It's about this time on the calendar that the golf season proper starts, and the first real test on US soil gets underway from the Torrey Pines South (host) and north courses. The north course has seen extensive renovations since last year's renewal courtesy of Tom Weiskopf. Amongst the most notable changes we will see are 20-30% larger greens, while the Poa Annua surfaces have been changed to Bent grass. All greens and tee boxes were replaced. The front and back nines have now been flipped with the coastal vistas now along the home stretch.
Scott Brown was the 54 hole leader here last year and played flawless golf until the field was blown away by gale force winds on Sunday. Players literally couldn't reach some of the par 4s in two shots, even with driver and fairway wood, the winds were that strong. Somehow Brandt Snedeker - 26.00 - posted a round of -3, 69, which for me the best round of golf I've ever seen played, given the conditions. With this, Sneds claimed his second win at the Farmers Insurance Open. Some of the field returned for a Monday finish with winds still high but all fell away from the number Brandt had posted. Scoring average for the final round was 77.9.
Betting market and ones to watch
Jason Day - 9.00 - returns from an injury lay off to lead the market but all eyes this week will be on another returning to competitive action: Tiger Woods - 34.00 - who has owned this course throughout his career. Woods has the perfect profile and attributes for Torrey South so it's no coincidence. Tiger won the US Open here in 2008 and that event is scheduled to return to Torrey Pines in 2021. Rickie Fowler - 29.00 - will also be a fan favourite this week having grown up nearby.
Born in San Diego, Phil Mickelson - 31.00 - will have all the home support after a warm up at the Career Builder Challenge. Michael Kim - 126.00 - is the local boy who has played the south course more than most, and finally Kim is beginning to show promise on the main Tour with three top 30s in his last three, culminating in a 21st last week. In 2016 he was right there after 54 holes until the storm destroyed the event. Kim recorded a third-place finish in the Safeway Open at the back end of last year.
Poa Annua specialists like Jimmy Walker - 31.00 - and Brandt Snedeker often come to the fore at Torrey. Cali boy Brendan Steele - 51.00 - also says he's comfortable on the south course's Poa greens and he comes into the event with a decent course and current form combo. Steele won the aforementioned recent Safeway Open. Charles Howell - 41.00 - is another that falls into the current and course form category: Howell has two top 10s and a top 20 in his last four visits and owns two runner up finishes here previously, both behind Tiger Woods. Howell was 17th in driving distance in 2016 and comes to Torrey with a current form line of 15-7-13-8-12.
Courses, features and premiums - North course 7,257 yards par 72, South Course (host) 7,698 yards par 72
The north course is usually the scoring course but in 2016 fairways were pinched in and rough was up, with the greens firmer than usual. This saw home man Phil Mickelson come a cropper with mistakes aplenty to miss the cut. Now with the renovations - which include strategic bunker placements - to add further to the test, don't expect the north course to be a pushover.
The south course is a US Open style beast. It's one of the favourite stops of a number of Tour players and will test all aspects of a players’ game, mainly power. It's a big hitter's paradise. Yes, the rough will be thick and the fairways need to be hit but JB Holmes - 41.00 - demonstrated back in 2015 that the longest of hitters can sometimes get away with being errant. Holmes was easily able to gouge it out of the rough with shorter irons and in some cases he was wide enough from the tee to actually miss the thickest of the rough.
Greens on the South average just over 6,000 square feet and some incorporate "little greens within greens", referring to the tiering. Phil Mickelson mentions that they all fall away towards the centre. My notes back this up, pointing out that players will be left with a lot of long putts from approaches, and testers for par. Greens are firm, and getting close to pins is tough at Torrey South, especially from the rough. Surfaces are Poa Annua and a strong theme you will see this week are 5-10 feet putts for par ala Augusta. Scrambling will be vital and short siding yourself will be a problem.
Best value bets
Martin Laird - 61.00 or 13.00 - is another real live one to watch at Torrey Pines. The Scot has posted back-to-back top 10s at the venue he says fits his eye really well from the markers. He also mentions his ball flight is perfect to access some tucked pin positions on the tiers and said in an interview at the Career Builder that he loves the tougher tests. Again, his total driving ability gives Laird a real advantage at Torrey, ranking 12th in the Total Driving department. He also sits sixth in strokes gained: approach the green and he comes here with a pretty progressive form line of 8-27-13-9.
Gary Woodland - 41.00 or 9.00 - says the left to right tee shots suit his fade and make him really comfortable at Torrey and that he is long enough to just use an iron for placement on the holes that turn the other way. He also emphasised his advantage on the par fives coming in with shorter irons in hand. Woodland is one of the form men on tour right now with a runner up finish and a 6th at Sony in his last two events. His average finishing position for the last four Farmers Insurance renewals is 22.5, with one top 10. Woodland was 10th for driving distance in 2016 with an average of 306.1 yards.
Last season's 54 hole leader Scott Brown - 301.0 or 51.00 - couldn't cope with the conditions on the Sunday and succumbed to an 87. Not many could though as the field averaged 77.9 strokes, as mentioned. Prior to that Scott had talked about "loving" the Poa Annua greens while many players are the opposite. Brown thrives with the driver too. He's long and straight (35th in strokes gained off the tee and 16th in Total Driving last year) and he shook off the rust at the Career Builder.