Farmers Insurance Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
TIGER WOODS quite likes Torrey Pines. He won the US Open there in 2008, beating Rocco Mediate over a gruelling 91 holes while hobbling around on a broken leg. Oh yes, and he also won the Farmers Insurance Open there in 1999, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2013. That means he has won eight times at this amazing venue, running alongside the Pacific Ocean on the outskirts of San Diego.
It is no surprise, then, that he will return to California as he attempts to overtake Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour victories - a total Woods equalled when he won the Zozo Championship last year. The 44-year-old is going to have his work cut out, however - for a start, it is now seven years since he last won this tournament. And then there is the quality of the opposition he will be facing, with Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose and Jordan Spieth all in the field.
Rose defends the title he won in dramatic circumstances 12 months ago. The Englishman missed four short putts in the first six holes and saw his three-shot lead dwindle to a single shot. When he strode to the seventh tee he told himself that although he couldn’t get those holes back, he still led one of the most iconic events on the PGA Tour - and he wasn’t going to let anybody take it away from him. “I said, ‘All right, we build the round from this moment on,’” he said. And that is precisely what he did, with birdies on three of the next four holes as he re-established control.
And he did so in style. Rose’s 21-under total of 267 (63-66-69-69) was the lowest score at the Farmers Insurance Open since the South Course was toughened up in the early 2000s and was two shots better than Woods’ winning total in 2008. It was his 10th PGA Tour win, the most by an Englishman since the second world war, and his third in barely a year. In 21 starts he finished in the top 10 on 13 occasions, including an incredible eight top-three finishes.
It should have come as no surprise to anybody that Rose played so well at Torrey Pines. He thrives on tough golf courses, and they always seem to bring out the best in him. This, remember, is a man who has finished on top of the pile at such iconic venues as Merion, Colonial, Muirfield Village, Aronimink and Congressional. “I always pride myself on the golf courses I've been able to win on and this one is another very great golf course with a lot of history,” Rose said. “I love winning on great tests of golf and this one will give some special feelings because of that.”
Rose also joined Woods as the only player to convert a 54-hole lead at this event over the past decade. Nine of the past 10 leaders entering Sunday had lost the tournament. And Rose knew that he was in danger of joining those statistics.
McIlroy perhaps summed it up best. “He has a nasty streak in him, for sure,” said the Northern Irishman. “Justin is, he’s a grinder. He’s learnt the hard way, with the way he started his career [missing his first 21 cuts]. I don’t think there’s many mentally stronger people in the world of golf than Justin Rose just because of what he’s been through and coming out the other end of it.”
Rose started the final round last year with consecutive misses from eight feet. He then missed a seven-footer for par at the fifth hole and three-putted the par-five sixth hole, at which point Jon Rahm was just one stroke behind him.
“I never lost the lead so I had to stay patient,” Rose said. “Definitely there were times in my career where I've had decent sized leads and you start to throw it away a little bit and you panic. I just knew I couldn't do that today. I stayed calm, I stayed with it.”
Walking off the sixth green, Rose told himself to remember that he was world number one [he has since been supplanted by Brooks Koepka, of course] and that he had reached that position for a reason. He was also reigning FedEx Cup champion at the time.“I just said, "You're No. 1 in the world for a reason, just start playing like it, please,’” Rose said.
It started with a 138-yard approach to five feet on the seventh hole. Then he got up-and-down from a bunker on the par-five ninth. And when he struck a 150-yard approach to eight feet on the 10th and holed the putt for a birdie he led by four with just eight holes left to play.
He parred two of the South Course’s hardest holes, the 11th and 12th, after hitting long-irons within 30 feet. His stand-in caddie, Gareth Lord, described the four iron to the 11th as Rose’s best shot of the day. “His iron shots, the way he takes yardage off. That was a holding 4-iron. If he hits it normal, he’s going to go through the back. If he hits 5-iron, we’re 35, 40 feet short,” Lord said. “He said, ‘I’ve got that shot.’ And to pull it off the way he did, he’s pretty good under pressure.”
Rose finished second in greens hit during the week, and that is his great strength. He find lots of greens in regulation, which means he doesn’t put lots of pressure on his short game, and he will be returning to Torrey Pines believing he can make a successful defence.
The tournament also marks the start of McIlroy’s campaign. He won four times in 2019, including huge victories at the Players Championship and Tour Championship. And he starts 2020 in second place in the world rankings, breathing down Koepka’s neck. He claims that he has become a victim of his own success, and you have to say that he might be right. What does he mean? If any other player on the planet had finished a year with four wins it would have been hailed as a stellar season. And while McIlroy’s peers voted him PGA Tour Player of the Year, the media had an entirely different view, focusing instead upon his failure to contend in the majors. It is a measure of his incredible talent, and the expectations that surround him that anybody could possibly judge 2020 as a failure.
He says that when he turns up at a venue with his A-game then he believes he will win - it is difficult to argue with that. Maybe he has started to try too hard when he gets to the majors.
It was won in 2014 by Scott Stallings, in 2015 and 2018 by Jason Day, in 2016 by Brandt Snedeker, in 2017 by Jon Rahm and last year by Rose.
Farmers Insurance Open Picks & Tips
Rory Mcilroy. Raring to go
Jon Rahm. Loves this place
Justin Rose. Returns with good memories
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Farmers Insurance Open Fantasy Picks
Rory McIlroy. Simply the best, no matter what the rankings say
Jon Rahm. Certain to be there or thereabouts
Justin Rose. Getting better with age
Tiger Woods. All depends on his fitness
Rickie Fowler. Huge year looms for Fowler
Jordan Spieth. Has he rediscovered his form?
Patrick Reed. Inspired by the controversy that dogs his life
Gary Woodland. Brilliant ball striker
Xander Schauffele. The next BIG thing
Tony Finau. Needs to start winning on a regular basis
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