Golf best bets: Farmers Insurance Open

January 25, 2022 04:07 PM
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​Hudson Swafford’s eagle on 16 put away the field at The American Express as his Sunday 64 matched the low round of the day, and he captured his third career PGA Tour title at a price as high as 250-1. Swafford, who won for the second time in Palm Springs, moved from No. 166 to 61 in the Official World Golf Rankings.

Our nearest tip in this column was Tom Hoge (125-1), who finished outright second at 21-under par. Hoge moves from No. 115 to 64 in the OWGR, and the runner-up finish was his best on the PGA Tour event.

This week, the PGA Tour travels down to San Diego for the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. The event is not only unique for being played on two courses (three rounds on the South Course and one on the North) but also because it begins on Wednesday this year. The PGA Tour made the smart decision to close with a Saturday finish in primetime, avoiding the impossible task of competing against the NFL on Sunday.

World No. 1 Jon Rahm is once again the favorite at 15-2. Rahm, who finished 14th at The American Express, is a former Farmers winner (2017) and runner-up (2020). He has the best score in relation to par (51 under) in the field at Torrey Pines dating back to 2017, five strokes better than Tony Finau. Rahm also won at Torrey Pines in last year’s U.S. Open, so he’s the justifiable favorite. However, he is a favorite over a strong field that features five of the world’s top-10 players. Finau (26-1) finished as part of a five-way tie for second here last year.

World No. 6 Justin Thomas (12-1) won The Players Championship in 2021 but had a down season by his standards, so he begins 2022 with Jim “Bones” Mackay on the bag. World No. 7 and San Diego native Xander Schauffele (16-1) had not garnered a great deal of success at Torrey Pines until he finished in a five-way for second last year and earned a seventh-place finish at the 2021 U.S. Open. World No. 10 Hideki Matsuyama (18-1) is currently the only two-time winner during the 2021-22 PGA Tour season with victories at the Zozo Championship and the Sony Open. Then there's World No. 4 Dustin Johnson (22-1) and No. 9 Bryson DeChambeau (22-1). Johnson makes his 2022 debut here, and DeChambeau returns after withdrawing from the Sony Open with soreness in his left wrist.

Patrick Reed (50-1) is the defending champion. Other recent Farmers champions in the field include Marc Leishman (45-1), Justin Rose (80-1), Jason Day (100-1), Brandt Snedeker (100-1) and Scott Stallings (200-1).

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 tournament was played at several different courses in the area before finding a permanent home at Torrey Pines in 1968. The dominant player in this event’s history is Tiger Woods, who has won it seven times (1999, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2013) in addition to a U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in 2008. Longtime San Diego resident Phil Mickelson is the only player other than Woods to win this event more than twice (1993, 2000, 2001). There are ​156 players in the field and the cut will be the top 65 and ties.

The Course

Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla is a 36-hole public course. Two courses host the event. Each player plays one round on the North Course and one on the South Course before the South Course takes over for the final 36 holes. The South Course, which was renovated in 2019 by Rees Jones prior to the 2021 U.S. Open, is now the longest annual course on the PGA Tour at 7,765 yards. Both courses play at a par-72, but the South Course is the more difficult of the two as the North Course is just 7,258 yards. The South Course typically plays close to two strokes higher. The fairways (third-narrowest on tour at an average width of 26.2 square feet average) 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 (seventh-smallest on tour at 5,000 square feet) are faster (12 stimpmeter) Poa Annua, while the North Course greens are slower (10.5 stimpmeter) and larger (6,000 square feet) Bentgrass/Poa Annua.

While the Weiskopf redesign has made the North Course slightly more difficult, you can see that players must take advantage of the easier layout to put themselves into contention.

From 2011-18, all eight winners started Thursday on the more difficult South Course. However, this trend was brought to a screeching halt in 2019 when Justin Rose shot a 9-under 63 on the North Course on Thursday and then ran away with the event. In 2020, Marc Leishman began on the North Course and shot 68. Patrick Reed started with a 64 on the North in 2021.

Correlated courses to the South Course include Glen Abbey, Muirfield Village, Riviera, Augusta National, Quail Hollow, Chapultepec, Olympia Fields and Bethpage Black.

Correlated courses to the North Course include Riviera, Chapultepec, Silverado, TPC Scottsdale and Detroit Golf Club.

