Best bets for PGA Tour's Farmers Insurance Open

By Wes Reynolds  (Point Spread Weekly) 

January 26, 2021 10:13 PM
USATSI_15478393
Si Woo Kim earned his third career PGA Tour victory by holding off a hard-charging Patrick Cantlay to win the American Express by one stroke at a price as high as 66-1. Kim led the field for Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and finished second in the field for Strokes Gained: Approach, and he’s priced at 40-1 for this week's Farmers Insurance Open. Cantlay, not in this week's field, made the cut last week on the number and went on to make 20 birdies on the weekend, including 11 on Sunday to shoot 61. 
World No. 2 Jon Rahm withdrew last week, citing a workout injury. He won here in his debut in 2017 and finished runner-up last year and is once the tournament favorite at 7-1. Rory McIlroy (8-1) failed to close the 54-hole lead in Abu Dhabi last week and settled for a third-place finish, which is now his eighth time finishing in the top three at Abu Dhabi without a victory in 11 career starts. Xander Schauffele (12-1) is a San Diego native who played his collegiate golf at San Diego State, but he has made the cut in this event only once in five career appearances. 
 
Tony Finau (20-1) has three finishes of sixth or better here in the last four years and earned yet another top-10 or better finish without gaining a victory, adding to his total of 35 without a victory since the 2016-17 season. Harris English opened the 2021 calendar year with a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions three weeks ago, and he is priced at 25-1 along with Patrick Reed. 
Players priced in the 30-1 range include Hideki Matusyama, Viktor Hovland, Sungjae Im, and Brooks Koepka, who recently split with coach Claude Harmon III. Defending Farmers Insurance Open champion Marc Leishman is listed at 40-1. 
 
THE EVENT
The Farmers Insurance Open was founded in 1952 as the San Diego Open and was initially played at the San Diego Country Club in Chula Vista. The event is organized by the Century Club of San Diego. The tournament was played at several courses in the San Diego area before finding a permanent home at Torrey Pines Golf Course in 1968.
 
This event also had a celebrity host for many years as entertainer Andy Williams served in that role from 1968 to 1988. 
Tiger Woods is the dominant player in this event’s history, having won seven times (1999, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2013), and that doesn’t include his 2008 U.S. Open championship. Longtime San Diego resident Phil Mickelson is the only player other than Woods to win more than twice (1993, 2000, 2001). Mickelson and J.C. Snead (1975, 1976) are the only players to win this event in consecutive years. Arnold Palmer (1957, 1961) and Tom Watson (1977, 1980) are also multiple time winners here. 
It’s also notable that Jack Nicklaus never won here, though he was part of a memorable finish in 1982 when he shot a final-round 64 to fall one shot short of eventual winner Johnny Miller.  
THE COURSE
Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla is a 36-hole public course owned by the City of San Diego. The first two rounds are played on the North Course and the South Course with each player playing both courses before the South Course takes over for the final 36 holes. 
The South Course, which was renovated in 2019 by Rees Jones before the 2021 U.S. Open, is now the longest course on the PGA Tour at 7,700-plus yards. Both courses play at a par-72, but the South Course is more difficult. The South Course is not only 450 yards longer but plays nearly two strokes harder. The fairways and rough on the South Course are Kikuyugrass, while the Tom Weiskopf-redesigned North Course has Bermudagrass fairways and a Rye-and-Kikuyugrass rough mixture. 
The South Course greens are faster (11.5 stimpmeter) and slightly smaller Poa Annua, while the North Course greens are slower (10.5 stimpmeter) and larger Bentgrass.  
Here are the score averages in recent years on the North and South Courses 
  
Year North Course South Course Difference 
2020 70.58 (-1.42) 72.53 (+ 0.53) + 1.95 
2019 69.84 (-2.16) 71.73 (-0.27) + 1.89 
2018 71.41 (-0.59) 72.81 (+ 0.81) + 1.40 
2017 71.28 (-0.72) 72.77 (+ 0.77) + 1.49 
2016 70.93 (-1.07) 74.50 (+ 2.50) + 3.57 
2015 70.23 (-1.77) 73.52 (+ 1.52) + 3.29 
2014 70.24 (-1.76) 73.80 (+ 1.80) + 3.56 
2013 70.67 (-1.33) 72.66 (+ 0.66) + 1.99 
2012 69.55 (-2.45) 72.36 (+ 0.36) + 2.81 
  
While the recent Weiskopf redesign has by and large made the North Course slightly more difficult, you can see that players must take advantage of the easier layout in order to put themselves into contention.  
From 2011 to 2018, all Farmers Insurance Open winners started on the more difficult South Course on Thursday and then played the North Course on Friday. However, the trend came to a screeching halt in 2019 when Justin Rose shot 9-under 63 on the North Course in the Thursday round and ran away with the event. Last year’s winner, Marc Leishman, began with a 4-under 68 round.
However, there is enough of a sample size to look at the pairings of the first two rounds and perhaps bet the players who played on the more difficult course on Day 1 and then bet those players in-play before they get a crack at the North Course on Friday. From an in-play standpoint, the Thursday North Course players should be atop the leaderboard after Round 1 and there will likely be some value on players who had to play the South Course on Day 1.
 
