Today's Free Picks for
Posted Wednesday, January 24 at 2:00 PM EST.
Farmers Insurance Open
Part of the reason for such an elite field assembling in San Diego is the chance to play at Torrey Pines’ pair of stunning courses, which truly are among the finest on the PGA TOUR’s rotation. The captivating clifftop location overlooks the Pacific Ocean, and so it’s no surprise that this is one of the most well-attended events on the circuit. There are two courses on rotation, with the North course hosting half the field on Thursday and Friday alongside the South, before the cut is made at the halfway point and the final 36 holes are played out on the South stretch.
The North track measures 7,258 yards for its Par 72 after a 2016 overhaul from Tom Weiskopf added 200 yards to its tally. Another of his changes was to increase the size of the Bentgrass greens to make them more receptive, which has generally eased the difficulty of the layout, which plays at roughly three shots easier than the South on average.
About that South Course. This is a true brute at 7,698 yards with tough-to-find fairways, but it is a devil that rewards the finer detail: former winners here include noted tee-to-green merchants Brandt Snedeker, Scott Stallings and Nick Watney, so hitting long and straight is key. The greens are Poa Annua, and so players who thrive on this rare test should be considered.
The South Course is certainly up there with the toughest tracks on Tour, with 12 of the holes playing comfortably over par last year. That said, each of the four Par 5s offers a glorious birdie opportunity if the fairway is found off the tee.
What we’re looking for this week:
Go long and straight off the tee, hit your approach close and make plenty of sub 10-foot putts. Just 12 months ago, winner Jon Rahm ranked second for Strokes Gained: Tee to Green and ninth for Strokes Gained: Off the Tee, and that gives a clear indication of what it takes to do well here. Remember, the South Course, where 75% of the action will unfold, is a tough course with difficult-to-hit fairways and greens. As such, players in form from tee-to-green are absolutely imperative this week.
The identities of some of the players that featured in the top-10 last year are indicative: Charles Howell III, Keegan Bradley, Pat Perez, Brian Harman, Brandt Snedeker, Robert Streb….these are all guys famed for keeping the ball in play, rather than belting it to the moon.
Rahm’s stats from 12 months ago confirm the fact: he ranked 16th for Driving Distance but at an average of 296 yards, which is typically a lot shorter than we’d expect. The fact the Spaniard also ranked 19th for Driving Accuracy, hitting 60% of fairways, confirmed that he placed a premium on finding the short grass.
In such a difficult test, iit will come as no surprise to learn that playing the Par 5s well is key. There are four of them on the South Course, and Rahm went through the dozen in -9, eagling the 13th (twice) and the 18th. The winner this week will make up the bulk of their total on the longer holes, that’s for certain.
Much of the golf will be played on Poa Annua putting surfaces too, which is a fairly rare treat for the players these days. If you’re looking to deep dive into some relevant stats, the three courses of the AT&T Pebble Beach and Riviera (home to the Genesis Open) are Poa Annua and also located in California.
Unless otherwise stated, the following bets to win outright will be placed at BET365 because of their cash-out option during the event.
Ollie Schneiderjans 45-1
If pushed to name a bunch of players likely to break their PGA TOUR title duck in 2018, we suspect that Ollie Schneiderjans would feature rather heavily on any such listings. The 24-year-old notched his first top-10 at Torrey Pines 12 months ago, aided by some phenomenal ball-striking that saw him rank fifth for SG: Tee-to-Green. Schneiderjans has finished inside the top-25 in four of his last five PGA TOUR starts, with three of those being top-20s, and that is a continuation of the consistency last season which saw him deliver five top-10 returns. His game just looks tailormade for Torrey Pines, with that laser-straight hitting off the tee (he ranks fourth for Total Driving) and imaginative iron play, and with top-10s here and at Riviera a theme of comfortability on Poa Annua emerges. Schneiderjans will win this season, we’re confident of that, and this week looks as likely as any given his suitability for the venue (Risking 0.2 units to win 9).
Francesco Molinari 66-1
It’s a surprise to see Francesco Molinari so undervalued in an event where ball-striking is more of a factor than normal. There are a few excellent options around this price point but we’re willing to give the nod to Molinari given that, on his day, he has his golf ball on a rope. It’s been a while since the Italian has found himself on US soil, but two eye-catching performances towards the tail-end of last season – T2 at the PGA Championship, T12 at the BMW Championship – are still fresh in the memory. You certainly couldn’t accuse a player that recorded top-10 finishes in THE PLAYERS Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational, plus T14 at Torrey Pines, of being afraid to grind it out, and as a consequence, we expect Molinari to give us a good run for our money. He’s also undervalued in DFS. In 2017, Molinari ranked 3rd ON TOUR in SG: Approach, 4th ON TOUR in SG: Tee-to-Green and 23rdf ON TOUR in SG: Off-the-Tee. He checks a lot of boxes this week and if he gets off to a good start on Thursday, he’s an absolute threat to win (Risking 0.2 units to win 13.2 units).
