The multi-course swing continues as the PGA TOUR heads to La Jolla, California, for this week's Farmers Insurance Open.
The iconic Torrey Pines (North and South) will host this week's field of 156 golfers. The golf courses won't be the star of the show, though. All of the headlines will be targeting the RETURN OF Tiger Woods.
More on Tiger later, but first let's break down the courses and the expected playing conditions for this week's event.
Each golfer will play one round at the North Course and one round at the South Course before a 36-hole cut will narrow the field to top 70 and ties. The remaining golfers will make two more navigations of the South Course over the weekend.
This course rotation has been used since the 1968 edition of this event, so there is plenty of course history to lean on.
Torrey Pines South (Host Course):
This monster of a course plays to nearly 7,700 yards. During the 1968 edition, it was a mere 7,021 yards. The big chunk of yardage was added before the 2002 edition.
Nowadays, golfers have to face six par 4s of 450 yards or longer and three par 5s of 570 yards or longer. You better bring your driver and long irons this week. Past champions of this event include Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson, Scott Stallings, Nick Watney, Jon Rahm, Jason Day, and John Daly. Bombs Away!
The three exceptions to big-hitting winners over the last 15 years would be Brandt Snedeker (x2) and Ben Crane. Comparing this trio to the list above, we notice that the big hitters are dominating the conversation.
Other than the length, this course also marks the first poa annua greens usage of the calendar year. Golfers that grew up in California or enjoy playing in California have a good chance to flash on the leaderboard this week. Having the mental fortitude to see great putts get knocked offline by the bumpy surfaces is not easy.
As if the courses weren't hard enough based on distance and putting surfaces alone, the fairways are also some of the toughest to hit on TOUR. Over the last seven years, the field has averaged just 50.24% of fairways hit. The field-average GIR percentage on balls that miss the fairway over that stretch is just 54.75%, a 22-percent dropoff compared to balls coming from the fairways.
Adding all these elements together, and it's easy to see why the Torrey Pines South Course is considered to be a pure all-around test of golf (with a big lean toward distance, of course).
Torrey Pines North:
Not the same brute of a course compared to the South Course, but a 2016 renovation has certainly lengthened this layout.
# of Par 3s > 200 yards before renovation: 2 .... Post-Renovation: 4
# of Par 4s > 450 yards before renovation: 2 .... Post-Renovation: 5
# of Par 5s < 550 yards before renovation: 4 .... Post-Renovation: 3
Another notable change in the renovation was the planting of pure bentgrass greens. Last year, most golfers gave rave reviews of these greens. However, I would expect the poa annua to infiltrate these greens more and more with each year that passes.
Last year's edition was the first time these golfers played this event after the renovation. The top-8 on the final leaderboard all posted sub-70 rounds on the North Course, so this is still a course you need to take advantage of if you want to contend. Only one of those golfers (Keegan Bradley) posted a sub-70 round on the South Course during Rounds 1 or 2 last year.
Sifting through some past quotes over at the Fantasy Golfanac, let's try to break down the courses to see how they will play...
Brandt Snedeker: "I think poa is my favorite surface to be on. To love poa, you’ve got to love days like today where you hit good putts and they don’t go in and that’s just part of it."
Pat Perez: "The wind always blows the same off the ocean. I’ve hit thousands of balls out there with that wind, so I’ve always hit the same shots and it doesn’t really vary for me, but I just kind of know what I’m getting on every hole."
Marc Leishman: "I mean, I love that golf course. It’s one of my favorites in the world. I spoke about it before, it’s in my top-5 in the world. I guess when you enjoy playing a course, it’s easy to play well. Well, not easy to play well, have more chance at playing well. It’s the same grass as I grew up on. I grew up on poa greens and kikuyu fairways so that’s probably got something to do with it. Along the ocean, it’s a great spot."
Patrick Rodgers: "Obviously this golf course is good for me hitting it high and far even if I’m driving it in the rough, but especially if I can get it down there in the fairways, there’s a lot of chances to score, which is good."
Gary Woodland: "You know the South Course is a big boy golf course. The South Course is one of my favorite golf courses we play all year. Most holes go left-to-right, so I’m excited about playing well today and excited about the weekend."
Jhonattan Vegas: "I just feel comfortable here. Simple as that. Going back to junior golf, playing Junior World here, I had success, I almost won here fours four years ago, so good memories coming back to Torrey Pines"
Overview: Length is the name of the game this week. Woodland calls it a big boy course, Rodgers states his advantage for hitting it high and far. Perez brings up the importance of course knowledge, which makes Jon Rahm's victory last year even more impressive. Sneds talks about the mental aspect of handling poa annua greens while Vegas reminds us that many golfers will have some amateur experience at Torrey Pines South from the Junior Worlds (Age 15-18 Division).
