Long playoffs have been all the rage on the PGA Tour lately, as the Farmers Insurance Open teed off a week after a four-hole playoff at the CareerBuilder Challenge, which teed off a week after a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open.
Keeping up with what is hot and trendy, the Farmers Insurance Open outdid both, needing Monday to determine its winner, with Jason Day outdueling Alex Noren on a sixth extra hole, the morning after the two matched shot for shot into the darkness at famed Torrey Pines.
Noren, not well known in the U.S. despite a stellar European Tour record and a lofty world ranking that has reached as high as No. 8 in the past year, nearly ended the tournament in regulation on the par-5 18th, but he sent his third shot deep over the green after a controversial, lengthy delay caused by playing partner J.B. Holmes. He was unable to get up-and-down for birdie, leading to a three-man playoff with Day and Ryan Palmer.
The three-man playoff became a two-man showdown after Palmer was eliminated on the first hole. After the fifth playoff hole failed to decide a champion, darkness forced a sixth playoff hole on Monday morning, where Day made quick work of Noren with a birdie on 18 after the 35-year-old Swede launched his second shot into the water and had to settle for bogey, and a runner-up paycheck.
FINAL TOP 10
1 Jason Day -10
P2 Alex Noren -10
P2 Ryan Palmer -10
4 J.B. Holmes -9
5 Keegan Bradley -8
6 Charles Howell III -7
6 Tony Finau -7
8 Robert Garrigus -6
8 Harris English -6
8 Marc Leishman -6
8 Justin Rose -6
T12 Hideki Matsuyama, Retief Goosen, Luke List -5
T20 Cameron Smith -4
T23 Patrick Reed, Tiger Woods -3
T29 Russell Knox, Jon Rahm -2
T35 Adam Hadwin, Charley Hoffman, Si Woo Kim -1
T45 Francesco Molinari, Phil Mickelson, Brandt Snedeker E
T51 Kyle Stanley, Patrick Cantlay +1
T54 Bill Haas, Billy Horschel +2
T58 Nick Watney, Bud Cauley +3
T63 Jimmy Walker +4
T69 Hunter Mahan, Sean O’Hair +7
HOW DAY WON
The playoff victory highlighted a remarkable comeback effort from Day, who shot an opening-round 73 and found himself ten strokes out of the lead after 18 holes. A Friday 64, the low round of the tournament, vaulted him back into contention, and going into Sunday, he was just three shots behind Noren.
By the Sunday turn, Day, Noren, Palmer, and Holmes had separated themselves from the pack, but one by one, they failed to convert their back-nine chances (Day played the back nine 2-over), and the playoff was needed to determine the winner.
On playoff hole No. 6, Noren looked to have the advantage on the par-5 after a drive that was in much better position than Day’s. However, the advantage was short-lived as Noren failed to carry the pond in front of the green. Day layed up with his second, and then hit a pristine wedge to less than two feet from the hole on this third shot, forcing Noren to hole-out his penalty shot, which he failed to do. Day, then, tapped in his short birdie putt for the win.
Day, who also won the 2015 Farmers Insurance Open led the field in birdies for the week, and was fantastic tee-to-green on Sunday, especially on the front nine, in which he shot a bogey-free 4-under, and in the long playoff, where he made one clutch putt after another.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR DAY
The win was a big relief for Day, a former world No. 1, who had dropped outside the top 10 after a difficult, winless 2017 Tour season.
With this win, and recent improved play (5th Australia Open), Day is looking a lot closer to the man who was named PGA Tour Player of the Year after a dominant five-win season in 2015.
The Farmers Insurance Open triumph is Day’s 11th career victory, and his first since the 2016 PLAYERS Championship.
‘A’ GAME SUNDAYS
Scoring was tougher on Sunday than the previous three days at Torrey Pines. On Thursday, the low round was a 65 (Tony Finau), on Friday it was a 64 (Jason Day), and on Saturday, it was again a 65 (J.B. Holmes).
On Sunday? There were only too sub-70 rounds in the field, both 3-under 69s. Both came from unsurprising places. One was by Hideki Matsuyama, who was the second-highest ranked player in field, and the other came from Charles Howell III, who has thrice finished runner-up in this event (2005, 2007, 2017).
Howell III finished T6, while Matsuyama was T12. An eagle-2 on the par-4 15th hole and a near eagle three holes later on 18 were the highlights of the 2-under 70 shot by Keegan Bradley, whose efforts notched a solo-fifth place finish. He was the only player in the field to shoot all four of his rounds under par.
