Farmers Insurance Open: Duel winner and defending champ value to rack up the hat-trick

Golfer Jason Day
Defending champ- Jason Day

The PGA Tour returns to Torrey Pines this week where world number one, Justin Rose, course specialist, Tiger Woods, and course debutant, Rory McIlroy, are all in attendance. Read Steve's comprehensive preview ahead of Thursday's start here...

“Glen Abbey, home of the Canadian Open for the last four years provides far and away the strongest course correlation. Jon Rahm was runner-up in the Canadian Open in 2016, Jhonattan Vegas, who’s won two of the last three 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.”

Tournament History

Originally called the San Diego Open and first staged in 1952, the Farmers Insurance Open is now in its 67th 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.

Venue

Torrey Pines, La Jolla, California.

Course Details

North Course, par 72, 7,258 yards, stroke average in 2018 - 71.31
South Course, par 72, 7,698 yards, stroke average in 2018 - 72.81

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 only two of the ten par fours measure less than 437 yards. The 12th, the hardest on the course again last year, actually measures in excess of 500 yards! It's a tough and very lengthy 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 the 2017 renewal and the scoring differential between the two has narrowed considerably since.

The North is still more than 400 yards shorter than the South, even after being lengthened by Weiskopf by a shade over 200 yards. 18 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 in each of the last two years) 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 3.85 and was the sixth 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 course's 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 back to being described as poa annua.

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 in 2017, with only one player bettering 67 on either day. Justin Rose fired a seven-under-par 65 on day one. Last year the scores were very similar to 2017 and the North Course averaged exactly 1.5 strokes easier.

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 16:15.

Last Five Winners

2018 - Jason Day --10 (playoff)
2017 - Jon Rahm -13
2016 - Brandt Snedeker -6
2015 - Jason Day -9 (playoff)
2014 - Scott Stallings -9

What Will it Take to Win the Farmers Insurance Open?

This is a very difficult event to assess statistically with nothing standing out clearly.

The South Course is long and distance off the tee is definitely advantageous. Last year's winner, Jason Day, ranked second for Driving Distance and seven of the top eight ranked for DD finished inside the top-12 and ties 12 months ago 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 could lead one towards the more accurate off the tee but that doesn't really work.

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. I'd just favour length over accuracy but Total Driving is arguably the best driving metric to look at. Day ranked 26th for Driving Accuracy so he was long and fairly accurate and he ranked fifth for Total Driving.

Ryan Palmer, who was beaten in a playoff last year, ranked first for TD and Keegan Bradley, who finished fifth, ranked second for that stat.

As you'd expect form a major championship venue, the South Course is a tough all-round test and you have to do everything well to win. None of the last five winners have ranked any better than 10th for Greens In Regulation but 23rd (Scott Stallings) is the worst any have ranked and the five year average rankling is just 14.4. And it's worth noting that the four players tied for second behind Stallings, all ranked eighth or better for GIR.

Similarly, the worst any of the last five winners has ranked for Scrambling is 24th (Stallings again) and the average ranking of the five is 13.6.

When Day won the title for a first time four years ago, his Putting Average ranking was only 33rd but four of the last five have ranked 10th or better for that stat, the five-year average is 12.2 and Day ranked a much-improved fourth last year.

Is There an Angle In?

Jon Rahm went against the grain two years ago as he was the first debutant to win at Torrey Pines since the event moved there 50 years previous 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 five 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 three years ago and Jason Day has also now won the event twice. He was also 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 the 2017 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 four years provides far and away the strongest course correlation. Jon Rahm was runner-up in the Canadian Open in 2016, Jhonattan Vegas, who's won two of the last three 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 looks like a major winner in waiting, the 2009 winner, 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 wins 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

In stark contrast to this week's European Tour event, the Dubai Desert Classic (previewed here) where you need to concentrate on the leaders from very early on, the winners here can overcome a snail-like start.

Jason Day sat tied for 113th and fully eight strokes off the lead after the opening round last year, following a one-over-par knock around the South Course, and after an opening level-par 72 around the South Course, Rahm sat tied for 77th and seven off the lead after round one two years ago. And they're 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 eight 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. Day went nuts there 12 months ago, firing in 64 to move right up to sixth at halfway but Rahm only shot 69 there on day two 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.

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.

