The first three weeks of the PGA Tour’s 2019 calendar year has seen the winners produce scores of 23-, 22-, and 26-under par, respectively. In fact, at last week’s Desert Classic, a full six players finished with cards of 21-under par or better. That high-scoring trend should come to a crashing halt this week as the best of the best congregate at notoriously difficult Torrey Pines Golf Club for the 67th edition of the Farmers Insurance Open.
The field is headlined by the season debut of Tiger Woods, but the field as a whole is stacked, highlighted by 11 of the top-17 ranked players in the world.
The following players are the ones we see as most likely to follow 2018 champion Jason Day on the impressive list of event winners:
15(b) Stewart Cink
His iron game has been shockingly poor in the new season (although that hasn’t stopped him from posting two top-20s in four events), but given that he finished 7th in strokes gained: approach the green last year and 4th the year prior, we do not think his mid game will elude him much longer.
Cink has kind of been all over at Torrey Pines, but since last June, he has shown a tremendous amount of confidence in his game, and we think that leads to his best showing in La Jolla.
World Rank: 85th
Field Rank: 42nd
Last Six: 20, MC, 70, 13, 62, MC
15(a) Kiradech Aphibarnrat
This may be his Torrey Pines debut, but the 29-year-old from Thailand has shown WAY too much potential to go much longer without being a PGA Tour champion.
Aphibarnrat’s game travels remarkably well, and we see him getting into the mix with his above-average short game and his ability to grind things out. He could easily be this year’s Alex Noren.
World Rank: 38th
Field Rank: 20th
Last Six: MC, 14, 9, 46, 23, 4
14. J.B. Holmes
The long-hitting Kentuckian has not been in his best form in recent years, but it is hard to bet against him in this event, where he has a T2, a 4, and a T6 in three of his last four starts. The fourth-place finish was result in last year’s edition, where he obliterated his public perception when he took what seemed like hours to hit his approach shot on the 72nd hole, only to eventually lay up and fall just short of the three-man playoff.
Holmes arrives at La Jolla well-rested, having not played anywhere since a T48 more than two months ago at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico. In just four events in the new season, he has showcased a much better-than-usual short game, and will be hoping that he did not lose that newfound competency during his vacation.
World Rank: 99th
Field Rank: 49th
Last Six: 48, 23, 13, 9, 49, MC
13. Gary Woodland
A blistering hot streak for Woodland came to a decisive end two weeks ago at the Sony Open in Hawaii, where he shockingly finished 80th after missing the secondary cut.
We are willing to give the 34-year-old bomber a pass, however, given that he has been much more good than not in the past five months.
He finished T12 at Torrey Pines last year, despite an opening 74 and a closing 75; par for the course for Woodland, who seems to always be great or terrible from round to round in this event. We believe he holds his recent trend and plays more consistently here than he has in the past.
World Rank: 24th
Field Rank: 14th
Last Six: 80, 2, 8, 41, 10, 2
12. Patrick Cantlay
A T9 at last week’s Desert Classic marked a fourth straight top-10 finish for the well-rounded Cantlay, who has one of the best tee-to-green games on Tour.
We were surprised that he was able to get so little going on Sunday when he had been in contention, as a 1-under 71 tied for the worst finish of anyone who finished inside the top-15.
Very promising, however, was that he gained more than three strokes on the field with his irons on both attempts at La Quinta’s stadium course, and he was second in the field in greens in regulation.
World Rank: 17th
Field Rank: 11th
Last Six: 9, 5, 2, 7, 17, 21
11. Alex Noren
Last year’s Farmers Insurance Open was very nearly PGA Tour victory No. 1 for the 36-year-old Swede, who matched eventual champion Jason Day shot-for-shot until a waterborne approach shot on the sixth playoff hole, which took place on Monday morning.
Noren has been a bit boom-or-bust in the past year, but is coming off a recent string of top-20 finishes worldwide. His runner-up finish last year was his only attempt at Torrey Pines, but his excellent short game made him competitive and should lead to another high finish this year.
World Rank: 21st
Last Six: 8, 9, 18, 18, 24, 43
10. Rickie Fowler
Despite a win-less 2018 season, the top-ranked star played at an elite level, and has been in excellent form as of late. Dating back to the beginning of August, the popular 30-year-old has posted seven consecutive top-20 finishes.
Fowler is hoping that recent form can trump recent course history at an event where he has missed the cut in his last three attempts, with a T61 the year prior.
With a game that boasts very few weaknesses, it would seem he is too good to struggle so much at Torrey Pines, a course that was once consistently one of his best.
World Rank: 11th
Field Rank: 6th
Last Six: 5, 16, 4, 7, 8, 12
9. Brandt Snedeker
A true horse for the course, Snedeker won the Farmers Insurance Open in 2012 and 2016, and was runner up in 2010 and 2013. He also posted top-10s in 2011 and 2017.
Nowhere over the hill at 38 years of age, a healthy, confident Brandt Snedeker is one of the safest bets in the field at Torrey Pines, but where is his game?
The first half of 2018 was a struggle as the Vanderbilt product was attempting to come back fully from injury, but since then, he has been as boom-or-bust as they come. He opened with a 59 at the Wyndham Championship in an August victory, was co-runner-up at the season-opening Safeway Open in October, but has a plethora of average or worse finishes since. We suspect he will have the putter going this week, as he always does, but what about the rest of his game?
World Rank: 48th
Field Rank: 22nd
Last Six: 16, 22, 34, 30, 36, 66
8. Rory McIlroy
Due to the ridiculous bar the 29-year-old from Northern Ireland has set, his 2018 felt like a disappointment, despite a win and a runner-up highlighting a season with seven top 10s and $4.4 million in earnings.