Strangely, the man with the worst round on Sunday was the same man who shot the second best round on Thursday.
Early leader Ted Potter, Jr. finished a nosedive off the leaderboard with an abysmal Sunday 10-over 82, 16 strokes worse than his first round total, to finish T73. Hitting fewer than half his fairways and half his greens led to seven bogeys and two double-bogeys.
A bogey-free Friday and Saturday had talented youngster Beau Hossler in contention through three rounds, but his script completely flipped on Sunday as he shot a birdie-free 7-over 79, to plummet from fifth to a T35 finish.
A victory is probably in his near future for Hossler, as he has flashed incredible talent and already has three top 20 finishes, but the 22-year-old would have been better off if Sunday had somehow been rained out.
A nightmare back-nine torpedoed the standing of little-known Michael Kim on Sunday, who was in a tie for third after three rounds. The 24-year-old stayed in the mix when he made the turn in 1-under, while most of his competitors were struggling, but he then carded double-bogeys on 11, 12, and 17.
Combined with a bogey on 16, Kim played the back nine 7-over, and a 6-over 78 dropped him to T29. It was a bit of a flashback to a week ago at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Kim started 67-64, but a Sunday 76 caused him to tumble down the leaderboard and finish T50. He has not been inside the top 25 of an event in his last 22 tries, a drought that dates back to a T12 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last March.
Coming into the week, all eyes were on Tiger Woods, as the Tour legend made his long-anticipated return to the world of competitive golf, after 52 weeks on the sidelines in recovery from back surgery.
For how little he has played – this was his first time teeing it up on a weekend since August of 2015 – his results were excellent. The number of fist-pumps were not at peak Tiger levels, and his driving was alarmingly poor (he hit just 3 of 14 fairways in rounds 2-4), but he impressively finished all four of his rounds at even-par or better, one of just seven players in the field to accomplish that feat.
Relying on an impressive short game, Woods posted 72-72-70-72, and his final score of 3 under was good for a very respectable T23.
RAHM’S NIGHTMARE WEEKEND
Most of those who weren’t fixated on Tiger had their eyes glued to defending champion Jon Rahm. Last year, Rahm used a blistering final-nine to win the Farmers Insurance Open, his first career PGA Tour victory. On top of that, Rahm has looked unstoppable as of late and was fresh off a four-hole playoff victory at last week’s CareerBuilder Challenge, which elevated him to World No. 2.
With a shot at reaching World No. 1 at just 23 years old, Rahm stayed hot through 36 holes, shooting 68-66 to get to 10-under par, and entered the weekend just one off the lead. Given that his last three results were two wins and a runner-up, Rahm seemed like the safest bet among the leaders to hold his position through Sunday.
That did not happen.
Rahm dug himself an early Saturday hole with bogeys on 2, 3, and 4, before a double-bogey on the par-5 18th resulted in a 3-over 75. Sunday was even worse, as Rahm struggled early in windy conditions, and again went on a front-nine bogey-binge, carding four-straight on hole Nos. 3, 4, 5, and 6.
A final round 5-over 77, his worst result in his past 37 PGA Tour rounds, dropped Rahm 17 spots on the final day leaderboard, all the way down to disappointing T29.
Rahm will have an excellent chance to rebound next week in Phoenix, as the former Arizona State star will have significant fan support at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
TREND: SOUTH TO NORTH
One of the more unique features of the Farmers Insurance Open is that the first two rounds are played on two different courses, Torrey Pines North Course and Torrey Pines South Course. Half the field plays the North in round one, and then the South in round two, while the other half does the reverse.
After the cut, the two final rounds are played on the South Course. Interestingly, dating back to 2011, each of the past eight winners of this tournament have played the South on Thursday and the North on Friday. All three members of the playoff began on the South, as did J.B. Holmes who finished fourth, and Keegan Bradley, who finished fifth.
Among the 11 players who finished inside the top 10, only Tony Finau (T6) and Justin Rose (T8) started on the North Course.
FINAL ROUND HIGHLIGHTS
“Its been a long time coming. I know last year wasn’t the greatest season for me, and I had some stuff off-course that was distracting, obviously with my mom having cancer. Its special because I worked really hard in the offseason to try to get back to this position. I’m very thankful for my whole team, we just had to stay patient, and obviously my goal was always to get back to No. 1, so this is a good start in the right direction.”
– Jason Day, 2018 Farmers Insurance Open Champion