Day was tied for fifth and three adrift with a round to go last year, Rahm was tied for 13th and three back, Sneds trailed by six through 54 holes in 2016, Day was tied for eighth and two off the lead four years ago after three rounds, Stallings was three back and trading in excess of 30.029/1 five years ago, Snedeker trailed by seven strokes after 54 holes in 2012 (when Kyle Stanley lost having been matched in-running at 1.011/100), and Watney had been five back three years earlier. This is definitely an event to take on the leaders.

Market Leaders

The 2017 winner, Jon Rahm, heads the market and he will perhaps feel he could be arriving this year in search of the hat-trick given he sat second and just one off the lead at halfway 12 months ago when defending. The course clearly suits him and he's in fair form but I'm not sure he strikes me as a terrific price given the ridiculous amount of strength on show.

Having opened up the last 11 years in Abu Dhabi or South Africa, Rory McIlroy began 2019 in Hawaii with an impressive fourth in his first event Sentry Tournament of Champions event. His impressive long game should be very well suited to the track but he's making his Torrey Pines debut this week and as highlighted above, that has to be viewed as a negative.

Mr Torrey Pines - Tiger Woods - arrives here with far more hope and expectation than he has in each of the last four years. He missed the 2016 renewal, withdrew injured in 2015 and missed the cut in 2017 so last year's 23rd was a much-improved effort but ultimately, still a bit disappointing. Day managed to win after a couple of months off the track 12 months ago but I'd still view the lack of a recent outing as a slight negative but if Tiger can rock up at East Lake and take the Tour Championship, as he did last year, don't be surprised to see him win here at one of his favourite venues.

World number one, Justin Rose, is a tremendous driver but it's taken him a long while to get to grips with the track. He was fourth in 2017 and eighth last year, so he's clearly getting there now but I'm happy to swerve him as he gets to grips with his new Honma clubs. His 34th placed finish last week at the Desert Classic has to be viewed as a bit disappointing.

Defending champ and two-time winner, Jason Day looks fairly priced at 20.019/1 and I much prefer his chances to San Diego native, Xander Schauffele, given he's been here three times previously and missed the cut every time. He was extremely impressive when wining the Sentry TOC from off the pace last time out and he really should know the course intimately but that course form is a bit disconcerting.

Selections

Jason Day missed the cut on the last occasion he defended but there's no reason to think that's an issue. He finished runner-up in the USPGA Championship when defending and I fancy he'll be up for this after his decent enough warm up at Kapalua, where he finished with a 66 to finish 13th. I was onboard at 26.025/1 last year and I'm happy to back him again at 20.019/1.

Gary Woodland put in a poor effort at the Sony Open last time out but I'm really not surprised. He did absolutely nothing wrong at the Sentry TOC the week before when Schauffele basically stole the event. He must have been very deflated after that and the no show at Waialae was completely understandable. He's been in great form for a while now, he was fourth at Glen Abbey in 2017, and he has a reasonable set of form figures here, reading MC-58-MC-27-10-45-18-20-12, but the numbers don't tell the whole story at all.

Woodland fell from first to 10th in round four in 2014, got murdered by the weather in 2016, when he shot 82 in appalling conditions in the final round to tumble from third and one adrift to 18th and eight behind the winner and he was alongside Day 12 months ago with a round to go before a disappointing 75 saw him slip to 12th. I thought 36.035/1 was fair.

I like all three of Dave Tindall's picks and I'm following him with Brandt Snedeker. I've been a little slow of the mark this week so I've missed the ridiculously big 65.064/1 he was matched at but 50.049/1 is more than acceptable given he's already won the event twice and that he's in fair form.

Billy Horschel's just a speculative punt on account of him being simply too big on the exchange. After a great finish to last season, he's been a bit quiet of late but he was eighth here in 2016 and he ranked number one for Total Driving last year on the PGA Tour.

I've missed the really big prices on two-time Canadian Open winner, Jhonattan Vegas, but given I backed him here at 70.069/1 last year, I felt I had to include him at three times that price. And finally, he's not in great form but given how well course form stands up here, I couldn't resist Scott Stallings at 400.0399/1.

Selections:
Jason Day @ 21.020/1
Gary woodland 36.035/1
Brandt Snedeker @ 50.049/1
Billy Horschel @ 110.0109/1
Jhonattan Vegas 230.0229/1
Scott Stallings @ 400.0399/1

I'll be back on Thursday or Friday with the In-Play Blog

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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