Farmers Insurance Open: Aussies can rule again at Torrey Pines

Golfer Jason Day
Jason Day in action at last year's US PGA Championship

The PGA Tour visits Torrey Pines for the annual Farmers Insurance Open get together before we return in June for the US Open. Read our man's comprehensive preview of this week's event here...

"Leishman appears to be rounding in to form at just the right time following a 24th at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and a fourth at the Sony Open, where he ranked second for Greens In regulation."

Tournament History

Originally called the San Diego Open and first staged in 1952, the Farmers Insurance Open is now in its 69th 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.

The South Course is also the venue for this year's US open, which I looked at here back in December.

Venue

Torrey Pines, La Jolla, California.

Course Details

North Course, par 72, 7,258 yards, stroke average in 2020 - 70.57
South Course, par 72, 7,765 yards, stroke average in 2020 - 72.53

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

The South Course 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 and in preparation of the course hosting the US Open again this year, Jones has been back for another tweak.

Following its latest Rees Jones tinkering, the South Course is now the longest ever to be used on the PGA Tour. This piece here has more on the latest renovation.

The North Course had always differed quite significantly to the South but it underwent a renovation of its own, by Tom Weiskopf, prior to the 2017 renewal and the scoring differential between the two narrowed considerably since.

Tiger Woods at Farmers Open 2020.jpg

The North is more than 500 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 in each of the last four 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.

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.

In the two renewals prior to the North Course overhaul, there was a 3.57 strokes differential in the bad weather of 2016 and a difference of 3.29 in 2015 but in the three years following the alterations the North Course only averaged 1.49, 1.5 and 1.89 strokes easier and after the latest South Course reworking there was a difference of 1.96 strokes 12 months ago.

If you're betting in-running, the 18th is the toughest hole on the North Course but holes two, three and four are tough. Now known as The Undertow, that three-hole stretch averaged 0.7 strokes over-par last year and they were the second, third and fourth hardest holes on the course.

Weather Forecast

TV Coverage

Live on Sky Sports all four days, beginning with Featured Group coverage at 17:00 on Thursday and full coverage at 20:00.

Last Five Winners with Pre-event Exchange Prices

2020 - Marc Leishman -15 80.079/1
2019 - Justin Rose -21 19.018/1
2018 - Jason Day -10 26.025/1 (playoff)
2017 - Jon Rahm -13 55.054/1
2016 - Brandt Snedeker -6 19.018/1

What Will it Take to Win the Farmers Insurance Open?

Nothing really jumps out at you statistically here and, unsurprisingly for a championship course, most winners rank fairly highly in all or almost all categories.

The South Course is long so distance off the tee is advantageous and four of the last ten winners have ranked first or second for Driving Distance but Last year's winner, Marc Leishman, only ranked 34th for DD and Brandt Snedeker finished tied for third ranking 73rd. He also won the tournament in 2016 ranking 48thso a lack of length can be negated. I'd definitely favour DD over Driving Accuracy though - Leishman only ranked 58th for DA and when he won here for a second time, five years ago, Snedeker ranked 57th for DA.

We haven't seen any winner top the Greens In Regulation stats since Bubba Watson a decade ago but 16th is the worse any of the last sixth victors have ranked for that stat and although the 2019 winner, Justin Rose, had poor Scrambling figures, that's usually a key stat too. Rose ranked 58th two years ago but the average ranking of the last six winners is still only 17.7.

When Day won the title for a first time six years ago, his Putting Average ranking was only 33rd but four of the last five winners have ranked fourth or better and eight of the last nine winners have ranked inside the top-ten for Putting Average.

Is There an Angle In?

Jon Rahm went against the grain four 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. Last year's winner, Leishman, had twice finished up runner-up in the event previously and he was far from the first to give us an indication that he liked the place...

Scott Stallings hadn't made a cut here before winning seven 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 five years ago and Jason Day has also won the event twice. He was also ninth in 2013 and second in 2014.

Rose struggled to get to know the place but he had been fourth and eighth in the two years prior to his 2019 victory and 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, which has hosted many a Canadian Open, 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 editions of the Canadian Open at Glen Abbey, 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?

The 2014 winner, Scott Stallings was something of an anomaly and although a multiple PGA Tour winner, Ben Crane couldn't be described as top class either but every other winner going right the way back to the last century has been straight out of the top drawer and I'd think very carefully about backing a raft of outsiders.

Leishman has won a FedEx Cup playoff event, finished inside the top-ten at the US Masters twice and he's been placed in an Open Championship three times. And that includes a playoff defeat at St Andrews in 2015.

Rahm is 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 finfishes in major championships.