RECENT HISTORY/WINNERS  
2020: Marc Leishman (-15/273), 55-1 
2019: Justin Rose (-21/267), 14-1 
2018: Jason Day (-10/278),  22-1* 
2017: Jon Rahm (-13/275), 55-1 
2016: Brandt Snedeker (-6/282), 18-1 
2015: Jason Day (-9/279), 14-1** 
2014: Scott Stallings (-9/279), 250-1 
2013: Tiger Woods (-14/274), 15-2 
2012: Brandt Snedeker (-16/272), 22-1*** 
2011: Bubba Watson (-16/272), 66-1 
2010: Ben Crane (-13/275), 80-1 
* playoff win over Alex Noren and Ryan Palmer
** playoff win over Harris English, JB Holmes and Scott Stallings 
*** playoff win over Kyle Stanley
 
TRENDS AND ANGLES
In three of the last four years, the Farmers Insurance Open winner has ranked in the top 5 in the field for SG: Approach. 
2020: Marc Leishman, 5th 
2019: Justin Rose, 5th 
2018: Jason Day, 50th 
2017: Jon Rahm, 4th 
 
Here are the 2020-21 PGA Tour Season SG: Approach Leaders in this week’s field: 
1. Justin Suh (2) + 1.616 
2. Bubba Watson (4) + 1.191 
3. Will Zalatoris (5) + 1.153 
4. Matthew Wolff (7) + 1.061 
5. Camilo Villegas (15) + 0.815 
6. John Huh (17) + 0.798 
7. Russell Knox (18) + 0.789 
8. Doug Ghim (19) + 0.774 
9. Harold Varner III (T25) + 0.681 
10. Rob Oppenheim (T25) + 0.681 
11. Byeong Hun An (27) + 0.674 
12. Tony Finau (28) + 0.658 
 
The field will play the longest course (South Course) on the PGA Tour this week and while distance is not mandatory, it never hurts, especially here at Torrey Pines. 
Here are the 2020-21 PGA Tour Driving Distance Leaders in this week's field: 
1. Rory McIlroy (2) 322.7 
2. Cameron Champ (3) 318.2 
3. Wyndham Clark (4) 316.4 
4. Sam Burns (5) 314.6 
5. Will Gordon (6) 314.5 
6. Will Zalatoris (8) 314.0 
7. Matthew Wolff (9) 313.4 
8. Cameron Davis (10) 313.2 
9. Luke List (11) 313.1 
10. Dylan Frittelli (12) 312.8 
11. Adam Scott (14) 312.1 
12. Grayson Murray (16) 311.4 
 
In addition, SG: Off-the-Tee has proved to be beneficial here. Jon Rahm led the field in 2017 when he won the event. Here are the 2020-21 SG: Off-the-Tee Leaders in this week's field: 
1. Rory McIlroy (2) + 1.281 
2. Sam Burns (3) + 1.026 
3. Bubba Watson (5) + 0.947 
4. Jon Rahm (6) + 0.907 
5. Viktor Hovland (7) + 0.756 
6. Will Zalatoris (8) + 0.733 
7. Luke List (9) + 0.718 
8. Scottie Scheffler (10) + 0.696 
9. Sungjae Im (12) + 0.670 
10. Charley Hoffman (13) + 0.660 
11. Cameron Davis (15) + 0.649 
12. Jhonattan Vegas (16) + 0.627 
 
Finally, players see Poa Annua greens only several times a year on the PGA Tour.  
Here's a list of PGA Tour winners on Poa Annua or Bentgrass/Poa Annua greens since 2008 in this week's field: 
6 – Bubba Watson. 
5 – Phil Mickelson. 
4 – Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Brandt Snedeker. 
3 – Jon Rahm, Adam Scott, Jordan Spieth, Jimmy Walker. 
2 – Brooks Koepka, Hunter Mahan, Scott Piercy, Patrick Reed, Adam Scott, Nick Watney, Gary Woodland. 
1 – Aaron Baddeley, Keegan Bradley, Cameron Champ, Jason Dufner, Emiliano Grillo, James Hahn, J.B. Holmes, Billy Horschel, Russell Knox, Marc Leishman, Hideki Matsuyama, Ted Potter Jr, Scott Stallings, Steve Stricker, Kevin Tway, Richy Werenski. 
 
