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PGA Tour Course Preview: Farmers Insurance Open

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Farmers Insurance Open: Course Insight

The PGA Tour heads several miles north of downtown San Diego to La Jolla, CA. this week for the 2017 Farmers Insurance Open, where Torrey Pines Golf Course hosts the event for the 51st time.

Players and fans alike will be treated to magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean, majestic coastal bluffs, and oceanfront mansions dripping with luxury. But all eyes will be on Tiger Woods.

Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, including his legendary U.S. Open win in 2008 that defined true moxie. But Woods last first official start came 519 days ago at the 2015 Wyndham Championship. And his return at the Hero World Challenge this past December was rather Jekyll and Hyde, as Woods led the field in both birdies and double-bogeys.

It’s easy to overanalyze a limited amount of golf. Still, Torrey Pines will be a meaningful litmus test to see how far along, or how far back Woods really is. And for the rest of the players in the field, Torrey will be the first course they see this year that actually has some bite. A win is a win in any sport. But there’s obviously a difference between beating the Cleveland Browns and beating the New England Patriots.

156 players will tee off on Torrey Pines North and South courses for the first two rounds. And those remaining after the 54-hole cut will then play the final two rounds on the South Course.

The North course is historically the easier of the two, playing almost 700 yards shorter. Last year it played almost four strokes lower than the South. Following a recent $12.6 million renovation, the North course might be more scorable than ever.

The number of bunkers were reduced from 59 to 41, the average green size increased from 4,500 square feet to 6,400 square feet, and all 18 greens replaced the menacing poa annua grass with mortal-friendly bent grass. Larger greens will allow for more variety in pin placement, but nothing that will cause the kind of stomach-churning, sweaty palms players will encounter on the stingier South greens.

The easiest holes on the North course last year were holes 1, 9, 14, and 18. 272 birdies were carded with only 41 blemishes of bogey or worse.  While the most difficult holes 7, 11, 12, and 13, relinquished 43 birdies, while dishing out 182 bogeys or worse.

The longer, more challenging South course measures close to 7,700 yards, with wrist-breaking rough that will play “thick and juicy” this week, according to the course manager (expect it to be about 3.5” tall). So driving accuracy and scrambling will play big roles. And par-5 scoring will also be crucial, as Nos. 6, 9, 13, and 18 played as the four easiest holes last year.

The par-3, No.3 is the course’s signature hole, and played just over par last year.  The hole plays straight downhill, and is always at least one or two clubs less than its yardage. Winds can gust upwards of 15 mph here making this hole both a beauty and a beast.

The South greens are well fortified and tough to hit. And of course, there’s that pua annua. Characterized by uneven growth, making them difficult to gauge speed, and dark and light shades, making them difficult to read, players will need to putt aggressively to hold the line on these bumpy, sponge-like surfaces. The stimpmeter will run at about an 11.  

Quite frankly, sometimes the field will just be at the mercy of pua annua, and will have to take their two-putts and grind hard to keep things going. It’s no wonder this event hasn’t produced a first-time winner in over 26 years. There’s simply no pass for anyone on the South course.  

The two most difficult holes on the South course last year were Nos. 7 and 12.  No. 7 allowed only 16 birdies all week, doling out 110 bogeys or worse. While No. 12 surrendered only 10 birdies all week, and dispensing 147 bogeys or worse.

No. 12 is a brutish par-4, playing long and into the wind. Bunkers are in play left and right off the tee, and left and right on approach to an elevated green. The slightest miss anywhere on this hole will be punitive.

Driving Accuracy, Sand Saves, and Approach Proximity to Hole should be the deciding statistics to watch this week. As much as distance of the tee is an advantage, finding the rough will be an even bigger disadvantage. And putting on pua annua greens will make putting an exercise in patience as much as display of skill. Above all else, Torrey Pines is a course that necessitates precision and an ability to correct mistakes.  And this bodes well for defending champion Brandt Snedeker, Jason Day, Jimmy Walker, Hideki Matsuyama, and Kevin Streelman.

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