Every other winner dating back to 1996 has won a major championship.

Winner's Position and Exchange Price Pre-Round Four

2020 - Marc Leishman - T7th - trailing by four 48.047/1
2019 - Justin Rose led by three strokes 1.4840/85
2018 - Jason Day T4th - trailing by three 8.88/1
2017 - Jon Rahm T13th - trailing by three 55.054/1
2016 - Brandt Snedeker T27th - trailing by six 200.0199/1

In-Play Tactics

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

Leishman was 17th and six behind at halfway 12 months ago and he was still four adrift before round four. And he's far from the only winner to overcome a pedestrian beginning to the tournament...

Leishman wins the farmers.jpg

Justin Rose sat second and one back after round one in 2019 and he was never headed after that but he's the exception rather than the rule of late and Adam Scott, who was beaten by two in second place, was tied for 53rd after round one and he was still seven strokes off the lead at halfway.

Incredibly, Jason Day sat tied for 113th and fully eight strokes off the lead after the opening round in 2018, 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 four years ago.

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.

Leishman shot 68 around the North Course on day one last year and Rose opened up with a 63 around the North Course on day one two years ago but the previous eight winners had all been drawn there on day two so starting on the tougher South Course on Thursday is usually the way to go.

Going back to 1996, no first round leader has gone on to win and since the South Course was first toughened up, Tiger (2008 and 2013) and Rose two years ago, are the only halfway leaders to convert. And third round leaders tend to struggle too.

Like Rose two years ago, Woods was never headed in 2008 and 2013, once he'd hit the front at halfway, and he was also 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.

Leishman trailed by four last year, Day was tied for fifth and three adrift with a round to go in 2018, Rahm was tied for 13th and three back, Sneds trailed by six through 54 holes in 2016. On the first occasion he won here, Day was tied for eighth and two off the lead six years ago after three rounds, Stallings was three back and trading in excess of 30.029/1 seven years ago, Snedeker trailed by seven strokes after 54 holes in 2012 (when Kyle Stanley lost having led after the first three rounds and having been matched in-running at 1.011/100), and Watney had been five back three years earlier.

This is most definitely an event in which to take on the leaders.

Market Leaders

In addition to winning the event in 2017, Jon Rahm finished 29th when defending, fifth in 2019 and second last year, having led with a round to go and having hit a low in-running of 1.794/5.

The world number two finished 2020 with a second at the Zozo Championship and a seventh in the US Masters and he began this year with a seventh at the Sentry Tournament of Champions so he's nicely in the groove but he withdrew before the off at The American Express last week after picking up a minor injury in the gym. He's fractionally short for me but his chance is very obvious. And so too is Rory McIlroy's...

In his two visits to Torrey Pines to date Rory's finished fifth and third in each of the last two years and he arrives in California on the back of a reasonable third in Abu Dhabi last week, his first outing since he finished fifth in the US Masters back in November. There are negatives though. Abu Dhabi to California's a long ole haul, he traded at odds-on again in-running but fell away tamely last Sunday, and he bogeyed his first three holes here 12 months ago when bang in-contention.

Rory McIlroy in Abu Dhabi.jpg

San Diego native and US Open specialist, Xander Schauffele, really ought to love Torrey Pines but having teed it up here in each of the last five years, he's only ever made the weekend once, two years ago, and he could only finish 25th. That's hard to ignore.

Tony Finau has impressive course form figures reading 24-18-4-6-13-6 but yet again gave up a golden chance to win his second PGA Tour event last week at The American Express and although in tip-top form, the Sentry Tournament of Champions winner, Harris English, who was second here in 2015, having led after rounds two and three, also looks fractionally short.

Selections

Given how many previous winners prevail, I'm going with two very obvious Australians before the off, the two-time winner, Jason Day, who did me a favour here three years ago at a juicy price, and the defending champion, Marc Leishman.

Day missed the cut at the Masters in November but either side of that he finished seventh at the Houston Open and 12th in the RSM Classic where he ranked 15th for Greens In Regulation and second for Scrambling. He needs to the putter to warm up fractionally but that's in the price and he's won here fresh before.

After a very quiet time following his win last year, Leishman appears to be rounding in to form at just the right time following a 24th at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and a fourth at the Sony Open, where he ranked second for Greens In regulation. Defending a title is always tough but J.C Snead and Phil Mickelson have both managed it and Tiger Woods, who's won the event seven times in total, won it four times in-a-row between 2005 and 2008.

Selections:
Jason Day @ 44.043/1
Marc Leishman @ 50.049/1

I'll be back tomorrow with the Find Me a 100 Winner piece.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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