McIlroy was tremendous during the FedExCup playoffs, but suffered a surprising three-event slump (two of those events being overseas) before a solid T4 finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, where he played in the final Sunday pairing.
His Sunday nerves have become a concern, but we suspect his good play will continue at Torrey Pines despite it being his event debut, as long as he putts better than he did round 4 at Kapalua.
World Rank: 8th
Field Rank: 4th
Last Six: 4, 20, 21, 54, 7, 5
7. Marc Leishman
Leishman was the epitome of hot or cold in 2018, seemingly following every quality start with another where he was decidedly irrelevant. But 2019 has been a different story so far, as the 35-year-old Aussie has finished fourth or better in three of four starts, including a T3 two weeks ago at the Sony Open, where he posted two rounds of 64.
Torrey Pines might not be the score-fest that the two January Hawaii events were, but with the fourth best scoring average on Tour in the new season, Leishman has a good chance at improving on his T8 finish one year ago.
World Rank: 16th
Field Rank: 10th
Last Six: 3, 4, 2, 18, 1, 21
6. Tony Finau
The 29-year-old seems to do everything but win. One of the most consistently great players on Tour, Finau has five runner-up finishes since the start of last season, and his eleven top 10s in 2018 trailed only Dustin Johnson.
Still, Finau is looking for his first victory since the opposite-field Puerto Rico Open in 2016, and in four events in the new season, he has two finishes of solo-second.
Could this FINALLY be the week? Finau has finished T4-T6 over the past two years here, so he should be feeling good about his chances. Being paired with Tiger Woods and Xander Schauffele will be a helluva challenge, however.
World Rank: 10th
Field Rank: 5th
Last Six: 2, 16, 36, 2, 10, 15
5. Justin Rose
A T34 against THAT field? Rose, the current World No. 1, had looked incapable of finishing outside the top 10 anywhere, but was surprisingly irrelevant at last week’s Desert Classic, finishing 12 strokes behind some guy named Adam Long, who nobody had heard of going into the week.
As mortal as the Brit looked at La Quinta last week, he has been just too good to expect him to be down long. We suspect the irons will be back to clicking in an event that should not struggle to his attention. He has finishes of T4 and T8 in his last two attempts at Torrey Pines.
World Rank: 1st
Field Rank: 1st
Last Six: 34, 17, 3, 1, 3, 8
4. Tiger Woods
The man most of the crowd will be following, Tiger Woods has won this event SEVEN times, and that is not even factoring in that his last major championship victory was on one leg at this course.
The now 43-year-old Woods is making his first official PGA Tour start since turning back the clock with a victory at the Tour Championship, but in a handful of non-official starts since (Ryder Cup, The Match, Hero World Challenge), he has looked surprisingly awful.
After getting a month and a half of rest off maybe the busiest season of his career, we expect him to look closer to the man who has obliterated this event than the one who looked like he didn’t belong at the Ryder Cup. This is HIS course.
World Rank: 13th
Field Rank: 8th
Last Six: 17, 1, 6, 24, 40, 2
3. Jon Rahm
It was surprising that Rahm did not factor more into the leadership story as the defending champion at last week’s Desert Classic, but at the end of the week, he was still sitting in solo-sixth place after four rounds of 68 or better.
Rahm struggled a bit after a hot start to last season, but the World No. 7 is looking like his better self as of late, finishing in the top 8 of his last three starts worldwide (four if you count his win at the unofficial Hero World Challenge in December).
His tee-to-green game, especially the tee part, should keep him competitive again at Torrey Pines, where he won by three strokes just two years ago. A disastrous weekend last year torpedoed his chances of taking two in a row, but he has shown he can excel on this difficult track.
World Rank: 7th
Field Rank: 3rd
Last Six: 6, 8, 1, 4, 22, 11
2. Jason Day
Last year’s Farmers Insurance Open championship, where he took down one of Europe’s best in Alex Noren in six playoff holes represented something of a re-birth for Day, who was coming off a miserable 2017 season.
His 2018 season was a bit up-and-down; he would go on to win another event as well (Wells Fargo Championship), but after a T5 at THE PLAYERS Championship, Day did not finish higher than T10 in a tournament all season.
He is the owner of bar-none the best short game on Tour, but inconsistent iron play has kept him from quite reaching the form that once had him comfortably at No. 1 in the world.
Since October, Day has played in just one official event, finishing 13th out of 33 players at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. The needle has the potential to move far in either direction for Day, who currently sits at No. 12 in the world rankings, but he has to be willing to take it. A confident Day could very well make this back-to-back titles.
World Rank: 12th
Field Rank: 7th
Last Six: 13, 16, 11, 5, 18, 24
1. Xander Schauffele
The hottest player in golf and the current leader in the FedExCup Standings is Schauffele, who has landed in the winner’s circle of his last two official events, the WGC-HSBC Champions and the Sentry Tournament of Champions, the latter of which he made a prodigious Sunday comeback with a sizzling 62.
The Farmers Insurance Open is the only event that the 25-year-old from La Jolla, the very place that Torrey Pines happens to be located, has played in each of his three years on Tour.
However, that feels less impressive when it is mentioned that he missed the cut all three times. Despite it being his local course, something about Torrey does not seem to sit perfectly with Schauffele, but you have to figure he has played it about a million times and he is white-hot at the moment.
The safe money is that this will be, by far, his best career finish in this event.
World Rank: 6th
Field Rank: 2nd
Last Six: 1, 8, 16, 1, 48, 25
Next Six: Cameron Champ, Daniel Berger, Abraham Ancer, Keegan Bradley, Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth