FARMERS INSURANCE OPEN: The PGA Tour’s West Coast Swing rolls on to beautiful La Jolla, California this week, where a star-studded field will face a familiar foe in Torrey Pines, which has hosted this event since the 1960s as well as numerous majors, including Tiger Woods’ historic U.S. Open win in 2008. The U.S. Open will return to Torrey Pines next year (2021), so there’s some extra incentive to tee it up this week and reacquaint yourself with the place.
Like most courses that have been around for over half a century and are still in use, Torrey Pines has undergone significant renovations over the years, with the most obvious change being length– the South Course, which is the better-known of the two courses and the one that players will see three times this week providing they make the cut, measured just over 7,000 yards back in the 60s, but this year it will tip out at a bearish 7,765 yards, making it the longest course on the PGA Tour’s regular schedule. The shorter guys simply don’t have much of a chance on the South Course, a fact the players know well. Last year, for instance, Adam Hadwin was quoted as saying, “I love Torrey Pines but it sucks for my game. I just don’t hit it quite far enough to really compete around there.”
Some of the longer guys, however, have figured out the best way around the South and play it well every year. Tiger, for instance, is a 7-time champion of this event, and if you look through the leaderboard over the last several years you’ll notice the same names popping up. This is a “horses for courses” week, so I’d think very hard about backing someone with no previous success at Torrey Pines.
Though the majority of action will take place on the South Course this week, everyone will play a round on the North Course as well, and though it was made a bit more difficult by Tom Weiskopf’s renovation in 2017, it’s still the easier of the two tracks, as it’s considerably shorter and not quite as demanding off the tee. Driving it long and straight just isn’t quite as important on the North as it is on the South, though both courses feature thick rough and firm poa annua greens.
As mentioned, this year’s field is quite strong, with names like McIlroy, Rahm, Woods, and Matsuyama near the top of the market. Defending champion Justin Rose can be backed at 23.0, while a guy like Jason Day, also a past champion of this event, can be had at a whopping 50.0. This is not a tournament that is generally won by outsiders or long-odds guys, as evidenced by the last five champions: Rose, Day, Rahm, Snedeker, and Day again. It’s probably wise to swallow the short odds and back a guy you really trust this week.
With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking:
Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)
Jon Rahm (9.4)- A lot of people don’t follow golf closely in the winter months, and these folks may not be aware of the tear that Rahm has been on since autumn– in his last seven events, he’s logged six top-10s, two victories, and a pair of runner-ups. He was last seen in Kapalua a couple of weeks ago, where he finished 10th, and now he comes to a place that fits his game as well as any course in the world– Torrey Pines, where Rahm’s brilliance with the driver gives him an edge over just about everybody. Not only is he one of the longest guys in the field, but he drives it straight as well, and has always said that the driver is his favorite club. His brilliance off the tee allows him to play a different Torrey Pines than most have to deal with, and his results here speak volumes: he won on debut in 2017, finished T29 the following year, and T5 last year. With the way he’s been playing lately, he should be viewed as the favorite this week and should be given serious consideration despite the shortish price.
Tony Finau (32.0)- As you would expect from someone with his length and confidence with the driver, Finau has a terrific record at Torrey Pines, finding the top-30 in all five of his career appearances at this event. He’s been all over the first page of the leaderboard in recent stagings, finishing 4th in 2017, T6 in 2018, and T13 last year, and you just know that one of these years he’s going to be the last man standing. And hey, it could be this year, as Finau returned from a 6-week layoff to finish 14th in The American Express last week, a performance highlighted by a second-round 62 (he would’ve found the top-5 had it not been for a couple of minor disasters on Sunday, including a double-bogey on a reachable par-5). A week like that should alleviate any concerns about rust, and we know the course is a great fit. All things considered, Finau feels like a good value at better than 30/1.
Cameron Champ (80.0)- It’s no secret that length off the tee provides a player with a significant advantage at Torrey Pines, particularly on the South Course, and there simply aren’t many people in the world of professional golf who hit the ball farther than Cameron Champ, the 24-year old California native who averages 322.3 yards per drive. Champ currently leads the Tour in total driving, potentially the most important and predictive stat for a course like Torrey Pines, and he’s top-20 in Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green. Given that he also possesses soft hands and a reliable putting stroke, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s starting to make his mark as one of the game’s top young players– he picked up his second PGA Tour victory in September’s Safeway Open and has finished 33rd or better in 6 of his 7 starts this season, including a T21 at The American Express last week. The only thing he doesn’t have going for him here is a track record of success at Torrey Pines, as he missed the cut in his debut appearance last year. But stylistically it certainly seems like a good fit, and sometimes it takes guys a year or two to get the feel of a course. At a price like 80.0, Champ is someone worth chancing.