Julian Suri 100-1
Remember when nobody heard of Jon Rahm and he shot up the rankings like wildfire? Suri is comparable. If you're not familiar with him, that will change. A year ago at this time, he sat 1,125th in the Official World Golf Ranking. Today, he's 62nd. That's what happens following a pair of victories (including one on the European Tour), a trio of T8s and a co-runner-up finish in his last start in Hong Kong two months ago. He finished sixth in scoring average on the European Tour in 2017, ahead of the likes of Jon Rahm (seventh), Peter Uihlein (eighth), Henrik Stenson (ninth) and Matthew Fitzpatrick (11th). Now 26 years of age, the Duke product will barnstorm the next three stops on the West Coast Swing and he’s about to make some serious noise. Rust is a bit of a concern but we’re confident that he’s prepared himself for the 2018 season. Watch closely (Risking 0.2 units to win 20 units).
Harris English 80-1
Renowned as one of the finest putters around, English has been doing his thing with the short stick in these parts for years. Perhaps a third win of his career is just around the corner. This seven-year TOUR member should be in his prime now at age 28. It was only 20 months ago when he eked inside the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking. Alas, prior to last week's T11 at the CareerBuilder Challenge, he had sunk to 287th and because of that, he’s underpriced. Now slotted 252nd, he's positioned to marry four strong rounds in the Coachella Valley with a perfect record in five trips to the Farmers Insurance Open. His record here includes a playoff loss in 2015 and a T14 last year, which was his second-best finish in all of 2017 (Risking 0.2 units to win 16 units).
Richy Werenski 250-1
In boxing circles there is a term called a “throwaway” bet and it refers to a boxer with no chance that is priced so high that it must be bet. Buster Douglas against Mike Tyson way back in the day was an example. Call this a throwaway bet too because at this price, we simply must play Richy Werenski. He played in 26 tournaments last season and recorded three Top 10 finishes. The first time the market was exposed to him was when he finished T2 at The Barracuda in August. Werenski ranks higher than so many mid-to-upper tier pros in some of the key stats we’re looking for. For instance, he ranks higher than Charles Howell III in Driving Accuracy and Chuckie Three Sticks is going to get a ton of play this week in DFS because his course history here is impressive. We love that Werenski has already gone 26 rounds in 2018, which is more than 95% of the pros on TOUR and is a good indication that he’s feeling great and wants to compete. Werenski is capable and he’s ready to make a mark in 2018.
There are seriously 30-40 golfers every week that we could recommend playing but we have to draw the line somewhere. To suggest that it is challenging to find the right ones week to week would be an understatement. We’re looking for pros that are 40-1 or better, which eliminates the best the tour has to offer. Guys like Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Justin Rose and Marc Leishman among others are not playable at 12-1 to 25-1 or less because the other options at higher prices are so much better. Of course we’re always fearful of pros like Rahm, Fowler, McIlroy, Spieth and Hideki Matsuyama but we’re not playing the upper-tier pros either because the prices are too weak. The money in golf is in the HEAD-to-HEAD matchups and that’s where we’ll risk most of our units with the WIN outright being gravy if it does hit.
Head-to-head Matchups for Farmers Insurance Open
#7026 Ollie Schniederjans +117 over Phil Mickelson
We have Schniederjans to win outright and if we like him to do that, we absolutely have confidence that he’ll finish ahead of Phil. This course has caused nothing but misery to guys that are constantly missing the fairways and Mickelson has hit just 71 out of 154 fairways this year. That’s 46% and it ranks him 224 th on Tour. Yes, he’s great at scrambling but he’s always getting into trouble and what that means is a few double-bogey’s are always a threat to ruin his weekend. We love risk takers as much as the next guy and Mickelson is a warrior that believes in everything he’s doing but let’s call a spade a spade, shall we? Mickelson is 47 years old and he’s not far away from turning into ViJay Singh or Ernie Els and if he beats our guy here, we can live with it (Risking 2 units to win 2.34 units).
NOTE: Bookmaker has Mickelson -156 and Ollie at +126
#7040 Alex Noren -111 over Russell Knox
Knox did not play this event last year and didn’t play in the other events that measure similarly (AT&T Pebble Beach and Riviera (home to the Genesis Open) but in 2016, Knox played at Pebble Beach and missed the cut. He’s coming off very decent performances at both the Sony Open in Hawaii and the CareerBuilder Challenge last week, thus, this will be his third straight week of competing but this course may not suit him. Aside from that, Alex Noren is undervalued here against Knox.
Nine wins on the European Tour is testament to Noren’s ability and courage under pressure. The Swede can mix it in quality company too, as he finished T6 at the British Open and 10th at THE PLAYERS Championship.
