short grass off the tee only a fraction over 50% of the time so that would lead one towards the more accurate off the tee but that doesn't really work either.

With the fairways being that hard to hit, even the most accurate from the tee will miss them and as the more accurate types tend to be the shorter hitters, a missed fairway for them is nearly always going to lead to a bogey at least. It's hard to work out though. Patrick Rodgers and Justin Rose made the top-eight ranking joint first for Driving Distance last year but so did C.T Pan and Charles Howell III ranking 64th and 67th.

For the record, the last six winners have had an average Greens In Regulation ranking of 21.33 and an average Putting Average ranking of 11.0 but it's tough to get a strong statistical angle in. Rahm ranked between 10th and 19th for all the key stats last year and that probably gives us the best indication.

Is There an Angle In?

Jon Rahm went against the grain last year as he was the first debutant to win at Torrey Pines since the event moved there 50 years ago and even if we disregard seven-time winner, Tiger Woods, course form has been a huge indicator.

Scott Stallings hadn't made a cut here before winning four years ago but he was very much the exception rather than the rule and it's worth noting that he followed up his win with a second 12 months later. Brandt Snedeker was winning here for a second time when he got lucky with the draw in foul conditions two years ago and Jason Day was trending nicely three years ago, having finished ninth in 2013 and second in 2014. Ben Crane, Nick Watney and even shock 2004 winner, John Daly, had all finished inside the top-10 in at least one of their previous two tournament appearances so despite last year's result, think very carefully before backing someone with little or no previous at the track.

Glen Abbey
, home of the Canadian Open for the last three years provides far and away the strongest course correlation. Last year's winner, Jon Rahm, was runner-up in the Canadian Open in 2016, Jhonattan Vegas, who's won the last two editions of the Canadian Open, finished third here on debut in 2011, Farmers winners, Jason Day and Bubba Watson finished one and two in Canada in 2015, and recent Glen Abbey winners, Brandt Snedeker and Tiger Woods are multiple Torrey Pines winners.

I recognise that one could argue that Woods, Day, Watson, Snedeker and Rahm are just high quality players that can win anywhere but in addition to those five and Vegas of course, it's also worth highlighting that the 2009 winner of the Canadian Open at Glen Abbey, Nathan Green, who was a huge outsider, also finished runner-up at Torrey Pines in 2006 at a massive price.

Is There an Identikit Winner

Stallings was something of an anomaly and although a multiple PGA Tour winner, Ben Crane couldn't be described as top-class but every other winner going right back to the last century has been straight out of the top drawer.

Rahm is now the world number two and surely destined to become a major winner, the 2009 champion, Nick Watney, has won a WGC event, a FedEx Cup playoff event and should arguably have won the 2010 USPGA Championship and Snedeker, successful in 2012 and 2016, is a FedEx Cup winner with multiple victories on the PGA Tour and a plethora of high finishes in major championships. Every other winner dating back to 1996 has won a major.

In-Play Tactics

After an opening level-par 72 around the South course, Rahm sat tied for 77th and seven off the lead after round one and he was still outside the top ten and five adrift at halfway. And he was far from the first to start slowly.

The 2016 result was barmy. Snedeker sat seven, eight and six adrift after rounds one, two and three before firing a quite remarkable three-under-par 69 in round four in vile conditions. That saw him close to within one of the lead and when play was eventually called for the day the leader, and most of the field, returned on Monday to finish off and none of them could post better than Sneds as the wind and rain continued to punish. Although that was an unusual renewal, weather wise, winning from off the pace here is far from unusual, even in decent conditions...

The last seven winners have all been drawn on the North Course on day two but I'm not convinced that's significant now the changes have been made to the North. Rahm only shot 69 there on day two last year (post-course changes) and Snedeker shot a lacklustre two-under par 70 in 2016 (had been two-over early on!) but the five winners before Sneds all made giant strides on day two around the North - firing rounds of 65, 67, 65, 64 and 65. Considering Rose was the only man to better 67 around the North last year, I suspect we won't see big moves like those made between 2011 and 2015 with quite so much frequency, if at all.

Going back to 1996, there's not been a single wire-to-wire winner and since the South Course was toughened up, Tiger (2008 and 2013) is the only halfway leader to convert. And third round leaders struggle too.

Having hit the front at halfway, Woods was never headed in 2008 and 2013 and he was in front after round three in 2003 but the only other third round leaders to go on to win this century are Phil Mickelson in 2000 and John Daly in 2004 and the latter needed to win a three-man play-off.

Rahm was tied for 13th and three back with a round to go last year, Sneds trailed by six through 54 holes in 2016, Day was tied for eighth and two off the lead three years ago after three rounds, Stallings was three back and trading in excess of [30.0] four years ago, Snedeker trailed by seven strokes after 54 holes in 2012 (when Kyle Stanley lost having been matched in-running at [1.01]), and Watney had been five back three years earlier. This is definitely an event to take on the leaders.

Market Leaders

Just like his fellow Spaniard, Sergio Garcia, who plays in Dubai this week, having won in Singapore last week, Jon Rahm is attempting to win back-to-back tournaments while defending a title and that's a really big ask.

I know Tommy Fleetwood successfully defended only last week but it really is a tough thing to do and even though he won last week in California, I'm not entirely convinced Rahm was at his absolute best. That was a much weaker event in conditions that suited him perfectly and he looks short enough this week.

Rickie Fowler has a decent record here, with a fourth and fifth placed finish in 2010 and 2013 but he's really struggled here of late and his last four attempts have yielded form figures reading MC-61-MC-MC. He appears to have fallen out of love with Torrey Pines and he too looks a skinny price.

Hideki Matsuyama is extremely consistent but his form here is anything but. In four visits he's produced figures that read 16-MC-MC-33 and he'll be of more interest next week when he attempts to win his third Waste Management Phoenix Open in-a-row.

Justin Rose's fast start saw him lead at halfway last year but he fell to finish fourth eventually and that was by some distance his best performance here. That was his ninth visit and his first top-20 finish. He's missed the cut here four times and he's not for me.

Like every other golf fan on the planet, I'm looking forward to seeing Tiger Woods play again but there's no way I want to play him at just [25.0]. His last three visits have seen him miss the secondary cut in 2014, withdraw in 2015 and miss the cut in 2017 and I just think this is too hard a test for someone playing so infrequently. I know he has an incredible record here but I'll be very surprised if he's in the shake-up on Sunday.

Selections

First up, the 2015 winner and former world number one, Jason Day. The Australian hasn't won anywhere since he took the prestigious Players Championship in May 2016. He went close in the Byron Nelson Championship in May of 2017 but he's been largely disappointing so he's a hopeful small punt but I thought he was just about worth risking at [26.0].

Day turned 30 in November and that significant landmark birthday could kickstart a revival. And if there is to be a renewal in fortunes it may well come here. He's a bigger price than Tiger and that doesn't make much sense to me.

I really like the Glen Abbey angle in so I've played Jhonattan Vegas and last year's runner-up Charley Hoffman and I was quite surprised to be able to back Harris English at a triple-figure price. His form figures here read 43-73-2-31-14 and he caught the eye last week when a fast finishing 11th.


Selections:
Jason Day @ [26.0]
Jhonattan Vegas [70.0]
Charley Hoffman @ [75.0]
Harris English @ [110.0]


I'm taking a bit of time off this weekend so Paul Krishnamurty is going to cover the In-Play Blog and De-brief and I'll be back with the previews again next week.


*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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