Let's see what other courses show a correlation to success here in the Golden State. Looking at past performance, golfer quotes, and course setup, these five courses show up as potential pointers:
Pebble Beach GL
After a lovely week in Palm Springs, we now head into the cold-weather portion of the schedule. Cold by golfing standards, of course.
Temperatures should sit in the mid-60s for most of the week without much chance for precipitation. That falls in line with typical conditions here, with each of the last 12 Farmers rounds being played in temps between 58 and 72 degrees.
On the wind part of the forecast, there look to be some afternoon breezes but nothing that looks to be advantageous to one side of the Thursday/Friday draw. The one exception would be if you want to avoid a specific course in the wind. In that course, you would want to wait until tee times are released and adjust accordingly.
As usual, I will re-visit the weather during the DFS Dish which gets published on Wednesday.
Players to Watch
Last week's champ is also the defending champion here at Torrey Pines. After his win he ran through some of his accomplishments in California, even dating back to college golf. There is something about Cali that brings out the best in the Spaniard. Even before the CareerBuilder he hinted at the Cali love saying, " I do love California, all those golf courses play very similar to what I do back home, which is soft, humid, sea level, cold type of weather. So that's why I love Pebble, I do love Torrey, and I'm sure I will love Riviera as well." Should be another strong showing this week.
Arrives with much higher expectations compared to last year, at least in the golfing community's eyes. There is optimism that Woods has finally found some health and is ready to make one last charge. Only has four events on his 2-year rolling OWGR window, with two of them coming at the unofficial Hero World Challenge. With reports of his massive distance gains actually holding true in The Bahamas, this is a great event for him to showcase that newly-found yardage. He's a 7-time winner of this event and also owns a 2008 U.S. Open victory at Torrey South. Gamers shouldn't get too carried away yet, but 2018 is very promising for Tiger fans.
Webb Simpson's putting grip narrative seemed to hit an apex last week, despite him using it since last May. In a similar story, Finau could be the one drawing all those narratives soon. After using cross-hand or left-hand-low grip over the last four years, he switched to a conventional putting grip at TPC Boston last year. Since that event, his measured Strokes Gained Putting numbers for the week are as follows: +4.6, +2.2, +3.4, -6.9, and +2.6 SGP. He had one blemish at the Shriners but otherwise very impressive for a golfer that finished outside the top 100 in all three of his full PGA TOUR campaigns. Something to watch closely, but he certainly has my full attention.
Missed the cut here in his lone appearance (2013). The new-look Cantlay doesn't miss out on the weekend action, though. In 2017 he didn't play any of the correlated venues I pointed out above but he has the distance as well as the California connection. Gamers should continue to target him as a steady, birdie-making option in all formats.
As if life outside the ropes wasn't hard enough last year, his wife Ellie shared the heartbreaking news of their miscarriage which occurred on Thanksgiving. J. Day pegged it that week en route to a T5 at the Australian Open but this will be his first PGA TOUR start since, making his 2018 debut. The Aussie has an up-and-down record here, missing the cut in three of his last six visits but posting top 10s in the other three. That includes a 2015 victory.
Another superstar with a spotty track record here. Rattled off top 20s in his first four visits but hasn't found a top 60 since, missing the cut in three of his last four Farmers appearances. Might be one to fade this week but it could also be a good chance to buy a lower-owned Fowler if it appears the industry is weighing his recent course failures too heavily.
The Irishman ended the 2017 European Tour season with four straight top 15s. Has been resting since that runner-up finish in November but he brings plenty of upside if he can pick up where he left off. Lowry is also 3-for-3 here at the Farmers, including a pair of top 20s.
In the course quotes, he talks about how this course suits his eye. I guess it's not surprising then, that he owns an 8-for-8 record here. Poor final rounds have plagued him in the past but last year he ripped off a 1-under 71 on Sunday to grab a T20. That was his third top 20 here in his last four trips. Hasn't hoisted a trophy since the 2013 Barracuda but he could be right in the mix this week as long as he avoids the one bad round.
Charles Howell III
Speaking of course consistency, CH3 certainly has that going for him this week. He is 15-for-15 here with a 10-pack of top 20s on his Farmers resume. Mister West Coast makes for a steady option in all formats this week.
Ranking the Field
1. Jon Rahm
2. Tony Finau
3. Justin Rose
4. Patrick Cantlay
5. Jason Day
6. Gary Woodland
7. Marc Leishman
8. Phil Mickelson
9. Hideki Matsuyama
10. Brandt Snedeker
11. Charles Howell III
12. Brendan Steele
13. Shane Lowry
14. Patrick Reed
15. Rickie Fowler
16. Charley Hoffman
17. Bill Haas
18. Brian Harman
19. Ollie Schniederjans
20. Emiliano Grillo
21. Keegan Bradley
22. Jamie Lovemark
23. Jhonattan Vegas
24. Francesco Molinari
25. Bud Cauley
Check back on Tuesday for our Expert Picks column and then Wednesday we will publish the DFS Dish for last-minute tips and another look at the weather.