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Farmers Insurance Open: Buy the Dip on Talor Gooch

Talor Gooch

Talor Gooch

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

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There is no rest for the weary as the PGA Tour will be moved up to a Wednesday start to accommodate the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow. As if quarterbacks are not protected enough, with conference championships scheduled for this Sunday, not even Jay Monahan wants to miss out on the NFL playoffs. After this past weekend of football, it is hard to blame the man, although I cannot imagine anything will be able to follow it up.

Perhaps the Farmers Insurance Open can provide a bit of intrigue as the trek out to La Jolla marks the “real” beginning of the golf year. While Hawaii and Palm Springs were fun, San Diego means business as some of the biggest names in the game are scheduled to make the trip to the coastal cliffs of California.

Just as they did this past June as Torrey Pines held the privilege of hosting the 121st U.S. Open. From Bryson DeChambeau’s (+1800) quadruple-bogey to Mackenzie Hughes’ (+6600) tree-shot on the par-3 11th, the back-nine of this major championship – as it normally does – featured just about everything.

In the end, it was championship-favorite and then World No. 3, Jon Rahm who added to his Southern California resume. Claiming his first victory at Torrey Pines in 2017 and adding some hardware to his wife’s hand in 2018, Rahm’s love affair with the San Diego area continued.

So, it is not surprising to see the top player in the world headlining the odds board at +700 at PointsBet Sportsbook. Coming off a disappointing “putting contest” last week at PGA West, he will try to bounce back and capture his first victory of the 2021-22 season.

That is something Patrick Reed (+4000) was able to accomplish a year ago. After opening with an 8-under 64 at Torrey Pines North, the 31-year-old utilized a hands-on approach on the South Course, threw ricochet shots at Rory McIlroy, and eventually won by five-strokes at 14-under.

While the bulk of the attention will be on all 7,700 yards of the South Course, and rightfully so, the one round on the Tom Weiskopf redesign has the potential to make or break a player’s tournament. It made Reed’s last year as he played his three rounds on Torrey Pines South in 6-under compared to runners-up Xander Schauffele (+1600), Ryan Palmer (+6000), and Viktor Hovland who played it in 7-under.

Because of this, those who possess an all-around game capable of making birdies in bunches and avoiding big numbers have found success here. To dumb it down, good players win at Torrey Pines and rarely do we see an undeserving winner come through – how is that for analysis.

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I pondered a quartet of players at the top – Dustin Johnson (+1800), Hideki Matsuyama (+2000), Daniel Berger (+2000), and Sam Burns (+2200) – but am drawn to one who has yet to take a week off in 2022. The PGA Tour’s version of Cal Ripken Jr., Sungjae Im (+3200) continues to impress from tee-to-green in the early part of the year.

By way of ranking third in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, 10th in SG: Approach, and ninth in SG: Around-the-Green, Im led the field in SG: Tee-to-Green last week at the Stadium Course at PGA West. Sixth in Driving Distance and 11th in Driving Accuracy, the South Korean would have been within arm’s reach of contention had he not turned in a mediocre third round at La Quinta Country Club.

Now a two-time winner on the PGA Tour, the 23-year-old has proven capable in both easy and difficult conditions. With those two victories coming at scores of 6-under and 24-under, Im has the game to not only take it low on the North Course, but also hold on for dear life on the Rees Jones redesign.

4-for-4 on weekend appearances at Torrey Pines, Im has surprisingly been unable to crack the top-30 on the leaderboard, although he does boast three top-40 finishes. Yet this does not paint the full picture as he was 9-under through the first 63-holes in last year’s tournament.

Playing his next six-holes in 7-over, Im came home in 43 and quickly dropped out of the top-10. Hopeful this will not be the case this time around, Im’s putter will tell the tale of his week and if cooperative, he should once again be in contention come the back-nine on Sunday Saturday.

There is certainly some firepower past Im on the odds board as Jordan Spieth (+3300) and Brooks Koepka (+3300) check in at this range. I will not fault anyone for the interest, especially since we are a year removed from the beginning of Spieth’s resurgence as the Farmers Insurance Open marks his last missed cut on Tour.

However, as is commonplace this day and age, I will be buying the dip on Talor Gooch (+5500). At last, getting a fair number on the RSM Classic winner, the glitter and sparkles hovering around his name have finally worn off.

Missing the cut at The American Express, Gooch experienced a dreadful first-round on and around-the-greens at the Stadium Course at PGA West. Posting rounds of 75-68-68, the 30-year-old battled back, hitting 29-of-36 greens in regulation in his final two days of play.

