Expert Picks: Farmers Insurance Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 25, 2012, 3:00 pm

This is a double week for our fantasy players! experts offer up their fantasy choices below for the Farmers Insurance Open, and their choices for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship can be viewed here. Each week a panel of experts will offer up their picks from four groups of players based on Golf Channel's new fantasy game, GC Fantasy Challenge. We will also keep track of their scores and standings. The panel consists of: senior writers Rex Hoggard, Randall Mell and Jason Sobel; contributors John Hawkins and Win McMurry; editorial director Jay Coffin;'s Rob Bolton; 'Morning Drive' hosts Gary Williams and Erik Kuselias; and Golf Talk Central contributor Ryan Ballengee.

Rex Hoggard

Group 1: Nick Watney: Finished in the top 10 in four of his last five starts at Torrey Pines, including 2009's victory, and of Butch Harmon's deep stable of players he may be due for the best season.

Group 2: Brandt Snedeker: So much for a slow return from the DL. Snedeker tied for eighth in his first event since hip surgery last fall and has been close at Torrey Pines before (T-2 in 2010).

Group 3: Steve Marino: Arguably the best member without a PGA Tour title and Torrey's poa greens mitigate his sometimes pedestrian short game.

Group 4: Harris English:  The rookie is 2-for-2 in cuts made this season and continues to have the look of a breakout star.

Gary Williams

Group 1: Phil Mickelson: Despite a T-49 last week, when you have a 3-time Farmers champion who has 39 wins on Tour and was runner-up last year, you can't bet against him. I certainly won't this week.

Group 2: Spencer Levin: Played well at Torrey Pines the last two years, finishing T-22 in 2010 and T-20 in 2011. If he can keep up his good play on the weekend, watch out.

Group 3: D.A. Points: Playing very well in 2012 with a pair of top-12 finishes and coming to a place where he has a pair of top-10 finishes in the last two years. Following his 5th place finish in 2011, he went on to win at Pebble Beach.

Group 4: Bud Cauley: With all he has done in the last year, Cauley seems like the can't miss kid of the 2012 Tour. Seeking to turn his 2012 start from good to great with a high finish at Torrey Pines.

Erik Kuselias

Group 1: Nick Watney: The 2009 Farmers champion has played quite well at Torrey Pines recently. He followed up his win in 2009 with a T-9 in 2010 and a T-6 in 2011, closing last year with a final-round 63.

Group 2: Brandt Snedeker: Someone who likes Torrey Pines, as evidenced by some strong finishes in recent years. When he is playing well, Snedeker can be a consistent contender and he is playing well right now.

Group 3: D.A. Points: Not only has he played well at Torrey Pines (T-9 in 2010 and 5th in 2011), but he has also gotten off to a great start in 2012 with a T-12 at Kapalua and a T-6 at the Sony Open.

Group 4: Bud Cauley: Off to a good start in 2012 with a T-29 at the Sony Open and a T-30 in the Humana Challenge. While the start has been good, he knows and I know that he is capable and ready to do more.

Win McMurry

Group 1: Nick Watney: The obvious choice at Torrey Pines, where he has three straight top-10s including a win in 2009 and a T-6 finish last year, closing in style with a 63.

Group 2: Brandt Snedeker: Another American coming off his best year as a pro. His runner-up, T-3 and T-9 finishes in five career trips to Torrey Pines make him impossible to overlook.

Group 3: D.A. Points: Points is a player with great value down the board. He's got a pair of top-10s in his last two Farmers events and is coming off a pair of solid finishes in Hawaii.

Group 4: Bud Cauley: How can you not love this guy? Swagger, youth and major game. He comes into Torrey with some confidence and momentum after a T-30 last week.

Ryan Ballengee

Group 1: Nick Watney: Watney won here in 2009 and has finished inside of the top 10 here in four of his last five starts.

Group 2: Brandt Snedeker: Off to a good start this year, he has three top-10 finishes at Torrey in his last four starts.

Group 3: D.A. Points: Hitting greens is crucial to success at Torrey and Points ranks T-5 in GIR so far this season.

Group 4: Bud Cauley: The guy is on fire. What a steal to have him in Group 4.

Jay Coffin

Group 1: Nick Watney: Picked him in Week 1 and it didn't work out. Sticking with him.

Group 2: Brandt Snedeker: Like what I saw last week in the desert.

Group 3: Steve Marino: Best player without a PGA Tour win will win eventually. Right?

Group 4: Bud Cauley: Will pick this guy in Group 4 every time.

Randall Mell

Group 1: Nick Watney: Won at Torrey Pines in 2009, one of four top-10 finishes in his seven starts there.

Group 2: Ben Crane: The guy's rolling with a couple top 10s already this season. Plus, he's a former winner at Torrey Pines (2010).

Group 3: D.A. Points: Good start this year (T-6 at Sony) and a good record at Torrey Pines (back-to-back top 10s).

Group 4: Troy Matteson: After back-to-back MCs to start the season, it's time for Mr. Matteson to pick it up. Top 10 at Torrey Pines last year provides good vibes.

Rob Bolton

Group 1: Nick Watney: Four top-10s in his last five appearances here, including a victory in 2009.

Group 2: Brandt Snedeker: Shed the doubt over his hip surgery with a top-10 finish at the Humana. Three top-10s in his last five starts at Torrey Pines.

Group 3: D.A. Points: Pair of top-15s to start 2012 and has recorded top-10s at the Farmers each of the last two years.

Group 4: Bobby Gates: Shared eighth at the Humana with a pair of bogey-free rounds. Superb fit for Torrey Pines.

Getty Images

DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

Getty Images

Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

Getty Images

Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”

Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.

Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

Getty Images

CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)