Preview and Prediction for 2014 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines
It may be true that Masters week is the real rite of spring for golfers and golf fans who have been held in the clutches of snow, ice, wind and miserableness for several months. Seeing the emerald green of Augusta National signifies the beginning of golf season for millions each spring.
But there's nothing like seeing the blue Pacific Ocean, the hang gliders and the scenic Torrey Pines South Course during the playing of the Farmers Insurance Open.
Along with the North Course, these two provide a scenic and challenging test for what is annually one of the best fields in the early part of the PGA Tour schedule.
It also is one of those select courses around the world that Tiger Woods has dominated. He is the defending champion and has won seven times in his suburb of San Diego. And who can forget the thrilling 2008 U.S. Open he won there, outlasting journeyman Rocco Mediate in a memorable Monday playoff and winning despite playing on one leg.
Will this week be another Tiger runaway? Will Phil Mickelson get his head right again after Sunday's triple-bogey implosion? Or will this week feature one of the tour's young guns getting his hands on a trophy for the first time?
The Torrey Pines Golf Course has been the venue of record when the PGA Tour comes to San Diego for almost as long as there has been a PGA Tour.
The South Course was laid out on the cliffs next to the Pacific Ocean in 1957, and the PGA Tour's first stop there was in 1968.
In 2001, acclaimed course designer and "Open Doctor" Rees Jones performed his magic in 2001, paving the way for the course to host the U.S. Open.
It is a classic example of beauty and the beast. The views of the ocean and around the course are the former; the course itself, in terms of difficult, is the latter.
From the tips, it can measure 7,698 yards and, at that length, was the longest-ever layout for any major championship until Kiawah Island's Ocean Course checked in at 7,676 yards for the 2012 PGA Championship.
The South Course will be used by golfers for three rounds of this year's Farmers Insurance Open, and each member of the field will play a round on the North Course as well. The North isn't the beast the South is at 7,045 yards.
A unique aspect of Torrey Pines is that it is a municipal golf course owned and operated by a city. Yes, the PGA Tour also has a stop at Pebble Beach in northern California, but even though Pebble Beach is a public facility, its $495 green fees hardly make it your standard municipal golf course.
But even though it's played by the public all year, efforts are made to provide as good a playing surface as possible. This year, public play was stopped last Friday, allowing the course a couple of days of growth before the Tour players got there.
Torrey Pines has always had a bit of mystery about. It produced a couple of days in that 2008 Open of a "marine layer" that blanked the area in thick cloud cover. It can also be windy with rain going sideways.
One thing's for sure: It always has been and probably always be one of the most popular stops on the PGA Tour.
Watching the Farmers Open on TV
The Farmers Insurance Open is perfectly situated on the schedule.
There's no football this weekend, meaning sports fans (especially golf fans) will have plenty of time to soak in the sights, sounds and action from this beautiful part of the world.
3 to 7 p.m. ET—The Golf Channel
1-2:30 p.m. ET—The Golf Channel
3-6 p.m. ET—CBS
1-2:30 p.m. ET—The Golf Channel
3-6 p.m. ET—CBS
But don't despair, if you happen to be out and about in your car and have SiriusXM satellite radio, you can keep up with all the action.
Thursday-Friday, 1-7 p.m. ET
Saturday, noon-6 p.m. ET
Sunday 1-7 p.m. ET
Top Storylines This Week
Any time Woods is entered in an event, he's always part of the storyline.
This week, the world's No. 1 player will be trying to win for the ninth time at Torrey Pines, and if he does, he'll etch another in the PGA Tour record books. This time it will be for most victories at one venue.
Who will he surpass if he wins? Well, himself, actually. He's also won eight times at Bay Hill and Firestone Country Club.
Not to be overlooked as a contender or a storyline is Phil Mickelson, a three-time winner. Can he return to that level at play in his hometown, especially since he hasn't won at Torrey since 2001. His best finish since then was a second behind Ben Crane four years ago. But just as interesting might be watching how Mickelson bounces back from a disastrous decision in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Sunday.
For storylines not including the name Woods or Mickelson, how about "Just where is Brandt Snedeker?" Remember last year when he was the hottest player on the planet during the West Coast swing? His rib injury slowed that express train he was riding toward Player of the Year.
Snedeker is off to an OK start, making the cut in each of the three tournaments he's competed in. History says he'll do just fine this week, since he's posted four straight top-10 finishes at Torrey Pines, including a win in 2012.
