FARMERS INSURANCE OPEN: The West Coast Swing continues this week in lovely La Jolla, California, where the strongest field that we’ve seen thus far in 2021 will tee it up at a course that any member of the public can play for the right price, and residents of San Diego can play for a downright reasonable rate.

But it’s not just any public course– Torrey Pines played host to the U.S. Open in 2008, when Tiger Woods memorably beat Rocco Mediate on a broken leg, and will be the site of this year’s Open in June, which partially explains why so many elite players have showed up this week. I say “partially” because it’s never too difficult to convince someone to spend a week in La Jolla at Torrey Pines, and as a result this tournament has been a fixture on the PGA Tour’s schedule since 1952, when it was known as the San Diego Open, and has been won by some of the game’s all-time greats– Palmer, Nicklaus, Player, Watson, Mickelson, and of course Woods, who has triumphed here a record seven times.

Torrey Pines has two courses, the North and the South, and the players will alternate on them over the first two days before all the action moves to the more difficult South for the final two rounds. The South, which is where the U.S. Open is being staged, is a punishing 7,765 yards, and should play every bit of that this week in the cool January weather. The shorter guys simply don’t have much of a chance on the South Course, a fact the players know well. In 2019, for instance, Adam Hadwin was quoted as saying, “I love Torrey Pines but it sucks for my game. I just don’t hit it quite far enough to really compete around there.”

Some of the big hitters, however, have figured out the best way around the South and play it well every year. If you look through the leaderboards of this tournament over the last several years you’ll notice the same names popping up, so this is a “horses for courses” week– I’d think very hard about backing someone with no previous success at Torrey Pines.

The North Course is considerably shorter than the South and not quite as demanding off the tee, and as a result plays anywhere from 1.5-3 strokes easier every year. Tom Weiskopf’s renovation in 2017 added some teeth and improved the greens, but the players’ one round on the North is still viewed as an opportunity to rack up some birdies before resuming the struggle for pars on the South. Over the past eight years the champion of this event has failed to reach 10-under three times and has posted better than 15-under just once, making this one of the more challenging stops on Tour.

Marc Leishman got the job done last year, shooting a final round 65 to nip Jon Rahm by a single stroke, and if you like his chances of backing it up he can currently be had at 47.0 at BETDAQ. Rahm heads the market at an awfully short 8.2, while Rory McIlroy, fresh off a 3rd-place finish in Abu Dhabi, is right behind him at 11.0. Again, this is a week for familiar faces– we should be looking to players who are long enough to compete at Torrey Pines and have proven it in competition. With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking:


Recommendations to BACK (odds in parenthesis)

Hideki Matsuyama (29.0)- Matsuyama has been “back” for awhile now, finding the top-25 in 6 of his past 8 starts, and it won’t be long until he wins again. It nearly happened four starts ago, in Houston, when a final round 63 left him in a tie for 2nd, and we saw him heat up for a brief second at the Sony a couple of weeks ago, firing a front-nine 28 on Friday before eventually finishing T19. After a week off to iron out some kinks in his putting, he returns to a place that he knows very well in Torrey Pines– though he’s yet to win this event, Matsuyama has thrived here in recent years, finishing 3rd in 2019 and 12th in 2018. With his length and tee-to-green precision he’s well-equipped to take on the challenges of the South Course, and he’s had some really nice results on poa annua greens throughout his career. He’s a top-tier option this week and is worth a bet at nearly 30/1.

Ryan Palmer (72.0)- As mentioned, this is a “horses for courses” type of week, as a handful of players just seem to play well at Torrey Pines every year. One of those players is Palmer, the 44-year old Texan whose go-to shot is the low draw, as opposed to the high, majestic fade that most of the young guns seem to favor nowadays. After years of indifferent results Palmer simply seems to have found the best way around Torrey Pines South and has feasted in this tournament over the last three years, finishing T2 (2018), T13 (2019), and T21 (2020). And he’s never entered this event on the type of hot streak that’s he’s currently riding, with two top-5s and four top-20s in his past five starts, including a T4 in Kapalua earlier this month. Given his current form, course history, and price, Palmer might be the best value on the board this week.

Talor Gooch (122.0)- Though he’s yet to break through with a victory, Gooch is a rising star on Tour who has the type of all-around game necessary to compete on championship courses like Torrey Pines South. At 301.3 yards per drive, he’s plenty long, and over the last couple of years he’s consistently been inside the top-50 in most key putting metrics, currently sitting 26th in Overall Putting Average, so he’s dangerous with the flat stick. He had a good start to the wraparound season, finishing 5th at the CJ Cup and 4th in the Houston Open, and he’s coming off a solid week at The American Express, where his 4-day total of 11-under was good enough for T21. Most importantly, he’s shown an affinity for Torrey Pines, making the cut in all three of his appearances at this event and finishing 3rd in 2019. For a guy who can currently be had at better than 120/1, Gooch feels awfully dangerous this week.