Farmers Insurance Open Odds: Course form the way to go in stellar field
It was another strong week for us on the PGA Tour, as Tom Hoge finished 2nd at 125/1 for a place in The American Express. Only denied by an inspired Hudson Swafford, who fired a final round 64 to pick up his 3rd PGA Tour title.
Farmers Insurance Open Tips
Stop two on the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing takes us to San Diego for the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. Originally titled the San Diego Open, the event’s roots go all the way back to the 1950s, with Torrey Pines’ two course setup being in place since 1968. The much tougher and more famous South Course has also hosted two US Opens - in 2008 where Tiger Woods beat Rocco Mediate in a playoff and most recently was the stage of Jon Rahm’s first major title last year.
As mentioned, it’s another multi-course setup, though just the two in play this week. The field will rotate between the South and North courses over the first two rounds, before the cut makers tackle the South Course for the weekend.
Both play to a par 72 but the South Course is a bit of a brute, measuring in at 7765 yards, 500+ yards longer than the North Course at 7258 yards and you really need to make your round at the North Course count.
Of the last 7 winners, 4 shot their best rounds of the week at the North Course and all 7 at least shot under par. Brandt Snedeker the only one not to break 70 in a particularly tough 2016 edition. An average score of just under -6 at the North Course for those past 7 winners.
The need for a good round there was even more evident in 2021 with Patrick Reed and 2018/2015 with Jason Day, as in all three of those victories, the respected winners essentially took apart the North Course (Reed shooting -8 and Day -8/-7), hanging on at the South Course for the remainder of the week. Essentially, if you can’t get it around the North Course a few under par, your race is run.
Both courses are wide open though fairways are hard to find at the South Course. When you combine this with the snatchy kikuya rough waiting to collect any stray tee-shots and the sheer length of the course, you see why this event often turns into a slog. Penal bunkering and more of that rough around the firm, slopy poa annua greens add further difficulty to an already demanding golf course.
It is a championship course. It may not be the most unique one, but it does require quality golf to maintain a challenge. The length of the course lures you into thinking you must cut your shortlist down to big hitters only, but you rarely get it done here without quality in your short game and past winners are littered with shorter hitters who produced excellence on and/or around the greens.
Patrick Reed relied hugely on quality with his short-game last year, whilst Marc Leishman worked magic on the greens when winning in 2020. Going even further back to 2014 with Scott Stallings and 2012 with Brandt Snedeker, we find players who did much of their best work on the putting surfaces.
Situated on the Pacific coast and rather exposed in places, it’s often at the mercy of the weather. Though fortunately, for the players, conditions are currently forecast to be pretty benign. However, this shouldn’t be taken as a certainty, as is always the case.
We have a stellar field teeing it up in La Jolla. Jon Rahm returns to not only the scene of his US Open triumph but the place where he won his first PGA Tour title in 2017. Whilst Dustin Johnson makes his first appearance of the year. Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele, Bryson DeChambeau and Hideki Matsuyama round off the group of 6 from inside the world’s top 10.
Once again we have a market headed by world #1 Jon Rahm. This is where he picked up his first PGA Tour title in 2017 and has followed it with 3 finishes in the top 7 in his next four starts in the event. Further adding to his title in 2017 with a win in the US Open here last year. With such a strong connection with the course, he’s an obvious and worthy favourite. That being said, I will once again try and get him beat as the price of 8/1 just isn’t for me.
He’s followed in the betting by Justin Thomas, making his first start in the tournament since a missed cut in 2015 and one of the runners-up of last year’s renewal Xander Schauffele.
All are passed over for a man who has improved with every start here, is a high class player tee-to-green and who finally seemed to get the hang of the greens at the South Course in 2021, South Korea’s Sungjae Im.
Sungjae has started 2022 much in the same way he finished 2021. We were on him in an 8th place finish in the opening event of the year, the Tournament of Champions and I was very keen on him the following week at the Sony Open before his price reduced to a level that made little appeal. Fortunate as he missed the cut there.
He bounced back from that first missed cut in 7 months with a 7th place finish in last week’s American Express. Thanks largely to performing wizardry around-the-greens in round 4, where he gained just shy of 4 strokes.
This has been the story of the season for Sungjae, where he has improved hugely around-the-greens, sitting as the 9th best player on tour for the season. Also an excellent ball-striker, ranking 10th off-the-tee, where he’s both accurate and long enough. 13th in greens-in-regulation should further strengthen his claims this week.
The putter continues to be hit and miss, though as mentioned he did improve on his previous putting performances at Torrey Pines last year. This resulted in his best finish yet, when 32nd and would’ve been better if able to produce the type of performance around-the-greens that he’s started to show recently. That 32nd the third time he’s teed it up here and he is 3/3 for cuts made.
Strong form at other tough, championship courses also bode well for Im. He’s a past winner of the Honda Classic, which possesses plenty of correlating form despite being a significantly shorter course on the opposite side of the country. Two 3rd place finishes in the Arnold Palmer invitational offer extra encouragement, as does his runner-up finish at The Masters in 2020.
Sungjae has been in good form for a while now and it was good to see him bounce back from that missed cut last week. As a strong, accurate driver and GIR machine, he can call on the improvements in his short game and improved putting performance on these very greens last year, to improve once again at Torrey Pines.
Marc Leishman’s form has improved greatly in this 2021/22 season. Back at a place at which he’s a past champion, possessing a strong record in general and with every part of his game appearing in a good place, he can go well again this week.
