10 Players to Watch: Farmers Insurance Open

  1. Dustin Johnson, United States — Johnson figures to be in the mix at Torrey Pines if he can get over the jet-lag quickly after the long flight from the Middle East following a runner-up finish in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship on Sunday. The reigning U.S. Open champion, ranked No. 3 in the world, opened the new year with a tie for sixth in the SBS Tournament of Champions at Kapalua before making an eagle on the last hole to close out a 68 at Abu Dhabi Golf Club to finish one stroke behind Tommy Fleetwood of England. Johnson, who claimed three victories last season, is playing in the Farmers Insurance Open for the ninth time and his best result was a tie for third in 2011, when he closed with a 66 to finish three shots behind winner Bubba Watson. Last year, he was tied for ninth after 54 holes but shot 80 in miserable conditions in the final round to tie for 18th.
  1. Jason Day, Australia — The top-ranked player in the world makes his second start of the year this week after finishing in a tie for 12th in the SBS Tournament of Champions, his first event since pulling out of the Tour Championship in September because of a back injury. Day claimed the first of his five victories in 2015 at the Farmers Insurance Open, making a par on the second extra hole to win a playoff that also included Harris English, J.B. Holmes and Scott Stallings. That came a year after he shot 68 in the final round at Torrey Pines to wind up in a tie for second, one shot behind Stallings. He had three consecutive top-10 finishes in the San Diego-area event on the PGA Tour, as he also tied for ninth in 2013. However, last year as defending champion he shot 72-74 — 146 and missed the cut by three strokes, the second time he missed the weekend in his seven appearances.
  1. Hideki Matsuyama, Japan — Following a week off after he cooled a bit with a tie for 27th in the Sony Open in Hawaii, ending a run of seven straight top-10 finishes, Matsuyama will play in the Farmers Insurance Open for the fourth time. Actually, he didn’t cool off that much with four rounds in the 60s in Honolulu, but that came after he won four times and finished second twice in his previous six starts around the world and rose to No. 6 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Matsuyama, who is second to Justin Thomas in the FedExCup standings after finishing runner-up to Thomas in the CIMB Classic and the SBS Tournament of Champions, tied for 16th at Torrey Pines in 2014, but missed the cut there the last two years. He opened with a 68 last year, but followed with a 76 to miss the last two rounds of the rain-plagued tournament by one stroke.
  1. Brandt Snedeker, United States — Snedeker returns to Torrey Pines, perhaps his favorite course, for the Farmers Insurance Open after winning it for the second time last year. He closed with a 3-under-par 69 on Sunday but had to wait until the next day to lift the trophy after the rest of the field finished the rain-delayed tournament. Snedeker prevailed by one stroke when K.J. Choi of South Korea missed a 30-foot birdie putt on the last hole and finished one shot back. He also won the tournament in 2012 when he came from seven strokes back in the final round with a 67 and then beat Kyle Stanley with a par on the second playoff hole. In the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, Snedeker tied for ninth. He started the new year with a tie for 14th in the SBS Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, but shot 70-69 the following week and missed the cut by two shots at the Sony Open in Hawaii.
  1. Phil Mickelson, United States — Even though he faded a bit on the weekend, Mickelson had to be pleased overall with his tie for 21st in the CareerBuilder Challenge, his first event after undergoing two sports hernia surgeries since he last played and tied for eighth in the Safeway Open in October. After opening with 68-66 in the desert, he made a double-bogey 6 on the final hole of the third round to shoot 73, and then made two bogeys down the stretch to shoot 70 and cost himself a shot for a top-10 finish. This week Mickelson is playing in the Farmers Insurance Open, his hometown event, in which he has claimed three of his 42 PGA Tour victories. After winning the 1991 Northern Telecom Open as an amateur for his first title, he won his first as a pro at Torrey Pines by four strokes over Dave Rummels in 1993. Mickelson won again by four shots over Tiger Woods and Shigeki Maruyama in 2000, and repeated the following year in a playoff over Davis Love III and Frank Lickliter.
  1. Jimmy Walker, United States — With a week off after he missed the cut while battling illness at the Sony Open in Hawaii, Walker figures to get back on track in the Farmers Insurance Open based on his history at Torrey Pines. He has finished in the top 10 in four of his last five appearance in the San Diego-area event, including a tie for fourth last year, when he had a chance to win but struggled to a 77 in the miserable conditions in the final round. Walker also tied for fourth in 2013, tied for seventh last year and tied for eighth in 2012. He opened with an 8-under-par 65 to start 2017 in the SBS Tournament of Champions at Kapalua before taking ill and toughed out a tie for ninth, but didn’t have much left when he got to Oahu for the second event of the year. If Walker is healthy, we should see the guy who won the PGA Championship at the end of July.
  1. Justin Rose, England — Following a week off, Rose is hoping to build on the strong start to 2017 he made when he finished second at the Sony Open in Hawaii, although he wound up seven strokes behind runaway winner Justin Thomas. He shot 66s in the first and third round, and 64s in the second and fourth, but couldn’t catch Thomas, who opened with a 59. Of course, Torrey Pines might not be the place for him to keep it going because a tie for 22nd in 2010 is his best result in seven starts in the Farmers Insurance Open. He missed the cut three times in the tournament, including the last two years, and also failed to make it to the weekend when the U.S. Open was played on Torrey Pines’ South Course in 2008. In Hawaii, the Olympic gold medalist seemed to be over back problems that caused him to withdraw from the Hero World Challenge in October.
  1. Tiger Woods, United States — Playing on the PGA Tour for the first time since he tied for 10th in the Wyndham Championship in August 2015, Woods probably could not have picked a better place to come back now that his back injury seems to have healed. He has won what is now the Farmers Insurance Open a record seven times and also captured the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in an epic 19-hole playoff with Rocco Mediate. Woods showed flashes of his old brilliance when he played in the unofficial Hero World Challenge last month, leading the field with 24 birdies in 72 holes. However, he also carded three double bogeys and a triple bogey while finishing 15th in the 18-player field. Woods was brilliant in a bogey-free 7-under-par 65 in round two, but ran out of steam and closed with a 76. Woods turned 41 last month and it will be interesting to see if his body can hold up.
  1. Rickie Fowler, United States — Returning from his title defense in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, where he was not sharp in a tie for 36th, Fowler tries to get back on the beam when he makes his eighth appearance in the Farmers Insurance Open. He played well at the end of 2016, when he tied for sixth in the WGC-HSBC Champions in China and tied for third in the unofficial Hero World Challenge, so perhaps it was merely a matter of rust in his first tournament of the new year. Rickie has missed the cut two of the last three years at Torrey Pines, but he tied for fifth in 2010 and tied for sixth in 2013, part of a run of four straight top-20 finishes in the San Diego-area event. Fowler climbed as high as No. 4 in the world last year, but has slipped to No. 14 and needs some good results to climb back into the top 10.
  1. Hudson Swafford, United States — Trying to avoid a letdown after claiming his first PGA Tour victory last week in the CareerBuilder Challenge, Swafford will make his fourth start in the Farmers Insurance Open. He made three straight birdies through No. 17 to pull out a one-stroke victory over Adam Hadwin of Canada in the California desert, finally living up to the promise he showed in 2011 when he turned pro as a three-time All-American at the University of Georgia. A week before his victory, Swafford gave a hint of what was coming when he opened with a 62 at the Sony Open in Hawaii and seemed headed for a top-10 result before closing with a 71 to tie for 13th. He missed the cut in his first two appearances at Torrey Pines, but was in the chase last year until closing with a 78 in the brutal conditions to tie for 13th.

–Courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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