PGA Tour Picks: Farmers Insurance Open

By TOM LaMARRE

As if third-ranked Jon Rahm’s current hot streak isn’t enough, with four victories in his last six starts, he’s got even more going for him as the PGA Tour plays the 71st version of what is now the Farmers Insurance Open beginning Wednesday at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla.

The San Diego area and Torrey Pines are like a second home for Rahm and his wife, Kelley.

“This is my favorite golf course and golf tournament pretty much,” said Rahm, who despite what the World Golf Rankings say obviously is the best golfer on the planet right now. “The golf course, for sure, just because there’s a lot of good history for me. I played good here in college, I also loved the city of San Diego.

“Now, when it comes to personal, Kelley always loved the city of San Diego. Before we met, her and her parents came here almost monthly to the Hilton right here at Torrey Pines. My first and only Monday qualifier we (he and Kelley) drove from ASU (Arizona State) to here to Torrey Pines. I missed it by one, drove back. The next year I end up winning the tournament.

“We also got engaged here at Torrey Pines, not on the golf course, on the hills just past it. So there’s a lot of good reasons for me to be happy every time I come here no matter how I play.”

And Rahm has played the North and South courses at Torrey Pines pretty well, to say the least.

The Spaniard won the Farmers the first time he played it in 2017 by three strokes over Charles Howell III and C.T. Pan of Taiwan, and in six starts in the tournament he finished out of the top 10 only in his title defense, when he tied for 29th.

Other than that, Rahm tied for fifth in 2019, finished one stroke behind winner Marc Leishman of Australia in 2020, tied for seventh in 2021 and tied for third last year after leading at 66-65 before playing the weekend in 72-71.

Plus, Rahm claimed his only major title in the 2021 U.S. Open on the South Course at Torrey Pines by three strokes over Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa.

“When you are comfortable on a golf course, it’s easier to play to an extent,” said Rahm, who has won 18 times around the world in his professional career.  “… I know it suits my strengths. I know it suits my game really, really well. So, I know that if I play well, I’m going to have perfect chance of winning. I don’t know how to explain. It’s a special feeling.”

“Every time I’ve teed it up at Torrey, I’ve had a solid chance of winning the tournament. So, yeah, you can draw from that. … After winning the U.S. Open, obviously it gives me more confidence.”

Rahm obviously is playing well everywhere right now, winning the Acciona Open de Espana for the third time by six strokes at Club de Campo Villa de Madrid in October and the DP World Tour Championship for the third time by two strokes at Jumeirah Golf Estates in the United Arab Emirates in November.

Then Rahm returned to the United States to start the new year and captured the Sentry Tournament of Champions by two strokes on the Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort on the Hawaiian island of Maui, and last week won The American Express for the second time by one shot on the Stadium Course at PGA West in La Quinta.

According to Rahm, there is much more to come.

“In my mind I feel like I can get a lot better,” said Rahm as he is about to try to make it five victories in seven starts. “I feel like that’s the mentality I should have. Again, I work very hard to do what I do. I could find mistakes in every single round I’ve played. Very few times I would say I’ve played a flawless round.”

Torrey Pines is one place that might happen.

BEST BETS

1. Jon Rahm, Spain – The best golfer in the world right now has won four of his last six starts, including the Sentry TOC and The American Express on the PGA Tour recently after winning twice on the DP World Tour late in 2022. The third-ranked Rahm has five top-10 results in six starts in the Farmers Insurance Open, including one of his nine PGA Tour victories in 2017.

2. Xander Schauffele, United States – The sixth-ranked Schauffele is a native of La Jolla, so he’s playing in his backyard this week, but surprisingly he has only one top-10 finish in seven starts in the Farmers, a tie for second two years ago. He tied for ninth in the Zozo, and after withdrawing from the Sentry TOC due to a back injury, tied for third in The American Express.