Recent History/Winners 

2021: Patrick Reed (-14/274); 25/1

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 

Playoff win over Alex Noren and Ryan Palmer*

Playoff win over Harris English, J.B. Holmes and Scott Stallings**

Playoff win over Kyle Stanley***

​Trends and Angles

​Here are some tournament trends courtesy of @PGASplits101 on Twitter:​

— ​​​11 of the last 13 winners had made at least one start in the calendar year

— 18 of the last 20 winners were 27 or older

— 13 of the last 17 winners were ranked in the top 33 of the OWGR

— 25 of the last 28 winners had at least four previous career wins

— 18 of the last 20 winners had played in at least five previous Farmers

— 15 of the last 17 winners had at least one previous top-10 finish in the Farmers

​There are only five players in this week's field that fit all six of the above trends: Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, Hideki Matsuyama, Patrick Reed and Billy Horschel.

As you can see with these trends plus the list of recent winners, established class players tend to win here outside of a couple of exceptions.

Stats

Distance Gained Per Drive (last 36 rounds)

​In 2021, 18 of the top 24 on the leaderboard gained strokes against the field in driving distance. In 2020, it was 20 of the top 23. In 2019, each of the top seven did it. You can't give up too much distance on a course that is longer than 7,700 yards.

— Bryson DeChambeau, 26.3

— Taylor Pendrith, 20.9

— Brandon Hagy, 20.1

— Matthew Wolff, 19.7

— Joseph Bramlett, 19.5

— Jhonattan Vegas, 18.7

— Cameron Young, 18.7 (last 24 rounds)

— Cameron Champ, 18.1

— Trey Mullinax, 16.7

— Peter Uihlein, 16.6

— Seth Reeves, 15.3

— Tyler McCumber, 14.5

— Luke List, 14.5

Strokes Gained: Off The Tee (last 36 rounds)

Distance matters here but so does accuracy, as the fairways on the South Course are the third-narrowest on tour. Strokes Gained: Off The Tee measures both.

— Bryson DeChambeau, 33.5

— Jon Rahm, 28.5

— Keith Mitchell, 26.3

— Corey Conners, 24.1

— Taylor Pendrith, 23.9

— Luke List, 23.1

— Sungjae Im, 22.6

— Trey Mullinax, 22.4

— Jhonattan Vegas, 21.7

— Cameron Champ, 21.5

— Mito Pereira, 19.5

— Anirban Lahiri, 18.3

— Will Zalatoris, 17.6

Strokes Gained: Approach (last 36 rounds)

Three of the last five winners here have ranked fifth or better for Strokes Gained: Approach during their winning weeks. 

— Daniel Berger, 41.9

— Keegan Bradley, 29.8

— Hudson Swafford, 26.8

— Kyle Stanley, 26.7

— Chez Reavie, 25.5

— Talor Gooch, 25.5

— Adam Svensson, 23

— Xander Schauffele, 22.5

— Justin Thomas, 22.5

— Mito Pereira, 22.2

— Jon Rahm, 21.7

— Hideki Matsuyama, 21

— Carlos Ortiz, 19.9

Strokes Gained: Short Game (last 36 rounds)

Last year's winner, Patrick Reed, led the field for Strokes Gained: Around The Green. Putting is always important but is the toughest metric to measure on a week-to-week basis, so we will take Strokes Gained: Short Game (Around The Green plus Putting) into more consideration.

— Hank Lebioda, 36.6

— Christiaan Bezuidenhout, 36.2

— Alex Noren, 35.7

— Harry Higgs, 32.1

— Kevin Tway, 29

— Adam Hadwin, 28.3

— Mackenzie Hughes, 28.1

— Brian Stuard, 27.8

— Jordan Spieth, 27.6

— Sam Burns, 26.4

— Dustin Johnson, 25.9

— Jon Rahm, 24

— Adam Long, 23.7

Strokes Gained: Par-4s 450-500 Yards (last 36 rounds)

Torrey Pines South is the longest annual course on the PGA Tour, with six par-4s that measure 450-500 yards. 

— Jon Rahm, 21.6

— Maverick McNealy, 16.8

— Sungjae Im, 16.3

— Dustin Johnson, 14

— Justin Thomas, 13.6

— Adam Schenk, 13.1

— Pat Perez, 12.8

— Dylan Frittelli, 12.4

— Aaron Rai, 11.6

— Lanto Griffin, 11.2

— Hayden Buckley, 10.9

— Taylor Pendrith, 9.9

— Bryson DeChambeau, 9.7

Strokes Gained: Putting Poa Annua (last 36 rounds)

This week will be the first look at Poa Annua greens in 2022.

