Scott Shapiro's Farmers Insurance Open preview
After a pro-am event in the Coachella Valley won by longshot Andrew Landry, the "West Coast Swing" of the PGA Tour will heat up this week with a trip to beautiful Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego for the Farmers Insurance Open.
Many of the game’s biggest names are set to tee off Thursday, which is headlined by the return of Tiger Woods. Woods has not been seen in competition since Dec. 7, when he finished fourth in the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas. He may be rusty, and as usual is an underlay in the betting markets because of his popularity, but his eight victories at Torrey Pines—including a win in the 2008 U.S. Open—make him a contender.
The Farmers also features 2019 PGA Tour Player of the Year Rory McIlroy, 2019 Farmers champion Justin Rose, 2017 winner Jon Rahm, San Diego native Xander Schauffele, and Farmers Insurance-sponsored Rickie Fowler.
The field will play a round on Torrey Pines' North and South courses in the first two rounds. The top 65 (including ties) will advance to compete on the South Course in the final two rounds. The South Course is the longest course on the PGA Tour rotation, so length off the tee is important this week. Tiny greens make a quality short game imperative, as well. The best chance to score comes on the par 5s.
McIlroy ranks first in my model for the week and has a big shot to win the event, but his price is too short to swallow, especially since he has yet to play in 2020. Instead, I will look to a few players who come in with good form and present better value.
Hideki Matsuyama (+1600)
Matsuyama ended 2019 with a trio of top 11 finishes, including a second-place effort in the ZOZO Championship in Japan. The five-time PGA Tour winner has not won since a pair of victories in 2017, but he finished third at this event last year and has the skill set to improve upon that this week.
He ranks third in the field over the last 24 rounds in strokes gained around the green and fourth in greens in regulation gained. He is not incredibly long off the tee, but his ability to score on par 5s and scramble on a course where trouble is easy to find makes him one of the more likely winners.
Xander Schauffele (+1400)
The 26-year-old San Diego State alum has surprisingly failed to perform well at an event his game fits so well. He missed the cut in 2016, 2017, and 2018, then finished 25th last year. Despite the poor course history, I expect Schauffele to play well in his hometown this week. He ranks second in my model over the last 24 rounds, where he is first in the field in par 5 scoring, sixth in ball striking, and ninth in scrambling. He is also long enough off the tee to not be at a disadvantage at Torrey Pines.
Schauffele comes into the Farmers in solid form, off a second-place at the Tournament of Champions, even though he lost strokes on the green. If he can putt like he did at this event in 2019, when he gained 3.5 strokes on the field, he has a major chance to find the winners’ circle for the first time since the Tournament of Champions in January of 2019.
Joaquin Niemann (top 5 finish +1000)
The 21-year-old Chilean captured his first PGA Tour victory in September (A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier), behind a strong tee-to-green game and exceptional putting. The highly skilled youngster putted poorly last time out in the Sony Open, but finished fifth in his first start of the year at the Tournament of Champions.
Niemann ranks 12th in the field in strokes gained off the tee, 13th in strokes gained approach, and certainly has enough length to be competitive in his second Farmers try. It may be ambitious to expect him to beat the entire field, but he has a shot to be in the mix Sunday.