With finishes of T-15 and T-29 in Hawaii, Gooch’s game is not too far off from where it was this past fall. Looking strong in the ball-striking department, the former Oklahoma State Cowboy possesses the skillset needed for Torrey Pines.

A top-10 scorer on par-5s, Gooch consistently takes advantage of his scoring opportunities when they are presented to him, while also limiting mistakes. This explains the 100% made cut rate at Torrey Pines and the podium finish back in 2019. If able to return to his baseline short-game metrics, and confirm last week was just a blip on the radar, Gooch should once again factor.

Gooch has performed well in California throughout his career just as Maverick McNealy (+6000) and Matthew Wolff (+6000) have. Perhaps a little home cooking or whatever it may be, natives of the Golden State always seem to enjoy coming back.

I carry a little black notebook around ala Ryan from “The Office.” However, it is hardly a burn book, rather the opposite, as I write down any observations I may later forget. Never cheap out on shoes, always call when booking a hotel room, and bet Max Homa (+8000) in California if he is flashing a semblance of form. Simple life lessons tend to go a long way.

Sometimes betting on golf can be this easy as the California kid holds two victories in his home state with the other coming at Quail Hollow. Another big ballpark where a complete game is needed, Torrey Pines would certainly fit in among the Tom Fazio design and Riviera Country Club.

While we have only seen Homa once this year, it was not a poor effort as he turned in rounds of 72-67-65-68. Finishing in tie for 15th at the Tournament of Champions, it was a strong result as the 31-year-old has a habit of lagging behind in birdie-fests.

Not the case this week, I look to not only his play in his three victories, but also in tournaments such as the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Valspar Championship, and The Memorial. Difficult golf courses where par is a good score are the places where Homa’s name appears on the first page of the leaderboard.

A top-notch striker of the golf ball and a great par-5 scorer, Homa’s tournament will rely on his short-game as he has been known to struggle with delicate chip shots and finesse around-the-green. However, those troubles have a tendency of going away on his native turf and at Torrey Pines over the last few years, making me believe it will hold its own this week.

The original plan was to stick with those players who we have seen at least once in 2022. Not only would this narrow down the potential selections, but also eliminate questions surrounding current form. This would take out Aaron Wise (+7000) amongst others, however, as I have been known to do, I flip flopped on this strategy.

There is always an exception to the rule and this week his name is Joaquin Niemann (+8000). It is not as if the Chilean enjoyed a spectacular fall, in fact he missed his last two cuts of 2021, and looked lost with the putter in hand. While he did perform well in Mexico, that top-5 finish was unfortunately the outlier in his swing season results.

Simply a play on his number, the 23-year-old has a middle of the road track record at Torrey Pines. 3-for-3 making the cut, Niemann’s most recent outing at the U.S. Open saw him finish inside the top-10 in SG: Off-the-Tee and inside the top-25 in SG: Approach.

I understand this was seven months ago, yet Niemann arrived last June without much form, so the potential for this venue to fit his eye is clearly there. Hopefully putting in the work on his short-game during his two months off, I do not mind taking a stab on Niemann as I believe his talent level is far beyond those around him on the odds board.

History suggests this week is not the time to target players like a Hudson Swafford (+12500) as longshot winners are a rarity at Torrey Pines. A proper test of golf, I cannot help but look at Keith Mitchell (+10000) as a final selection.

Like Im, he is a winner at the Honda Classic, where he spoiled everyone’s hopes of a playoff between Koepka and Rickie Fowler (+9000) in 2019. Since then, he has continued to take to these more difficult venues, playing some of his best golf at Bay Hill and Quail Hollow.

While we may not be on Bermuda or in the Southeast United States, the current form and the power which Mitchell possesses are too tantalizing to pass up. A tremendous driver and an underrated scrambler, there is a real chance he falls flat, struggles on the greens, and packs his bags early.

I am aware of such, as it has happened more times than not at Torrey Pines. Yet I see a big win in Mitchell’s future and while common sense is telling me to wait until the Florida swing, I do not want to miss the boat if it leaves out of San Diego.

Outright Selections:

Sungjae Im +3200 at FanDuel (1.03 units)

Talor Gooch +5500 at FanDuel (0.60 units)

Max Homa +8000 at BetRivers (0.41 units)

Joaquin Niemann +8000 at DraftKings (0.41 units)

Keith Mitchell +10000 at DraftKings (0.33 units)

Outrights YTD: +59.13 units, +695.80%

Total YTD: +55.38 units, +254.64%

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