It's a really good field this week, and with that, great stories could come from just about anywhere.
This Week's Headliners
Jimmy Walker and Patrick Reed are two of the three winners since the New Year dawned (Zach Johnson, the Hyuandi Tournament of Champions winner, is not competing this week).
Then Reed announced Monday, per Helen Ross of PGATour.com, that he was withdrawing from the Farmers because of a rib injury. His win Sunday added the World Golf Championships Accenture Match Play Championship, meaning he'd be playing six straight weeks and seven in eight weeks.
That makes Walker the player with the most momentum coming into the Farmers.
Woods, Mickelson and last year's Rookie of Year Jordan Spieth headline the 10 players in the field who are in the to 30 of the Official World Golf Rankings.
You may not know his name, but Victor Dubuisson, a Frenchman, will be in the field on a sponsor's exemption. He's been very good since November on the European Tour, posting a win and a pair of finishes in the top five.
Keep an Eye on These Guys
In addition to Woods, Mickelson and Snedeker, there is a handful of guys who deserve a look this week.
Walker, Nick Watney, Rickie Fowler and Bill Haas all finished in the top 10 in 2013.
Haas has played in the Farmers Insurance Open the past four years and has performed well there.
The world awaits Fowler's rise to stardom on the PGA Tour, and according to his statistics on PGATour.com, he's played well enough there to warrant Torrey Pines as the site for his taking the next step.
Watney is the most experienced player of that group and has posted three top-10 finishes at Torrey Pines. He's still one of those guys viewed as something of an underachiever and definitely could make a lot of noise this week.
The Envelope, Please...
Trying to pick a winner of a golf tournament might be only slightly crazier than going to hunt bear with a stick.
Especially in a tournament with a field with as much quality as the Farmers Insurance Open, the odds are very high against being successful in that endeavor.
There are a handful of guys who definitely can win, and all of those guys have had success on the Torrey Pines South Course.
Mickelson has won there and could win again.
But it makes absolutely no sense to pick anybody other than the guy who has won more events at Torrey Pines than anyone else.
Any time the world's No. 1 player, Woods, tees it up near the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean, he's a big favorite. And even though this will be Woods' first start of the year, rustiness be damned.
The man can play this golf course like no one ever has, and because of that record, he's an intimidating factor every time he steps on the grounds.
Plus, he has a chance to set a PGA Tour record (nine wins on the same venue), and that will drive him even more.
Mark it down: Woods will be holding the hardware Sunday evening.
Some things to think about as Thursday's first round approaches.
—The 72-hole record of 266 is shared by George Burns in 1987 and Tiger Woods in 1999.
—Saturday's third round will be University Day with Farmers Insurance rewarding the best round of the day with donations to the player's college golf program. Last year, Aaron Baddeley's 68 was best. Each player who wears his school colors that day will earn a $500 donation to his program.
—Leading in the early voting for the 2014 Ironman Award are Sang Moon Bae, Scott Brown and Derek Ernst.
—Max Homa, who as a member of the California Golden Bears golf team a year ago and the 2013 NCAA champion, will tee it up on Thursday on a sponsor's exemption.
—Rocco Mediate, who lost to Woods in 2008 in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, is entered in the field this week. Mediate is now a full-time member on the Champions Tour. He opened that tour's season last week in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai, finishing fifth.
—It will shock you to know that Woods owns the South Course record, a 62 he shot in the third round of 1999.
Tiger at Torrey
It's hard to imagine, but when Woods won at Torrey Pines last year, it was his first win on one of his favorite courses since that magical U.S. Open victory in 2008.
That's five years, but if he wins this year, he'll have done so nine times, a PGA Tour record. That tells you how dominant he has been there, especially in the earlier years on tour.
"Yeah, I feel comfortable here, there is no doubt," Woods said, via Kyle Porter of CBS Sports. "There are few courses that are like that where I've had my share of success where either I've won or been in contention to win."
When Woods was dominating in the late 1990s and early 2000s, he destroyed par. In 11 appearances there at Torrey Pines, Woods is a total of 172 over par.
"Obviously, I've had a great deal of success at Torrey," said Woods, via Mark Soltau of TigerWoods.com. "Both courses suit my eye. Hopefully, I can use the tournament as a springboard to a big 2014 season."
Last year, Woods had an eight-shot lead with five holes to play but stumbled coming down the stretch, posting two bogeys and a double-bogey coming home. The win was his 23rd career victory by at least four shots.