Course Preview: Farmers Insurance Open

Sweeping over the majestic Pacific coastline, Torrey Pines Golf Course is a visionary masterpiece and plays host to this week’s Farmers Insurance Open in La Jolla, California. Somewhat similar to last week’s CareerBuilder Challenge, a pre-cut course rotation will be used for the first 36 holes. Each player in the 156-man field will play the North Course and South Course once on Thursday and Friday. The South Course will be used exclusively for the final two rounds.

Twelve of the top-26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey, headlined by defending champion Jon RahmHideki MatsuyamaJustin RoseRickie Fowler, and Jason Day. All eyes, however, will be on Tiger Woods, who’s making his 2018 PGA Tour debut. Woods looked pain-free in his return to competition last month at the Hero World Challenge after a fourth back surgery, and Torrey Pines will be a meaningful litmus test to see how far along, or how far back Tiger really is.

Torrey Pines North is historically the easier of the two courses. At 7,257 yards it plays almost 500 yards shorter than the South Course. The par-72 North was redesigned last year and reduced the number of bunkers while increasing green size. Larger greens will allow for some tricky pin placements, but nothing that will cause the kind of strain players will encounter on the stingier South greens.

Torrey Pines South is best known for hosting the 2008 U.S. Open, where Tiger hobbled to a one-legged victory over Rocco Mediate in a Monday 18-hole playoff. Stretching out to 7,698 yards, this par-72 track features four par-5s, four par-3s, and 10 par-4s. The South greens are well fortified and tough to hit. Poa annua putting surfaces are characterized by uneven growth – which makes them difficult to gauge speed on. While the dark and light shades throughout also make them difficult to read breaks. Players will need to putt aggressively to hold the line on these bumpy, sponge-like surfaces.

Noteworthy Holes (Torrey Pines South Course)

The 200-yard, par-3 No. 3 is the South Course’s signature hole. Playing straight downhill into a two-tier putting surface makes it deceptively difficult. The tee shot is usually at least one or two clubs less than its yardage, but wind gusts upwards of 15 mph can wreak havoc on club selection.

Two teeing grounds more than 50 yards apart adds to the challenge.
Birdies are rare on the 504-yard, par-4 No.12. Despite being the shortest par-5 on the course, it historically plays as the most difficult. The fairway is generously sized, but anything less than a near-perfect drive means big trouble. The rough is thick and extremely penal. The ideal position for those who miss the green is short since the putting surface runs some 35 yards deep, is receptive to uphill chip shots.

The 17th Hole at Torrey Pines South

A high draw is an ideal drive on the 442-yard, par-4, No. 17 to take the large fairway bunker on the right out of play. That will leave a middle-to-short-iron second shot to an elevated, wide, and severely undulating green. The difficulty on approach will be avoiding two, deep greenside bunkers protecting the front, and landing shots softly in the proper spots.

Players to Watch

At one point during the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods went on a birdie run that put him in the lead, and there’s no denying he looks stronger than he did this time last year. Still, Torrey Pines is a different beast than the Albany Course. Woods has won eight times at Torrey, but he hasn’t played all four rounds here since he won in 2013. Worse for Tiger, in his last seven rounds here, he hasn’t shot lower than 71. Because of the South Course length and punitive nature of its rough, Total Driving will be important, and Woods is still having some issues with accuracy off the tee. Everyone is rooting for Tiger, but look for him to miss the cut by a few strokes.

Jon Rahm secured his first Tour victory at Farmers last year on the strength of a back-nine that featured two eagles, one of which was on the final hole. One year ago Rahm was ranked 137th in the OWGR. Today’s he’s No. 2. Jon is reaching the point where anytime he’s in the field he’s going to be a favorite to win. He can tear apart a course with his length off the tee and has improved his ball striking significantly. Rahm, however, has been mediocre this year hitting fairways and greens, something the winner will have to do this week. Look for Rahm to cool off on Torrey and finish outside the top-20.

After finishing no worse than 10th in his last 10 worldwide starts, Justin Rose finally cooled off a bit last week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship finishing T-26. Nevertheless, Rose has performed surprisingly bad at Torrey, with only one top-10 and three top-25s in eight trips here. Last year he seemed to finally figure out the course and was in contention on Sunday before finishing T-4. Rose is playing some of the best, most consistent golf of his career right now, and if he can keep it in play off the tee, he should be hoisting the winner’s trophy on Sunday.