SELECTIONS
Tony Finau 20-1 
Finau once again was in contention last weekend at the American Express and once again fell short of victory, finishing fourth. However, he was second in SG: Off-the-Tee, third in SG: Tee-to-Green and seventh in for SG: Approach.  
Last week's top-10 finish was Finau's 35th on the PGA Tour without a victory since the 2016-17 season. To put this stat in perspective, the next most top-10 finishes without a victory in that span is 16, held by Tommy Fleetwood, Kevin Streelman and Byeong Hun An.  
Finau has never finished worse than 24th in his six starts at Torrey Pines and has finished sixth or better in three of the last four years.  
 
Matthew Wolff 37-1 
Wolff, 21, is still early in his career and has not won a PGA Tour event on Poa Annua greens, but the California native is certainly comfortable on the surface. During his stellar college career at Oklahoma State, he won at Pebble Beach and Olympia Fields, both of which feature these greens. He finished fourth at the PGA and second at the U.S. Open last year on Poa Annua.  
Last week, Wolff finished a pedestrian 40th in Palm Springs, but he did rank in the top 11 for SG: Off-The-Tee, SG: Approach and SG: Tee-to-Green. Tee-to-Green is the strength of his game, and putting up the numbers he did last week combined with a friendlier putting surface could be what he needs to nab that second PGA Tour victory.  
 
Adam Scott 40-1 
Scott was second here two years ago and has performed well on Poa Annua with two victories at Riviera.  
Although finishes of 21st and 41st to begin the season in Hawaii are not obvious buy signs, Scott did gain five shots off the tee at Waialae and seven shots on approach at Kapalua. The putter has clearly let him down early in 2021, but the Poa greens could be a welcome sight.  
 
Jason Day 42-1 
Day is making his 2021 debut this week, and Torrey Pines is arguably the best place for him to start the season considering he has two victories here (2015, 2018) plus four top-5s and five top-10s.  
He caught fire last summer only to go cold in the fall before two good finishes in Houston (seventh) and at Sea Island (12th). Day is working with a new swing coach in Chris Como, who has experience working with players with back problems (Tiger Woods 2014-17). Como, the director of instruction at Dallas National Golf Club, is also working with Bryson DeChambeau.  
 
Bubba Watson 50-1 
Bubba is a former winner here (2011) and finished sixth at Torrey Pines last year having not played there since 2014.
He has a good history of playing well in California as evidenced by his three victories (2014, 2016, 2018) at Riviera, which also has Poa Annua greens.  
Sam Burns 80-1 
Burns shot an inexplicable 77 in the first round last week in Palm Springs and then followed up with a 66 to miss the cut by three shots.
However, in that second round he gained + 4.55 strokes tee-to-green, including + 2.73 on approach and his distance could prove to be a big edge on the 7,700-plus-yard South Course.  
 
Luke List 200-1 
List is a bomber who could go well at a big price. He finished tied for 21 last week but ranked in the field's top 10 for both SG: Approach and SG: Tee-to-Green. 
The putter is always a weakness, but a move to Poa Annua could be the ticket. Plus, he posted only minimal gains Off the Tee last week, which is ordinarily his bread and butter (ninth on the PGA Tour).  
 
OMEGA DUBAI DESERT CLASSIC
Tyrrell Hatton shot a final-round 66 to win by four strokes last week in Abu Dhabi. Hatton led the field in SG: Tee-to-Green by gaining 13.4 strokes on the field. He now has four worldwide wins in just the last 15 months, which ties World No. 1 Dustin Johnson. With last week's victory, Hatton has broken into the OWGR top 5 for the first time in his career, and he’s the favorite this week in Dubai at 7-1.
Tommy Fleetwood was just two back of 54-hole leader Rory McIlroy but never got it going on Sunday and finished tied for seventh. Fleetwood is priced at 12-1 along with World No. 4 Collin Morikawa, who makes another trip to Dubai and finished T-10 at the DP World Tour Championship in last December's European Tour season finale, which was won by Matthew Fitzpatrick (16-1). 
Paul Casey began his 2021 with a top-10 last week at the American Express and slots in at 20-1 along with 2017 DDC champion Sergio Garcia. Christiaan Bezuidenhout was the runner-up here last year and won back-to-back events in his home country of South Africa back in November/December. He shares a 25-1 tag with 2019 event runner-up Matt Wallace. 
Players in the 30-1 range include Shane Lowry, Andy Sullivan and Robert MacIntyre. Defending event champion Lucas Herbert, who won this event at 200-1 last year, carries a price of 45/1 for his title defense.  
 
