A US Open at Torrey Pines South brings back memories of Tiger Woods’ amazing victory on one leg there in 2008.
Of course, we see this venue each year in the Farmers Insurance Open although conditions in that January tournament are different to what the players will see this week.
It’s been a theme of the pre-tournament press conferences.
Here’s Justin Thomas: “It's so different. It's very similar to Pebble (2019 US Open host), what, a couple years ago that you can't come play it in February and then compare it to how it is in the summer. It's a totally different golf course.”
Brooks Koepka added some detail: “The fairways are a lot firmer than what you're used to seeing in February or January. The rough's thick, so if you don't hit the fairways, you're going to be in trouble. It will be interesting to see.”
Some comments from the defending champion Bryson DeChambeau: “The grass and the rough is a little thicker. It's a different type of grass (kikuyu), so you can't get through it as easily.”
And finally a couple of lines from the 10/1 tournament favourite Jon Rahm: “When we play early in the year, usually you can hit anything at the pin. It's going to land and stop wherever it lands. With this firmness, I don't think it's going to happen."
Looking at results from 2008 it’s quite significant how, Tiger aside, most of the top 10 finishers that year had poor records in the regular PGA Tour event held in January (back then it was called the Buick Invitational).
That doesn’t mean we actively look for players with poor January records. But it does mean there’s no need to be overly concerned if a fancy hasn’t done much in the Farmers Insurance Open.
DeChambeau took victory at Winged Foot last year and continued a trend. The previous winners of this event were Gary Woodland (Pebble Beach), Brooks Koepka (Shinnecock), Brooks Koepka (Erin Hills) and Dustin Johnson (Oakmont). All are power-hitting Americans.
Angles to consider
1/ Driving Distance
All those five winners from 2016-2020 ranked in the top seven for Driving Distance, suggesting that launching the ball long is more important than trying to nudge it down the fairway. Why? Everyone will find rough on the tight landing areas so it’s better to be playing second shots from nearer the hole. Big is better at US Opens.
2/ Current form
The US Open isn’t a place to try and find your game. It needs to be sharp before you get there. In total, nine of the last 11 winners had landed a top 10 in one of their previous three starts.
3/ California form and putting well on poa annua
Putting well on the poa annua greens will be a key component this week. Woodland ranked 4th for Strokes Gained: Putting when winning the US Open at Pebble two years ago and Tiger Woods was 6th for Putting Average in the pre-Strokes Gained days when winning in 2008. Patrick Reed was 10th for SG: Putting when winning the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey back in January.
The above angles have been used to create a shortlist from which the following players are selected.
Cantlay gives it a good biff off the tee (he’s in the top 25% on the Driving Distance charts) and heads to Torrey Pines on the back of a victory in the Memorial Tournament so his confidence is sky-high. He’s a California native and three of his last four starts in the Golden State show a first, a second and a third. He grew up on poa annua and putts them well.
Finau just keeps rocking up in the majors and banking top 10s. He now has nine in his last 13 after T10 at The Masters and T8 at the PGA. He’s 34th in Driving Distance this season, played nicely at Kiawah Island as mentioned and performs well on poa annua. That’s helped him build an impressive course record here: he has four top sixes in his last five visits. Finau may not win but he’s an each-way backer’s friend – especially in the majors.
Scheffler was fourth in the PGA Championship at Harding Park in California and has really settled in nicely at this level. In the last four majors he has two top 10s and two top 20s, his latest strong effort a tied eighth at Kiawah Island. He’s 35th in Driving Distance and, as well as his strong Harding Park display, he has a third and two other top 20s in recent California events.
1.25pts e.w. Patrick Cantlay at 22/1 (Sky Bet 1/5 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11)
1pt e.w. Tony Finau at 28/1 (William Hill 1/5 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9)
0.75pts e.w. Scottie Scheffler at 40/1 (Betfair, Paddy Power 1/5 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10)