3. Collin Morikawa, United States – After taking two weeks off following his final-round collapse and runner-up finish in the Sentry TOC, the eighth-ranked Morikawa returns for the Farmers, in which he tied for 21st in his only start three years ago. He’s trying to find the form that took him to victories in the WGC-Workday and the 149th Open Championship in 2021.

4. Si Woo Kim, South Korea – Claimed his fourth PGA Tour victory at the Sony Open in Hawaii to start the new year and tied for 22nd in The American Express last week. Kim is making his seventh start in the Farmers Insurance Open and he posted his best finish with a tie for 11th last year, when he shot 64 in the second round. He also tied for 18th in his first Torrey start in 2016.

5. Justin Thomas, United States – The ninth-ranked Thomas hasn’t been at his best since a tie for fifth at the Tour Championship in August, posting a tie for 40th in the CJ Cup and a tie for 25th at the Sentry TOC, so he’s due to regain his form. This is his fourth start in the Farmers and he tied for 10th in 2014 and held the lead after a second-round 63 last year before tying for 20th.

6. Will Zalatoris, United States – Since returning from a back injury, the seventh-ranked Zalatoris has posted eight straight rounds in the 60s, tying for 11th in the Sentry Tournament of Champions, but only tying for 36th in The American Express. He is playing in the Farmers for the fourth time, and after tying for seventh in 2021, he lost in a playoff to Luke List last year.

7. Max Homa, United States – After opening the 2022-23 season with his fifth PGA Tour victory in the Fortinet Championship last September, Homa has tied for 20th in the Shriners Children’s Open and tied for third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions. This will be his seventh start in the Farmers Insurance Open, and he tied for ninth in 2020 and tied for 18th the following season.

8. Sungjae Im, South Korea – Coming off a season in which he had nine finishes in the top 10 and 17 in the top 25, including a victory in the Shriners Children’s Open, Im has tied for 13th in the Sentry TOC and tied for 18th in The American Express with seven rounds in the 60s in those events. He is making his fifth start in the Farmers Insurance Open and tied for sixth last season.

9. Tony Finau, United States – Off to a strong start this season with his fifth PGA Tour victory in the Houston Open, a tie for seventh in the Sentry TOC and a tie for 16th in The American Express last week, with nine straight rounds in the 60s. Finau has finished in the top 10 in four of eight starts in the Farmers, including a tie for second two years ago and a tie for fourth in 2017.   

10. J.J. Spaun, United States – Has recorded top-15 finishes in each of his last four starts, including a tie for fifth in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and a tie for 12th at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Spaun went to college down the road at San Diego State and has played in the Farmers Insurance Open each of the last six seasons, with his best finish a tie for ninth in 2017.  

OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH: Jason Day, Australia; Robby Shelton, United States; Hideki Matsuyama, Japan; Maverick McNealy, United States; Justin Rose, England; Cam Davis, Australia; Sahith Theegala, United States; Adam Hadwin, Canada; Keegan Bradley, United States; Rickie Fowler United States.

SLEEPERS

1. Taylor Montgomery, United States – Rookie has four top-10s, including third in the Fortinet and fifth in The American Express. Finished T-11 in his first start in the Farmers last season.

2. Taylor Pendrith, Canada – Two-time winner on the PGA Tour Canada finished T-2 in the Rocket Mortgage, T-5 in Bermuda last season. Also was T-16 in first Farmers start last year.

3. Keita Nakajima, Japan – Was No. 1 in World Amateur Rankings for a record 87 weeks and captured 2021 Panasonic Open on Japan Tour in a playoff. Making his first start in the Farmers.  

4. Stephan Jaeger, Germany – Six-time winner on Korn Ferry Tour finished T-9 in Houston Open in November, was solo fifth Rocket Mortgage and T-6 in the Wells Fargo earlier in year.  

5. Caleb Surratt, United States – Freshman at Tennessee shot 69 to lead Monday Qualifier for the Farmers. Posted score of 7-under-par for three rounds last week in The American Express.

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

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