The recent run of form goes back to a 4th place finish in the Fortinet Championship last year and has resulted in him picking up another two top 10s over his next 5 events. Though every part of his game has fired at some point, it’s the approach play and putting that stands out, ranking 29th and 12th respectively.
Further to his victory here in 2020, Leishman has twice finished runner up, in 2010 and 2014, also possessing multiple other top 20s and has only missed the cut on three occasions. One of the main reasons he does so well here is his ability to putt these tricky greens. Gaining strokes in putting in each of his last 6 starts in the Farmers Insurance and generally putts poa annua well.
His book of form at similar championship like courses is also strong. He has three top 10s at Augusta, two of them top 5s and is also a past winner of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Added to this are top 5 finishes at both Riviera Country Club, host of the Genesis Invitational and Muirfield Village, home of the Memorial Tournament.
All tough, predominantly long championship courses where you don’t just need the technical ability to go well around them but also the grit to battle your way through tough rounds.
He’s a 5-time PGA Tour winner and has been threatening to make that 6 over recent months. At an event which he’s won and the type of course he so often goes well at, this looks the ideal opportunity to make the latest addition to his trophy cabinet.
Despite not particularly firing in the opening couple of events of the year, Patrick Reed still looks a big price this week as defending champion of the Farmers Insurance Open.
That victory last year actually came off the back of a similarly underwhelming start to 2021, worse even. Where he’d finished 21st in the Tournament of Champions and recorded a MC in The American Express, as opposed to 15th and 55th place finishes at those respective events this year. He then turned up and ran riot against the field here, winning by 5-shots.
Further to this, he actually ended 2021 quite well, with finishes of 2nd in the Bermuda Championship and 3rd in the Hero World Challenge amongst his final four starts of the year. Providing recent evidence of his game being in good shape.
Prior to his victory last year, Reed already possessed a strong record at Torrey Pines. Finishing 39th on debut in 2013, he then recorded finishes of 23rd, 13th and 6th on his next three starts in the event before completing that attractively trending form with the victory last year.
It’s fair to say he relied heavily on his short game to win last year. He ranked 1st around-the-greens and 10th in putting, ranking down the field in both approach play and driving. Which is often the case with him, as the quality of his short game has always greatly exceeded the quality of his long game.
Though there’s more to this than simple stats with Reed. How he so continually shows up at these long championship courses, where you’d generally favour strong ball-strikers, which of course includes a victory at Augusta National. He’s just a superb competitor, possessing a determination and desire to win that rivals most players, often to the detriment of his reputation.
That and the excellent short game means he’s always a danger at these events. At 45/1 I’m more than happy to take this proven winner to go back-to-back here at Torrey Pines.
California’s Max Homa is fast developing a reputation for showing a liking for long, tough golf courses. As a strong ball-striker and good poa annua putter, no surprise considering where he’s from, he can build on a good recent record at Torrey Pines and once again go well in his home state.
Outside the very top, elite players in this field there’s few players who have form that correlates so well with the Farmers Insurance Open as Max Homa. Of his three PGA Tour victories, one was at Riviera in the Genesis Invitational last year, the other at Quail Hollow in the Wells Fargo Championship in 2019. Both championship courses that have hosted major championships in the past.
Further to that he’s recorded top 10s at the Memorial Tournament and Arnold Palmer Invitational over recent years. Even multiple top 10s at Pebble Beach, another home event which uses poa annua on the putting surfaces offers encouragement as to his chances here.
Not that those chances need enhancing. As Homa has started to build a strong record at this event in the last couple of years, finishing 9th in 2020 and 18th last year. He did miss multiple cuts in a row at the event in his earlier years but he’s a better, more mature and complete golfer now, hence the big improvements over recent years.
He’s a strong ball-striker and possesses more than enough length off the tee. The short game can sometimes leave a little to be desired though we can upgrade his putting stats here, as despite sitting 79th in putting overall he ranks amongst the best putters on poa greens.
He won in California as recently as September last year, winning the Fortinet Championship after an excellent final round 65. A course in which strong drivers have often gone well.
Homa started his year three weeks ago in the Tournament of Champions, finishing 15th because of a strong week on the greens, with his ball-striking also solid enough. That offered enough promise for this week about a player who so often excels when back home in California.
After an incredible weekend of 23-under-par that saw him finish 3rd at the Tournament of Champions to kick off his year, Matt Jones was a strong fancy for many next time out in the Sony Open. He disappointed with a missed cut there but that means he comes into this at a tasty three-figure price. An event in which he has a solid record.
In 11 career starts at the Farmers Insurance Open, Jones has missed the cut just twice and recorded a best of 5th in 2009. A more recent finish of 13th in 2019 his 2nd best finish in the event.
He’s so regularly made the cut here and performed well because of the quality of his short game, where he’s often ranked inside the top 10 on the PGA Tour throughout his career around-the-greens. Including currently sitting 6th for the 2021/22 season.
He backs this up with strong driving, possessing plenty of distance off-the-tee and is a solid putter, where he has proven an ability to putt poa well in the past.
He was an excellent winner of the Honda Classic last year. Opening with a 61 in round one and winning by five strokes. This type of form on tough courses not an isolated incident. As he’s hit the top 10 in the Memorial Tournament, Arnold Palmer Invitational and Wells Fargo Championship over the years.
Iron play is definitely his weakness and if not able to find something in that regard, will need to his driver and short game firing this week. With the way he started the year, I feel he can bounce back from the missed cut last time out and make an impression near the top of the leaderboard in San Diego.