The Farmers Insurance Open preview with Skeeter McGillicuddy
First stop for us this new-year in the never-ending quest for winners is the Famers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. Tiger tees it up at a course he has a pretty reasonable record at with seven wins in 17 attempts at this event, and an eighth via his last major, the 2008 US Open, when he beat Rocco Mediate with a broken leg. Not the regular kind of broken leg of course because that means traction and plaster. So a bit of a beat up but then it is Tiger and the tour is / was about creating the super narrative around him.
So now he’s back and coming off a huge win at the Tour Championship. Sure his Ryder Cup performance was a little flat but that was no surprise off the back of a punishing campaign. Remarkable really but at the 14’s it will come as no surprise we are not going to be on. First up, 43, too skinny. That being said his old mucker Milky Phil nearly deified the ages to win last week in the desert at a course that really suited his game – the same approach Tiger will no doubt adopt now that he’s not desperate and can pick and choose his schedule. Still can’t be on him though.
The event is complicated by the two courses in use – the North – played once by everyone in rounds one and two – and the South – played three times by those that make the cut. Either way both courses are long and tight. The North being easier by around 1.4 – 1.5 shots after Weiskoph overhauled it in 2017 – where previously it was more than 3.2! Even though the gap has narrowed significantly you better make hay there at your lone attempt. The average score of the eventual winner on the North course since 2011 is 66.12 – despite the toughening since the 2016 event. Shoot par at the North course and its probably place money at best.
So early in the season for some (Tiger) and for Rory making his first appearance here there are a host of unknowns. Rahm heads the field and won on debut here in 2017. Rory came close in Hawaii on debut so with his game and the likelihood he can pound it, find it, wedge it, and putt it, a strong showing would hardly surprise. The prevailing wisdom is that anyone can win. The South course at an “in the leather gimme” short of 7700 yards might just finally rule out the shorter hitters like two time past winner Sneds. He shot a staggering 69 in atrocious conditions to win in 2016 for the McGillicuddy’s but my feeling is that a paradox will prevail here. It’s long and tight – so monster it. Better to play those shots from the rough from 125 than 175, or more. Milky employed this strategy to great effect last week (in a course with no effective rough) and we have seen the likes of Bubba take this approach.
Tiger and Rory aside and with Rahm heading the market and in good form (doesn’t win all that often it feels) who else is there? Jase has a good record here and Rose – but with his new equipment might need time to settle. Finau is interesting teeing it up with Tiger and will no doubt be looking back watching his approach shots. Xander, also teeing it up with the Tiger side show, is coming in off the back of a win but with three MC’s here you have to wonder if the course just doesn’t suit his eye – unlike Sneds who clearly loves it. Rickie runs well after a spell and Woodland looks obvious with his current form and power. Way down is Jordan whose stock is slowly falling but as always being a freak nothing would surprise.
But no thanks to all these super talented and proven performers. No we shall seek our winner elsewhere.
My shortlist included Wise, List, Niemann, and Grizzo.
Keegan Bradley: 1pt win and place Betfair at $65 and $12.5
Sung Jae Im: 1pt win and place Betfair at $150 and 24.5
Cameron Champ: 1pt e/w at 40/1 with Ladbrokes/Beteasy
Keegan Bradley won for us in the 2018 play offs and could well do the same for us again this week. Long and straight and hitting tons of greens he has posted some pretty consistent scores since his win at the BMW…17th, 15th, 27th and 29th. He’s by some measures the leading driver out there over the last 6 months and combines this with a great strike rate into the greens. The one concern is a 2019 -1.296 stokes gained putting over 8 measured rounds. His putting is well documented here and while he’s not in the same form on the greens as at the BMW he is scoring. Forty under for his last 5 events for a 69.5 adjusted scoring average he comes to Torrey Pines off the back of a 5th last year and a 4th in 2017 when his game was poor and these when the changes had been made to the North course. To me this is testimony to his long game in the light of his putting doldrums. Finally he has a victory on these Poa Annua surfaces.
Sung – Jae Im (from last year) is a serious talent coming off a great year on the Web.com tour. A Web.com tour that seems to have thrown up some really solid main tour prospects – the aforementioned Champ amongst them. There appear to be no real weak parts to his game. Longish, he is also straight and hits geens with his short-term 2019 PGA Tour season stats mirroring his deeper Web.com stats. Mid – high 60’s for fairways and low 70’s for greens. A really solid 15th at the Shriners with 21 birdies where he started off slowly but then posted two career equalling low rounds of 65 over the final three days, he can clearly putt to go with his impressive tee to green game. He’s already posted a 4th placed finish the Safeway and is the 94th ranked player in the world – that is temporary. Now is the time to get on this winner in waiting. Im started the Mayakoba with a 5 under 66 and promptly missed the cut. Since then he is 39 under for his last 12 rounds for and ever improving 37th, 16th and 12th. Im is not a bomber despite averaging over 300 off the tee so he won’t overpower the course. He’s just an emerging talent in impressive, progressive form and he’s going to win one day. Let it be now!
Cameron Champ has the best name ever for a winner (short of winner) and is just awesome. At 320 off the tee hitting 62% of fairways and 76% of greens on paper he looks to be the perfect profile for a modern Tour player. If anyone can overpower a course it’s him. His club head speed is off the scale and yet he’s won and done so hitting so many fairways and greens. In 14 events he has won, had 3 top 10’s and shot a 62. The only weakness would appear to be his chipping. Ranked 4th in stokes gained off the tee and 23rd in strokes gained overall Torrey pines looks ideal for him to melt it off the tee and munch it out of the rough. Even with all his power and impressive tee to green game he’s 25th in strokes gained putting. Missing the third round cut at the Sony could well be a blessing and with 10 days off he’ll have had time to recharge the batteries. The 40/1 may look the best bet of the season!