— Brandt Snedeker, 28.1

— Brian Stuard, 28.1

— Wyndham Clark, 23.6

— Maverick McNealy, 22.4

— Patrick Reed, 20.5

— Patrick Rodgers, 19.4

— Peter Malnati, 19.3

— Jon Rahm, 19.1

— Jonas Blixt, 18.5

— Bryson DeChambeau, 17.6

— Daniel Berger, 16.7

— Jason Day, 15.6

— Nick Taylor, 15.1

Selections

​Xander Schauffele (16-1)

While Schauffele ranks No. 7 in the OWGR, he has not had an official PGA Tour event win in more than two years. He was the low 72-hole scorer at the 2020 Tour Championship and won Olympic gold in Tokyo last summer, but he is still trying to get the PGA Tour winless drought off his back. The San Diego local missed the cut in four of his first five starts here but finished second last year in the Farmers and seventh in the U.S. Open, so perhaps he has finally come to terms with Torrey Pines. 

Bryson DeChambeau (22-1)

DeChambeau has not contended since the BMW Championship in late August, when he lost a six-hole playoff to Patrick Cantlay. He was not all that active in the fall schedule, so he has drifted up a bit in price. He has missed two cuts in two appearances at the Farmers, but Torrey is a good fit for him. No one is better off the tee and he is one of the better putters on Poa Annua. This event was a late add to his schedule after he withdrew from the Sony Open. He also has a score to settle with Torrey Pines after leading the U.S. Open on the back nine last summer before melting down the stretch. 

Tony Finau (26-1)

Finau's finishes the last five years at Torrey Pines: 4th, 6th, 13th, 6th, 2nd. He also played well on the West Coast Swing in 2021 with a fourth at The American Express and runner-up finishes at Torrey Pines and Riviera. He plays a natural fade off the tee, which is a perfect setup at Torrey, especially on the South Course. 

Sungjae Im (33-1)

Im has made the cut here on all four appearances. He also has had success at Augusta National and Bay Hill, which are both correlated courses to Torrey Pines South. 

Max Homa (70-1)

Another California native, Homa has victories on correlated courses including Quail Hollow, Riviera and Silverado, the latter two located in his native state. He is a very good putter on Poa Annua and has a recent strong record here (18th in 2021, 9th in 2020). 

Justin Rose (80-1)

Rose won here in 2019 and has two other top 10s in his last four trips to Torrey Pines. He closed well over the weekend at The American Express with rounds of 67-69. 

Brandt Snedeker (100-1)

Snedeker has not won on tour since August 2018 and his star has started to wane at north of 40 years old, but players can still win at that age as Stewart Cink has proven. Snedeker is a two-time winner here and finished third two years ago. He finished 14th last week at The American Express and was fifth in the field for Strokes Gained: Off The Tee and led the field for driving accuracy. 

Dubai Desert Classic

​Thomas Pieters broke a two-year victory drought with a win at the Portugal Masters last November. It only took two starts for him to earn another victory last weekend at the Abu Dhabi Championship as an even-par 72 was good enough to hold off Rafa Cabrera-Bello and Shubhankar Sharma by one stroke. Pieters (25-1 this week) won the event at around 40-1, but his price is much shorter against a similar field this week at the Dubai Desert Classic.

Rory McIlroy (15-2), a two-time winner of this event, had a rally going last week after making the cut on the number and challenging early in the final round before settling for 12th. Viktor Hovland (9-1) was in contention last week as well before finishing fourth. Collin Morikawa (11-1) also made the cut on the number but finished 62nd and looked a bit out of sorts in the windy conditions of the Middle East desert. Tyrrell Hatton (18-1) finished sixth in defense of his title at Abu Dhabi. 

Sergio Garcia (22-1), the 2017 champion here, makes his 2022 debut this week. Shane Lowry (25-1), our best hope last week for an outright winner in Abu Dhabi, was the overnight betting favorite after 54 holes but carded a triple bogey to open Sunday's final round and fell to 12th. Adam Scott, who finished 10th last week, and Paul Casey, last year's Dubai winner who was tipped in this column, are both 28-1. Casey played the Singapore Open on the Asian Tour last week and started poorly with a 5-over 76 before rallying to finish 16th. Bernd Wiesberger (28-1) and Tommy Fleetwood (30-1) round out the top 10 on the betting board.

The Event

The Dubai Desert Classic was founded in 1989 and became the first European Tour event to be staged in the Arabian Peninsula, where it is now one of six events to be played there. 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 tournaments to embrace the concept of paying appearance fees to attract top players. That strategy has proven to be largely successful as the list of winners here include big names such as 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). The tournament has been upgraded to a Rolex Series event with an increased prize fund of $8 million.

The Course

The Majlis Course at the Emirates Golf Club has hosted the Dubai Desert Classic every year except for 1999 and 2000. The par-72, 7,424-yard track is an exposed desert layout designed by Karl Litten. Emirates is shorter than last week’s Abu Dhabi course and includes several doglegs 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 those in the morning. 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

2021: Paul Casey (-17/271); 25/1

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

​Strokes Gained: Off The Tee (last week in Abu Dhabi)

The last three winners in Dubai have ranked sixth (Casey), ninth (Herbert) and fourth (DeChambeau) during their winning weeks for Strokes Gained: Off The Tee. Casey and DeChambeau were both second in the field of their previous starts before winning the Dubai Desert Classic. 

— Dean Burmester, 1.65 

— Thomas Pieters, 1.23 

— Collin Morikawa, 1.22

— Padraig Harrington, 1.15

— Min Woo Lee, 1.08

— Erik Van Rooyen, 1.06

— Rory McIlroy, 0.93

— Viktor Hovland, 0.92

— Takumi Kanaya, 0.88

— Lee Westwood, 0.87

Selections

​​Rory McIlroy (15-2)

A rare tournament favorite selection from this column, but this looks like as good a spot as any for McIlroy to win on the DP World Tour for the first time since 2019. McIlroy has two victories at the Emirates Golf Club (2009 and 2015). He was a mess on the greens the first two rounds last week (-4.4 Strokes Gained: Putting) but gained + 3.59 strokes on the greens over the weekend. He was seventh for Strokes Gained: Off The Tee and fifth for Strokes Gained: Tee To Green. 

Adam Scott (30-1)

Scott was tipped here last week and finished a solid 10th in Abu Dhabi, but he never made a move on Sunday due to losing 2.73 combined strokes putting and around the greens. Scott was fifth last week field for Strokes Gained: Approach and 17th for Strokes Gained: Off The Tee, so his ball striking was good enough. 

Bernd Wiesberger (30-1)

A disastrous second-round 77 in which he lost 2.87 strokes on approach cost Wiesberger a realistic chance to contend in Abu Dhabi. However, only McIlroy scored lower on the weekend and Wiesberger turned his ball striking around after Friday's aberration. He led the field Saturday in Strokes Gained: Approach and Strokes Gained: Tee To Green. 

Erik van Rooyen (40-1)

Van Rooyen was sixth last week for Strokes Gained: Off The Tee and 13th for Strokes Gained: Putting. EVR is playing his fourth consecutive week so there is some risk of fatigue, but he has shown progressively better form in each event this year (25th at Kapalua, 20th at Waialae and 12th in Abu Dhabi). 

Dean Burmester (45-1)

Burmester led last week's field in Abu Dhabi for Strokes Gained: Off The Tee but struggled on the Paspalum greens, so he should embrace a switch to Bermudagrass. The South African also has a very good track record in the UAE, beginning with a seventh-place finish in Abu Dhabi in 2017 on his debut in the region. He has a third-place finish in this event, plus three top-six finishes at the DP World Tour Championship.

Adri Arnaus (66-1)

Arnaus was on his way to final-round 63 in tough conditions in Abu Dhabi before a double bogey on the 18th led to a 65 and dropped him to 20th. He has not been out of the top 10 in any DP World Tour event held in Dubai dating back to his third-place finish here two years ago. Arnaus was ninth here last year and has two top-10 finishes at the DP World Tour Championship. 

Victor Dubuisson (100-1)

Dubuisson tied for his best finish since 2017 with a fourth last week, gaining strokes in all five categories. The Frenchman has a solid history in the UAE with two top-four finishes in Abu Dhabi plus a second and third at the DP World Tour Championship.

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