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Farmers Insurance Open preview

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This week the PGA Tour stops at one of the most coveted courses on its schedule, Torrey Pines. The Farmers Insurance Open is played annually on both the North and South Course. Each player plays both courses once before the cut is made, and then the remaining 36 holes are played on the South Course.

One player teeing it up this week, that will cause more of a buzz than anyone else is seven-time winner of this event, as well as the 2008 U.S Open winner here, Tiger Woods. Woods is making his second start since returning from his extended injury lay-off. He finished middle of the pack (15th) after a disappointing final round 76 at the Hero World Challenge back in December. Woods did however lead the field in birdies, which is a positive sign. Returning to a course he has enjoyed so much success at should spur him on to better things, should his health allow. We saw plenty of good swings on his last start, and a good short game at times, so he will be hoping for more of the same this week.

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Aside from Woods, there are plenty of big names in the field this week. Jason Day (#1), Dustin Johnson (#3), Hideki Matsuyama (#6) and Patrick Reed (#9) ensure that the top-10 in the World are well represented this week. Matsuyama has won on four of his last seven starts, twice foiled by Justin Thomas. Thomas beat Matsuyama at both the CIMB Classic and the SBS Tournament of Champions, to deny Matsuyama of total dominance. Matsuyama’s last start resulted in a T27 finish at the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Johnson is also enjoying a good run of form and will be looking for a win this week to cap it off. Johnson finished T3 at the Hero World Challenge, T6 at the SBS Tournament of Champions and then went over to the Middle East and secured a T2 finish at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship last week.

Matsuyama finished 16th here on debut in 2014 but followed that up with two missed cuts since, whilst Johnson’s form here has been indifferent. He finished 3rd here in 2011, 18th in 2016 and 19th in 2009, however has failed to impress otherwise. Two missed cuts and no better finish than 37th completes his form book here in 8 starts at this event. He also finished 37th at the 2008 U.S Open.

Day has only played once recently, finishing 12th at the SBS Tournament of Champions. He has a good recent record here though. In his last four starts he has finished MC, 1, 2 and 9th. Prior to that, he had another missed cut, a 35th and a 49th. Day is a different player these days, so his recent record is all you need to focus on. As a result I think he should be favourite.

Reed was a late entry this week, signing up just yesterday. In two starts here he has withdrawn (2016) and finished 39th on his debut in 2013. Given his lack of appearances here, and his late decision to enter, it will be interesting to see how he performs this time around.

Given the strength of the field, there is some great value available on some very good players.

The Courses

Torrey Pines GC (South), 7,698 yards, Par 72 (One of the first two rounds and the final two)

Torrey Pines GC (North), 7,258 yards, Par 72 (One of the first two rounds)

How to win the Farmers Insurance Open?

A lot depends on the weather. These courses (particularly the South Course) become a lot trickier in adverse weather conditions. No year has proved that more than 2016. Brandt Snedeker shot a 69 on the Sunday during strong storms, whilst the remaining players on the course had to finish on Monday. He was one shot adrift when play resumed on the Monday, but winds from the opposite direction meant Jimmy Walker, Kevin Streelman and most notably KJ Choi failed to better Snedeker. Choi bogied No.14 to fall behind Snedeker and he failed to make up for this.

Snedeker’s -6 winning score was the highest at Torrey Pines since 1979 and the average final-round score was 77.9 last year. This is the highest of its kind since the Tour started collecting such records in 1983.

As it stands the forecast is rain before the event, and as such, this event should be nowhere near as tough as it was in 2016.

Another thing to bear in mind is the recent curse of the 54-hole leader. Woods is the only winner in the last 13 years to have sealed the deal after leading thru three rounds. Kyle Stanley of course came close in 2012, but his triple-bogey on the 18th hole gave Snedeker the chance to win the first of his two Farmers Insurance Open trophies.

The South Course is one for the bigger hitters. Although some shorter hitters (see KJ Choi and Brandt Snedeker) have won this event, they have done due to their superior accuracy. The fairways on the South Course are particularly tough to hit, hence why the bigger hitters have an advantage. If you are going to miss the fairway, being closer to the hole can be highly beneficial.

The North Course has undergone a $12m renovation by Tom Weiskopf since the event last year, so whilst we are unsure how it will play this year, it should still remain the easier of the two courses. The North Course still remains over 400 yards shorter than the South Course.

The course record at the South Course still remains 62 which was shot by Woods in 1999. The record at the old North Course was 61, shot by both Mark Brooks (1990) and Snedeker (2007). If the North Course, as expected plays slightly tougher, the 61 may remain intact, whilst the 62 from Tiger on the South Course has already stood the test of time.