THE EVENT
The Dubai Desert Classic was founded in 1989 and became the first European Tour event to be staged on the Arabian Peninsula, where it is now one of six events. The tournament was created by a Dubai golf government program to develop and promote both professional and casual golf tourism in the city of Dubai and throughout the United Arab Emirates. 
The event is also notable because it was one of the first to embrace the concept of paying appearance fees to attract top players. That strategy has been largely successful as the list of winners is star-studded, including Tiger Woods (2006, 2008), Rory McIlroy (2009, 2015), Ernie Els (1994, 2002, 2005) and other major champions, such as Seve Ballesteros (1992), Fred Couples (1995), Jose Maria Olazabal (1998), Mark O’Meara (2004), Henrik Stenson (2007), Danny Willett (2016) and Sergio Garcia (2017). 
This event is also notable in terms of how it changed the way we watch golf on television. The Dubai Desert Classic was the first event televised live on Golf Channel when the network was founded in January 1995.  
 
THE COURSE
The Majlis Course at the Emirates Golf Club has hosted the Dubai Desert Classic every year, except for 1999 and 2000, since its inception in 1989. This track, a par-72 of 7,353 yards, is an exposed desert layout designed by Karl Litten that is shorter than last week’s Abu Dhabi course and includes several dogleg holes that provide a bit more of a strategic test where wind can play more of a factor as it did last year.
Be on alert for potential draw biases as the afternoon groupings often deal with substantially stronger winds than the morning groupings. The Bermuda greens are relatively quick (12-13 on the stimpmeter). There are four par-5s, but three of them are on the back nine.  
 
RECENT HISTORY/WINNERS
2020: Lucas Herbert (-9/279), 200-1* 
2019: Bryson DeChambeau (-24/264), 10-1 
2018: Haotong Li (-23/265), 110-1 
2017: Sergio Garcia (-19/269), 20-1 
2016: Danny Willett (-19/269), 40-1 
2015: Rory McIlroy (-22/266), 7-2 
2014: Stephen Gallacher (-16/272), 45-1 
2013: Stephen Gallacher (-22/266), 70-1 
2012: Rafael Cabrera-Bello (-18/270), 125-1 
2011: Alvaro Quiros (-11/277), 16-1 
2010: Miguel Angel Jimenez (-11/277), 66-1** 
* playoff win over Christiaan Bezuidenhout
** playoff win over Lee Westwood
 
TRENDS AND ANGLES
Six of the last 11 winners of this event ranked in the top 5 during their respective winning weeks for Greens in Regulation.  
Here are last year's leaders for Greens in Regulation on the European Tour:\
1. Jordan Smith (2) 73.84% 
2. Aaron Rai (4) 72.59% 
3. Andy Sullivan (5) 72.40% 
4. Mikko Korhonen (6) 72.36% 
5. Ross Fisher (7) 72.31% 
6. Martin Kaymer (8) 71.97% 
7. Brandon Stone (9) 71.77% 
8. Sean Crocker (10) 71.58% 
9. Antoine Rozner (11) 71.19% 
10. Thomas Pieters (14) 71.09% 
11. Connor Syme (15) 70.95% 
12. Thomas Detry (16) 70.95% 
10 of the last 11 winners have had at least one Top 20 finish here prior to their victories.  
 
SELECTIONS
Paul Casey 20-1 
Casey makes the trip from California to Dubai this week. He finished eighth at the American Express off an 11-week layoff having not teed it up since the Masters.
Last week he finished second in the field for SG: Tee-to-Green, just behind tournament winner Si Woo Kim, and was fourth for SG: Approach.  
 
Andy Sullivan 37-1 
Sullivan is inching closer to that OWGR Top 50 ranking, which would put him in this year's Masters.  
He has played well in Dubai of late, having finished second and 10th in back-to-back weeks to end the 2020 campaign. Sullivan also has three top-6-or-better finishes in this event since 2015 (he also has two missed cuts in that span) and is playing his best golf in several years.  
 
Martin Kaymer 45-1 
Kaymer missed the cut last week in Abu Dhabi but got caught in the tougher end of the draw in terms of the windy conditions.  
He led the European Tour in SG: Approach last season, and sharp iron play has been the recipe for success at this event in recent years.  
 
Danny Willett 70-1 
Willett won this event in 2016. He seems to be getting his game back on track and finished 16th last week in Abu Dhabi while beginning his final round at 6 under through the first 10 holes. 
 
David Lipsky 80-1 
Lipsky finished fifth last week in Abu Dhabi and was third in the field for Putting Average on the Bermuda greens, which players will also see this week.
He was 11th here last year while ranking 10th in Driving Accuracy and sixth for Greens in Regulation.
 
Stephen Gallacher 200-1 
Gallacher is a two-time winner here at the DDC. While he is on the back nine of his career at age 46, he is worth a shot at this price. 
He finished 16th in Abu Dhabi last week and has ranked 4th in SG: Around the Green in his last two starts, which indicates that the short game is coming around to complement his still solid tee-to-green game.
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