Farmers Insurance Open: The Return of Tiger Woods

Last Week

Jon Rahm, the defending champion of this week's Farmers Insurance Open, outlasted Andrew Landry to win the CareerBuilder Challenge on the fourth playoff hole in the desert. Rahm's victory elevated him to second place in both the FedEx Cup points race and the World Golf rankings. The Spaniard from Arizona State is definitely living up to the hype that followed him after his college career in Tempe. As I predicted in this piece last week, the field went low and it took extra holes to determine the winner.

In a side note, I interviewed Andrew Landry after his second round of the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, where he had the opening round lead and ended up in the final group on Sunday, eventually finishing 15th behind winner Dustin Johnson. Landry was paired in the final round at the CareerBuilder with fellow Arkansas Razorback Austin Cook, who faded to a tie for 14th after suffering two double-bogeys on his final round. The big story on Sunday was the 8-under par 64 posted by Sam Saunders, the grandson of Arnold Palmer, who won a record five times in what is now known as the CareerBuilder Challenge, but known for many years as the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic.

This Week

Farmers Insurance Open
La Jolla, California

Courses

Torrey Pines Golf Course South (host course), Torrey Pines Golf Course North

The story is all about Tiger Woods' return to competitive golf at a tournament he's won seven times, after withdrawing from this same event last year. The 14-time major champion stoked interest with an impressive ninth-place finish at his own Hero World Challenge against a difficult 18-player field in November. Woods is over four years removed from his last tour win and this June will mark the 10th anniversary of his last major victory, the 2008 U.S. Open at this very venue.

The Tour to which he returns is very different than the one he left in 2013. Jordan Spieth at the age of 24 has won three majors, Joh Rahm in his second full season is poised to become the next great thing, Justin Thomas is coming off a terrific year where he won a major and captured the FedEx Cup, and a large contingent of young players are playing aggressive golf every week.

Woods will start his week on the tougher South Course, so we probably won't have a good idea of where he stands until Tiger gets a shot at the easier North Course on Friday. The final two rounds will be played on the South. A made cut by the player I consider the best of all time will probably be considered a win, setting the stage for a run up to the Masters in April.

History

The San Diego Open began in 1952 at Chula Vista Country Club. Beginning in 1968, the tournament moved to its current Torrey Pines venue, the same year Andy Williams lent his name to the event during the era when Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Jackie Gleason, and Glenn Campbell did the same. The relationship lasted until 1988, after which there was a long list of sponsors, the latest of which is Farmers Insurance which took over in 2010.

The list of winners includes a long line of great players, including Tommy Bolt, Gene Littler, Bob Rosburg, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Billy Casper, Tom Weiskopf, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Fuzzy Zoeller, Craig Stadler, Davis Love III, Mark O'Meara, John Daly, Bubba Watson, Jason Day, and of course, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. The stature of the tournament, for the last 10 years, has been enhanced by Torrey Pines hosting the 2008 U.S. Open.

2018 Field

* Eighteen of the top 19 finishers from last year's tournament are in the field

* Five of the top 10, 14 of the top 20, and 34 of the top 50 in FedEx Cup points

* Four of the top 10, eight of the top 20, and 19 of the top 50 in the World Golf rankings

* Twenty countries represented

* Eight colleges have four or more former players represented: Oklahoma State (8), Georgia Tech (5), Stanford (4), Alabama (4), Arizona State (4), Florida (4), Georgia (4), Texas A&M (4)

Oldest Player

Retief Goosen (48)

Youngest Player

Norman Xiong (18)

Major Champions

Tiger Woods (14), Phil Mickelson (5), Padraig Harrington (3), Retief Goosen (2), Stewart Cink, Geoff Ogilvy, Jimmy Walker, Lucas Glover, Justin Rose, Keegan Bradley, Jason Day

Total Tour Victories

354 (Tiger Woods, 79)

Total Major Victories

31 (Tiger Woods, 14)

Past Champions

Tiger Woods (7), Phil Mickelson (3), Brandt Snedeker, (2)Jon Rahm, , Jason Day, Scott Stallings, Ben Crane, Nick Watney

Who's Hot

Jon Rahm, winner of last week's CareerBuilder Challenge, has risen to No. 2 in both the FedEx Cup and World Golf rankings. Brian Harman, despite being without a win this season, still has four top-fives, five top-10s, and six top-20s in six events this season. Hidecki Matsuyama has only played three official events in the current season, but he's registered two top-fives and is a lock to become the first Japanese golfer to win a major tournament. Justin Rose, number six in the World Golf rankings and 10th in the FedEx Cup, already has a win this season and his consistency makes him a threat every week.

Who's Not

Aaron Baddeley, now 36-years-old and once a can't miss talent, has fallen to number 231 in the World Rankings and has just one win on Tour since 2011. His win at the 2016 Barbasol Championship has him exempt through this season, but his 138th place in the FedEx Cup last season doesn't bode well for the future, until he can turn his game around and get back on the track that saw him win three events from 2006 to 2011 and qualify for the Tour Championship in 2007 and 2011.

What to Look For

Winners of 12 of the last 13 Farmers events are in the field. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have combined for 10 wins between them. Given the history of this event, there's a good chance the winner will come from the list of past winners or high finishers in recent Farmers tournaments. The South Course is a major championship caliber track, while the North is more suited to the public course player that has access to the property.

The winner will need to play aggressively on the easier North 18, while navigating the South with precision and finesse to contend. Whatever happens, the hype over Tiger's return, at least for the first two days, will overwhelm anything else happening on the course. My prediction is that barring injury, Tiger will find a way to make the cut, but that contention is still a few tournaments away.

Kevin Krest is the author of the entertaining PK Frazier series of sports suspense novels and the co-host of the weekly "The Cold Hard Truth: On Sports" broadcast. His books can be found on Amazon.com.

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