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McIlroy, Woods debut at Torrey Pines

By Wes Reynolds  (Point Spread Weekly) 

January 22, 2020 12:17 AM
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Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods
© Imagn

Farmers Insurance Open

 

Another long shot won the American Express title as Andrew Landry came in at 200/1 last week. Tom Hoge was our nearest tip at 200/1, tying for sixth. The field for this week’s Farmers Insurance Open is much deeper than last week as Rory McIlroy (7/1) and Tiger Woods (12/1) make their 2020 calendar-year debuts. Jon Rahm, the 2017 tournament champion, is sandwiched between the two on the odds board at 9/1. San Diego native Xander Schauffele and defending champion Justin Rose, fresh off a runner-up finish in Singapore on the Asian Tour last week, follow in the marketplace at 16/1. Patrick Reed (30/1), Gary Woodland (25/1), Tony Finau (30/1), Francesco Molinari (80/1), Hideki Matsuyama (20/1) and Rickie Fowler (20/1) are among a host of other OWGR top 25 players in this week’s event. Other players ranked in the top 50 teeing it up in San Diego include Sungjae Im (30/1), Jason Day (40/1), Brandt Snedeker (40/1), Cameron Smith (40/1), Jordan Spieth (50/1), Marc Leishman (50/1), Billy Horschel (60/1) and Byeong Hun An (80/1).

 

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 1968-88. The dominant player in event history is Tiger Woods, who has won it seven times (1999, 2003, ’05, ‘06, ‘07, ‘08, ‘13), and that doesn’t include his 2008 U.S. Open championship at Torrey Pines. Longtime San Diego resident Phil Mickelson is the only player besides Woods to win this event more than twice (1993, 2000, ‘01). Mickelson and J.C. Snead (1975-76) are the only players to win in consecutive years. Arnold Palmer (1957, ‘61) and Tom Watson (1977, ‘80) are also multiple winners in San Diego. This event is also notable for the fact that Jack Nicklaus never won here, but he was part of a memorable finish in 1982 as he shot a final-round 64 to fall one shot short of Johnny Miller.

 

The Course

 

The Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla is a 36-hole public course owned by the City of San Diego. Two courses host the event. The North Course and South Course host the first two rounds, with each golfer playing both courses. Then the South Course takes over for the final 36 holes. The South Course, which was renovated last year by Rees Jones in advance of the 2021 U.S. Open, is now the longest course on the PGA Tour at more than 7,700 yards. Both courses play at a par-72, but the South Course is more difficult. The South Course is 450 yards longer and plays an average of close to two strokes higher. 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 both courses

 

Year

North Course

South Course

Difference

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 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 Farmers Insurance Open winners started on the more difficult South Course on Thursday and then played the North Course on Friday. However, this trend was brought to a screeching halt last year when Justin Rose shot a 9-under 63 on the North Course in the Thursday round and then ran away with the event. However, enough of a sample size exists to look at the pairings for the first two rounds and perhaps bet the golfers 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.

 

Key metrics to evaluate look to be Strokes Gained: Off The Tee (winner’s field ranking the last three years: 7.33) and GIR (winner’s field ranking the last three years: 8.33).

 

Recent History/Winners

 

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, J.B. Holmes and Scott Stallings

*** — playoff win over Kyle Stanley

 

Selections

 

Hideki Matsuyama 20/1

He finished third here last year due to a 1-over 73 on Saturday that prevented him from catching Rose. Matsuyama just needs to avoid the bad start and he can surely contend. Two weeks ago at the Sony Open, he opened with a 74 before logging 67-67-66 over the final 54 holes to place 12th. The putter, as usual, held him back, as he ranked second in Strokes Gained: Tee To Green two weeks ago.

 

Tony Finau 30/1

Finau has never finished out of the top 25 here, including back-to-back finishes of fourth and sixth in 2017 and ‘18. He was on the first page of last week’s crowded leaderboard before finishing 14th. Early in the season, Finau ranks second on the tour in Strokes Gained: Tee To Green (+ 2.43 strokes per round) behind only local favorite Xander Schauffele.

 

Brandt Snedeker 40/1

Snedeker is not in the best form of late, but other than Tiger Woods, he’s the ultimate horse for the course at Torrey Pines. He has two wins, two runners-up and six top-10s here in the last 10 years here.

 

Joaquin Niemann 50/1

While he has never won the Farmers Insurance Open, Niemann has won twice at Torrey Pines, with back-to-back wins in the IMG Academy Junior World Championships in 2015 and ‘16. Niemann started his 2020 calendar season with a strong fifth in Maui at the Tournament of Champions.

 

Ryan Palmer 60/1

Palmer made the playoff here two years ago before losing to Jason Day. He was also in contention last year and played in the Saturday final group with Rose and Matsuyama before shooting a 3-over 75 to end his chances. Nevertheless, Palmer finished a respectable 13th and shot 14 under across his other three rounds. He finished fourth two weeks ago at the Sony Open.

 

Cameron Champ 80/1

Champ currently ranks No. 1 on the PGA Tour in Strokes Gained: Off The Tee (+ 1.22 strokes per round) and ranked sixth in the category last year (+ 0.657). He already has a win this PGA Tour season with a victory last September at the Safeway Open in Napa Valley.

 

Tom Hoge 150/1

We will go back to the well with Hoge, who was tipped here last week and finished T6 as a 200/1 shot. He finished 12th the week before at the Sony Open, so his game looks to be coming around.

 

Dubai Desert Classic

 

The Middle East swing began last week in Abu Dhabi. Sergio Garcia was just a couple of strokes back going into Sunday but failed to make a move and ended up T8 with another one of our tips, Martin Kaymer, who closed with a 65. Lee Westwood (80/1) was terrific all week tee to green and picked up his 25th career European Tour win and 44th worldwide, finishing two shots ahead of Victor Perez (25/1 this week), Tommy Fleetwood (7/1 tournament favorite this week) and Matthew Fitzpatrick (12/1 second choice this week). Westwood has two runners-up in Dubai, and his price is slashed to 30/1. Louis Oosthuizen shares the co-second-choice role with Fitzpatrick at 12/1. Former Dubai winners Henrik Stenson (2007) and Garcia (‘17) follow at 20/1. Four players sit at 25/1, including Perez, defending event champion Bryson DeChambeau, Shane Lowry and Bernd Wiesberger.

 

The Event

 

The Dubai Desert Classic was founded in 1989 and became the first European Tour event staged on the Arabian Peninsula. It is now one of six events played there. The tournament was created by a Dubai government program to develop and promote professional and casual golf tourism in 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 proved largely successful, as the list of winners includes big names such as Tiger Woods (2006, ‘08), Rory McIlroy (2009, ‘15), Ernie Els (1994, 2002, ‘05) and other major champions like 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 how it changed the way we watch golf on television. The Dubai Desert Classic was the first event televised live on the 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 1999 and 2000 since its inception. This track, a par-72 of 7,353 yards, is an exposed desert layout but 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. Early forecasts indicate the wind is expected to blow hardest during Sunday’s final round. The Bermuda greens are relatively quick (12-13 on the Stimpmeter). The course has four par-5s, but three are on the back nine. The most important metric to examine here is Strokes Gained: Off The Tee. Every winner over the last 10 years, except Haotong Li in 2018, finished in the top 20 in GIR during the week he won.

 

Recent History/Winners

 

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 Lee Westwood

 

Selections

 

Sergio Garcia 20/1

He didn’t make enough of a move Sunday for us to have a shot at a winner, but he played well last week at Abu Dhabi. The best drivers tend to thrive on the Middle East swing, and there are very few better drivers than Garcia. He led the European Tour last season in Strokes Gained: Off The Tee (+ 1.09 strokes per round). Garcia was second in the field last week on the par-5s at 10 under par. This is especially impressive considering he had new Ping sticks in the bag last week after parting with Callaway in the offseason. Ordinarily I wouldn’t back players in their early events after an equipment switch, but this is a different circumstance, considering Garcia won here in 2017 and has led the field in GIR three of 10 times he has played at the Emirates. He was third last year, and with the wind expected to blow a bit more on the weekend, it’s always good to take proven players in conditions that resemble links golf.

 

Shane Lowry 25/1

Lowry is a regular vacationer in Dubai. He likes the course but has missed the cut three times in five tries. The Irishman also MC last week in defending his title in Abu Dhabi. Lowry bogeyed his last two holes Friday to miss the weekend by a shot. However, he already has a second-place finish in 2020 at Hong Kong, where he was fifth in the field for GIR.

 

Martin Kaymer 40/1

Kaymer has four top-four finishes here. He led the field in Strokes Gained: Tee To Green last week and capped a T8 finish with a 65 on Sunday. Kaymer also seems to have some confidence, having reunited with longtime caddie Craig Connelly, who was on the bag for both his major victories at the 2010 PGA and 2014 U.S. Open.

 

Danny Willett 50/1

Willett missed the cut last week in Abu Dhabi, but he has two victories and two other top-five finishes in his last seven visits to the UAE’s largest city.

 

Ross Fisher 80/1

Fisher finished T6 last week in Abu Dhabi, going 11 under for his final 36 holes with just one bogey. He has ranked in the top 10 in GIR in four of his last 10 events, including 10th last week. He has three career top-10 finishes here and has been in the top eight in GIR five times in 12 visits here.

 

Adri Arnaus 100/1

Arnaus went bogey-free in his first 36 holes last week in Abu Dhabi. He is another elite driver, ranking fourth in his European Tour rookie season in Strokes Gained: Off The Tee (+ 0.83 strokes per round). The young Spaniard bought a home in Dubai in the offseason and will get to stay there this week. Spaniards also have a good history at this event, having won in four of the last 10 years — Garcia in 2017, Rafael Cabrera-Bello in 2012, Alvaro Quiros in 2011 and Miguel Angel Jimenez in 2010.

 

Romain Langasque 100/1

The Frenchman has good ball-striking pedigree, having finished ninth on tour last season in Strokes Gained: Off The Tee (+ 0.64 strokes per round) and 17th in GIR (72.64%). He was a respectable 20th here last year in his course debut.

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