Course experience and form is also key. Players don’t win here on their first start at the course. A debutant has not won on this course since the event moved here back in 1968. It doesn’t necessarily have to be good previous form, although a previous top-10 is generally a strong indicator. Scott Stallings won here in 2014 after missing his previous two cuts at the course, but as a rule winners tend to have good previous finishes before finally breaking through. Snedeker who won in 2016 and 2012 already had four top-10’s at the course, whilst Jason Day had two before his win in 2015. Bubba Watson (2011 winner) and Ben Crane (2010 winner) also had top-10’s here before their win.

Whilst I wouldn’t rule out those without a previous top-10 here, it is clearly advantageous and was a big part of the decision-making process.

Here are my picks for the 2017 Farmers Insurance Open.

Brandt Snedeker 30/1 (BetFred) 1.5pts e/w

Snedeker has won here on two occasions, most notably last year in testing conditions and he can become just the third player at the course with more than two wins. Woods of course has eight wins here (including 2008 U.S Open) and Phil Mickelson has three wins in the event itself.

It has been an up and down start for Snedeker so far in the 2016/17 season. He has finished T6 at the Hero World Challenge and T12 at the Tournament of Champions but missed the cut at the Sony Open, so a mixed bag thus far. He also finished T45 at the RSM Classic, his first start of the new season. Returning to a course he is clearly fond of hopefully brings out the best in him.

In his ten starts at this event, Snedeker has two wins, two 2nd’s a 3rd and two further top-10’s. He has missed the cut just twice in that span.

Not many players have better form around Torrey Pines (Woods the obvious exception) so 30/1 looks good value. Mickelson of course has three wins here, but since finishing 2nd in 2011 he has missed four cuts and placed 51st so the magic may have gone for him here.

Shane Lowry 80/1 (StanJames 6 places) 1pt e/w

Shane Lowry made a splash state-side in 2015 winning the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. In addition to his win here, he played very well for most of the 2016 US Open finishing T2 behind Dustin Johnson.

A player capable of playing in bad conditions is always good to have on side and with Snedeker and Lowry we have two.

What also appeals about Lowry is his course history. He’s played here on two occasions, finishing 7th on debut in 2015 and 13th here last year.

Given his impressive debut, and subsequent follow up performance, I think it’s clear he likes Torres Pines and at 80/1 looks good value.

In his last two starts he finished T23 at the WGC-HSBC Champions and followed that up with a T19 at the DP World Tour Championship so his current form is also trending in the right direction. A final round 77 cost Lowry at the WGC, although he would still have been some way off winner, Matsuyama.

He can improve on that T7 on debut and at 80/1 if he can even just crack the top-6 it will ensure a decent return.

Jhonattan Vegas 150/1 (Betfair, Betfred, PaddyPower) 0.5pt e/w

Vegas enjoyed a huge return to form in 2016, notably winning the RBC Canadian Open. The Venezuelan had to hold off Dustin Johnson, Martin Laird and rising star Jon Rahm, beating them by a solitary stroke.

The now two-time PGA Tour winner posted a further four top-10’s last season, three of which were top-5’s.

Although he hasn’t been pulling up trees of late, he does have  a T10 finish to his name already this season, at the OHL Challenge at Mayakoba.

Last week he finished T34 at the CareerBuilder Challenge and I am hoping he can greatly improve on that this week.

Vegas has enjoyed relative success at Torrey Pines, notably finishing 3rd on debut in 2011. Between 2012-2014 he struggled but still made the cut two out of three times. It’s his last two starts here that give hope though. In 2015 he finished 11th and a year later finished T18. Back-to-back top-20’s are always a good sign, so I remain confident he can play well again here this week.

After adding his second PGA Tour win, he should come in to this event with renewed confidence, especially given it’s a course he has enjoyed in the past. At 150/1 I thought he was worth chancing.

Bud Cauley 175/1 (Bet365) 0.5pt e/w

When Cauley burst onto the PGA Tour scene in 2011 much was expected of the American, almost six years on and he remains winless.

Cauley has gone close on a couple of occasions though. He finished 3rd at the Frys.com Open in 2011 and also as recently as last week, where he again finished 3rd this time at the CareerBulilder Challenge.

That 3rd last week ended a run of four straight missed cuts. He could also only manage a T50 finish in his season opener, the Safeway Open. So why do I like the winless and seemingly inconsistent, Cauley this week?

Well firstly the T3 finish last week is a huge factor. To end a run of four missed cuts with such a strong performance is beyond admiral. Cauley did hold the lead at one point on Sunday as well, so he was in good form.

In addition to last week, his form in limited starts at Torrey Pines is solid. Cauley is the only pick this week that doesn’t have a top-10 here before but he does have two top-25’s in three starts. He finished T13 on debut in 2012 but missed the cut the following year. He bounced back last year finishing T25 after a two-year absence and I am hoping for better this year.

A performance matching last week would be great, anything more would be exceptional. At 175/1 he’s great value given his solid course form and top-3 finish last week.

An honourable mention goes to J.B Holmes, who I would have picked this week if his price stayed at 66/1 rather than the 50/1 available now.

Points staked this week – 7

Profit/Loss for 2017 – +17