PGA Tour Picks: Farmers Insurance Open

For the second straight week, a top drawing card dropped out of a PGA Tour event, with Tiger Woods announcing that he won’t play in the Farmers Insurance Open—which he has won seven times—after undergoing a fifth back surgery.

The good news is that second-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain (pictured), who withdrew from The American Express last week because of a minor back injury, will be in the field at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, which will host to U.S. Open on the South Course in June.

“Truth is, I hurt myself in the gym on Friday,” said Rahm, who won at Torrey Pines in 2017, said on Sirius XM Radio. “I’m taking time off now trying to be smart. I could play right now (in the AmEx), but I don’t want to make it worse.

“I’m feeling good, just not 100 percent. I could play and make the cut, maybe even a top 20, but if I don’t think I can win then no point in playing. … But I was back on the range the next day.”

Rahm almost won again last season at Torrey Pines, finishing one stroke behind Marc Leishman of Australia, who will be back to defend his title against a strong field on the South and North courses.

Sixth-ranked Xander Schauffele, a local favorite from La Jolla and San Diego, will be trying to win his home tournament for the first time, while seventh-ranked Rory McIlory has made the long flight back after finishing third in the Abu Dhabi Championship in the United Arab Emirates on the European Tour.

“Yeah, the length factor,” McIlroy said of Torrey Pines, where he tied for third last year. “The par 5s are very gettable, there’s two reachable par 4s. There’s tee shots I hit … offline that if you hit those tee shots on the South course, you get penalized a lot more.

“You’re giving yourself birdie looks as long as you don’t hit it behind a stray tree that’s somewhere in the rough. You can sort of just let it rip a little bit more on the North course.”

Phil Mickelson grew up nearby in San Diego and has won his local tournament three times, but his last title came in 2001.

Other former winners of the tournament in the field include Justin Rose of England (2019), Jason Day of Australia (2015 and 2018), Brandt Snedeker (2012 and 2016), Bubba Watson (2011), Scott Stallings (2014) and Nick Watney of Davis and Fresno State (2019).

“The reason why this course plays so long is that we’re at sea level, we get a day where it’s a little bit cooler and the ball just doesn’t quite fly as far as it normally would,” Mickelson said.

Other top players in the field include Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Harris English, Tony Finau, Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, Sungjae Im of South Korea, Viktor Hovland of Norway, Adam Scott of Australia, Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, Will Zalatoris, Rickie Fowler of Murrieta, Gary Woodland and Si Woo Kim of South Korea, who won The American Express on Sunday.

Even without Tiger, the Farmers again has a strong field.

BEST BETS

  1. Jon Rahm, Spain – Since Rahm says he is healthy, the Spaniard is the favorite after tying for seventh in the Sentry TOC, tying for seventh in the Masters and tying for second in the Zozo in his last three starts. He won the Farmers by three strokes with a closing 65 in 2017, finished one shot back in second last year and tied for fifth in 2019.
  2. Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland – All the talk is about Rory being in a slump, but he won the 2020 WGC-HSBC Champions and recently tied for fifth in the Masters, tied for 17th in the Zozo, tied for eighth in the U.S. Open and last week was third in Abu Dhabi. Makes third start in the Farmers after tying for third last year and tying for fifth in 2019.
  1. Marc Leishman, Australia – The defending Farmers champion closed with a 65 to beat Rahm by one shot. He also tied for second at Torrey Pines in 2010, tied for ninth the next year, tied for second in 2014 and tied for eighth in 2018. This season, Leishman tied for 13th in the Masters and tied for fourth in the Sony Open in Hawaii in his last start.
  2. Xander Schauffele, United States – One of the local favorites, Schauffele has not played well at home, with a tie for 25th in 2019 and four missed cuts in his five starts. However, this season he has five straight top-20s, including solo second in the Zozo, solo fifth in the U.S. Open, a tie for fifth in the Sentry TOC and a tie for 17th in the Masters.
  3. Harris English, United States – Ranks third in the FedEx Cup standings on the strength of a victory in the Sentry TOC, a solo fourth in the U.S. Open, a tie for fifth at Mayakoba, a tie for sixth in the RSM and a solo 10th in the CJ Cup. Best Farmers result was a tie for second in 2015, and he also tied for eighth in 2018 and tied for 14th in 2017.
  4. Viktor Hovland, Norway – The 22-year-old Hovland won the 2020 Puerto Rico Open and in the new season he captured the Mayakoba Championship, tied for 13th in the U.S. Open, tied for 12th in the CJ Cup and tied for 15th in the Houston Open to rank eighth in the FedEx Cup standings. He shot 73-72 to miss the cut in his first Farmers last year.
  5. Patrick Reed, United States – The 11th-ranked Reed seems to be close to regaining his form, having tied for 10th in the Masters, tied for 13th in the U.S. Open, tied for 14th in the Zozo and tied for 21st in the Sentry TOC this season. He tied for sixth in at Torrey Pines last season after tying for 13th in 2019, shooting no worse than 70 in eighth rounds.
  6. Si Woo Kim, South Korea – The 2017 Players champion ended a three-year drought last week by winning The American Express by one stroke with two late birdies. Kim also tied for eighth in the Shriners and tied for 17th in the CJ Cup, and ranks ninth in the FedEx Cup standings. Best finish in four Torrey Pines starts was a tie for 18th in 2016.
  7. Tony Finau, United States – Still hasn’t won since his only PGA Tour victory in the 2016 Puerto Rico Open and closed with a 68 to finish fourth in the American Express. Also tied for eighth in both the U.S. Open and at Mayakoba. Finau tied for fourth at Torrey Pines in 2017, tied for sixth in 2018 and last year, and tied for 13th in 2019.
  8. Cameron Smith, Australia – After claiming his first PGA Tour victory in the 2020 Sony Open in Hawaii, he tied for second in the Masters, tied for fourth in the Zozo Championship and finished solo 11th in the CJ Cup in the new season, and is 20th in the FedEx Cup standings. Smith tied for ninth in the 2019 Farmers and tied for 20th in 2018.

OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Phil Mickelson, United States; Brooks Koepka, United States; Hideki Matsuyama, Japan; Adam Scott, Australia; Sungjae Im, South Korea; Rickie Fowler, United States; Francesco Molinari, Italy; Carlos Ortiz, Mexico; Billy Horschel, United States; Jason Day, Australia.

SLEEPERS

  1. Cameron Davis, Australia – Finished third in The American Express last week, closing with a 64, and was T-6 at Sanderson Farms. Won the 2017 Australian Open.
  2. Doug Ghim, United States – Still seeking first pro victory, has five top-25s on PGA Tour this season, including a T-5 in the AmEx. T-20 with opening 63 in 2019 Farmers.
  3. Henrik Norlander, Sweden – Two-time winner on Korn Ferry Tour has a T-4 in the Sanderson Farms and a tie for 12th last week in AmEx after five top-10s last season.
  4. Tom Hoge, United States – Played the weekend in 67-68 to finish fifth in 2020 Farmers after a T-12 in 2018. Claimed two victories on lower pro tours in Canada.
  5. Max Homa, United States – Held lead in the AmEx, but skidded to T-21 with closing 76, and also had a T-12 at Mayakoba. Finished 68-71-67 for a T-9 in the 2020 Farmers.

For first-round tee times, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html

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