One of the reasons he really appeals this week is that he is a former winner of the Nedbank Challenge, a grueling European Tour event played at a beastly Gary Player creation in South Africa. If you can win there, there’s no other course that can faze you. Noren rarely makes a PGA TOUR appearance but when he does, it’s because he’s just so confident that he can slay the course. Keep that in mind when you’re selecting your DFS team too (Risking 2.22 units to win 2).
NOTE: Bookmaker has Knox -124 and Noren -106
#7037 Cameron Smith +102 over Adam Hadwin
We faded Hadwin last week and he went a little crazy on us with a -20 under to inflate his value once again. We’re not sure if that effort will get him going again but frankly, we’re not liking what we’re seeing with Hadwin. He ranks 158th in Putts Per Round and ranks below Cameron Smith in so many key categories this week.
Ever since Smith teamed up with Jonas Blixt to win the Zurich Classic last April, his career has gone on an upward trajectory. The 24-year-old claimed the Australian PGA Championship in his homeland in December, and to put that performance into some kind of context, he finished 12 shots clear of Sergio Garcia and four ahead of Marc Leishman. Factor in some excellent performances elsewhere – T12 at the BMW Championship, T5 at the CIMB Classic, T3 at the CJ Cup – of late and all the signs point to a breakout season for Smith in 2018. Other plus points for the Aussie this week is that he putts well on Poa Annua (15th for SG: Putting at Pebble Beach last year), can handle tough, grinding events (T6 at the Texas Open in 2017), and he is generally excellent off the tee (ranking 30th for Total Driving this season). Yeah, we’ll bite here (Risking 2 units to win 2.04).
For FANTASY (DFS) Players.
A lot of attention this week will surround Tiger Woods. You are also going to read all about his great success at this course over the years. Torrey Pines is a place that he has dominated throughout his career, posting seven PGA Tour wins to go along with his legendary US Open win on one leg here. It’s no coincidence that his return to the big stage is happening at this course. However, his DFS price is too high and he’s not worth the gamble. We strongly recommend passing on Woods but you do need an elite player and that brings us to Jon Rahm. Rahm is coming off a win, is the defending champion at this event, and is the clear favorite to win at a course that fits his game perfectly. On the other hand, he is likely to be upwards of 35 percent owned and is so expensive that rostering him really limits the exposure you can have with the very solid $8,500-$10,000 range of players. With that in mind, we cannot leave Rahm off and he’ll be our HORSE for The COURSE.
We looked at Justin Rose, who is bang in form, but his travel from the Middle East puts him at a disadvantage to Rahm, who can simply hang out in Cali and enjoy his surroundings. Rahm’s win at the CareerBuilder Challenge was indebted to a round of 62 at La Quinta, the easiest of the trio of courses. But he maintained his form throughout the weekend too, and a closing 67 at the Stadium Course is an indication that he can turn his hand to grinding as well as birdie-fests.
Rahm’s formline reads 1-2-1, which suggests he isn’t in any danger of becoming one of those event winners that enjoys some ‘downtime’ between big performances. Indeed, young and hungry as he is, Rahm is the ideal candidate to go back-to-back.
With Rose’s thousand-mile round trip, Hideki Matsuyama’s confidence problems and Rickie Fowler’s awful form at Torrey Pines in recent years, Rahm is by far and away the most likely winner this week – a label that doesn’t seem to bother him if last week’s victory is anything to go by.
Aaron Wise, Beau Hossler and Corey Connors are all cheap and could allow you to use Rahm with a mix and match of many others.
Another interesting option is:
Shane Lowry. He came away from the 2016 US Open at Oakmont with huge credit – leading after 54 holes but succumbing to the pressure of Dustin Johnson in the end. But Lowry’s ability to scramble his way to the top of the leaderboard certainly caught the eye. Victory at the WGC-Bridgestone had already confirmed the fact that the Irishman loves a grind, and that was a skill perhaps ingrained in him during his furtive years growing up on Links courses where scoring opportunities really are at a premium. Lowry’s form is holding up too, with T7 in his last finish on US soil at the Wyndham Championship, and sandwiched around that were four consecutive top-12 finishes in just five weeks on the European Tour. The signs are good for the 30-year-old to return to the winner’s circle sooner rather than later.
You can mix and match some of the above with your own choices and hopefully have a great DFS weekend.
5 golfers to win straight up @ 0.2 units each = -1 unit
Ollie Schniederjans +117 over Phil Mickelson = -2 units
Cameron Smith +102 over Adam Hadwin = +2.04 units
Alex Noren -111 over Russell Knox = +2 units
Therefore, 4.04 units in wins - 3 units in losses equals a net profit of 1.04 units for this event
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Farmers Insurance Open (Risking 7.22 units - To Win: 0.00)