Stat attack!: Farmers Insurance Open preview

By John AntoniniJanuary 22, 2014, 3:30 pm

This week’s Farmers Insurance Open marks the 2013-14 PGA Tour debut of Tiger Woods. And what better place for the world No. 1 to return to the Tour than at the course on which he has won eight times professionally. With his seventh win at the Farmers in 2013 added to his 2008 U.S. Open title at Torrey Pines, Woods became the first player to win on the same course eight different times. He tied his own record twice more in 2013.

Most victories on the same course in PGA Tour history

Wins Player Course Years
8 Tiger Woods  Torrey Pines South (Farmers/U.S. Open)  1999, '03, 2005-08, '13 (U.S. Open, '08)
8 Tiger Woods  Bay Hill Club & Lodge (API)  2000-03, 2008-09, 2012-13
8 Tiger Woods  Firestone CC South (WGC-Bridgestone)  1999-01, 2005-07, '09, '13
6 Sam Snead  Miami Springs G&CC (Miami Open)  1937, '39, '46, 1950-51, '55
6 Jack Nicklaus  Augusta National GC (Masters)  1963, 1965-66, '72, '75, '86
6 Alex Ross  Pinehurst Resort (North/South Open)  1902-04, 1907-08, '10

*Source: PGA Tour Media Guide

Woods has won his season-opening event on Tour seven times in his career, but his victory at the 2013 Farmers ended a slide in which he was outside the top 10 in his debut in three of the previous four years. They were the only times in his career in which he did not finish in the top 10 in his season-opening tournament.

Tiger Woods season-opening events on the PGA Tour since 1997

 1997  Mercedes Championships  Won
 1998  Mercedes Championships  T-2
 1999  Mercedes Championships  T-5
 2000  Mercedes Championships  Won
 2001  Mercedes Championships  T-8
 2002  Mercedes Championships  T-10
 2003  Buick Invitational  Won
 2004  Mercedes Championships  T-4
 2005  Mercedes Championships  T-3
 2006  Buick Invitational  Won
 2007  Buick Invitational  Won
 2008  Buick Invitational  Won
 2009  WGC-Accenture Match Play  T-17
 2010  Masters  T-4
 2011  Farmers Insurance Open  T-44
 2012  AT&T Pebble Beach  T-15
 2013  Farmers Insurance Open  Won

Woods doesn’t dominate the statistics when he wins at Torrey Pines. In fact he hasn’t led the field in distance, accuracy, greens in regulation or strokes gained-putting in any of his victories. All he does is score. His career average at Torrey Pines is 68.61. In 51 rounds, he has 35 rounds in the 60s, 43 rounds under par and only three rounds over par.

Woods statistical ranking in his victories at the Farmers Insurance Open

 Year  Distance  Fairways Hit  GIR  Strokes gained-putting
 2013  7  T-17  T-34  28
 2008  11  59  T-2  6
 2007  4  T-55  T-5  11
 2006  3  T-55  T-9  27
 2005  3  T-68  T-49  7
 2003  10  T-67  T-11  N/A
 1999  N/A  T-57  T-33  N/A

Woods dominates the par-5 holes at Torrey Pines, which has become a trait of the tournament champion regardless of his name. The Farmers winner has had a scoring average of less than 4.5 on the par-5 holes seven times in the last eight years.

Farmers Insurance Open champion’s scoring average on par-5 holes

 Year  Player  Average  Event Rank
 2013  Tiger Woods  4.25  T-2
 2012  Brandt Snedeker  4.44  T-16
 2011  Bubba Watson  4.19  1st
 2010  Ben Crane  4.69  T-41
 2009  Nick Watney  4.31  2nd
 2008  Tiger Woods  4.44  T-2
 2007  Tiger Woods  4.31  T-6
 2006  Tiger Woods  4.19  1st

Woods isn’t the only superstar making his 2014 calendar-year debut on Tour at the Farmers Insurance Open. Phil Mickelson is also back after a week in the Middle East, where he finished T-2 in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. It was a tournament he could have won if not for a triple bogey-7 on the par-4 13th hole Sunday. He did make birdie on three of his last five holes to finish one back of winner Pablo Larrazabal. Mickelson, who did have two top-20 finishes in the PGA Tour events in Asia at the end of 2013, is looking for his first win on Tour since the British Open. Like Woods, he has had success at the Farmers, but all three of his victories came prior to the Rees Jones redesign of the South Course, which was completed after Mickelson’s victory in 2001. Mickelson has played this event 24 times, 12 times prior to the redesign and 12 after. Here’s a breakdown.

Mickelson at the Farmers Insurance Open

 Years  Starts  Wins  Top-5s  Cuts Made  Weekend Avg.
 1988-01  12  3  5  9  69.47
 2002-13  12  0  3  10  71.35

When you look at the nearly two-stroke difference in Mickelson’s weekend scoring average, you must remember that he finished second in 2011, losing to Bubba Watson by one stroke, and that he was one stroke out of the John Daly-Luke Donald-Chris Riley playoff in 2004. It’s fair to say the Jones redesign cost Mickelson two more titles at Torrey Pines.

Woods and Mickelson have combined for 10 of the last 21 wins at the Farmers Insurance Open, but several other players have had amazing success on the Torrey Pines courses. Here’s a sampling of other players to consider if you’re in a fantasy golf league this week:

 Rickie Fowler  T-6 in 2013 was fourth straight top-20 at Torrey.
 Bill Haas  Three top-20s from 2005-09. Has been in top 10 since '11.
 Charles Howell III  Second to Woods in 2005 and '07. No missed cuts.
 Hunter Mahan  Finished T-6 in 2011 and '12, and was T-15 in '13.
 D.A. Points  Had three straight top-10s before MC in '13.
 Brandt Snedeker  Second twice (2010, '13). Won in 2012.
 Jimmy Walker  Led field in par-5 scoring average last two years (T-8, T-4)
 Nick Watney  2009 champ. Also finished T-4 in '13.
 Bubba Watson  2011 champ, with two other top-10s.

ONE FINAL NOTE: Torrey Pines South can play more than 600 yards longer than the North and the scoring average between the two courses last year reflected that difference. During the first two rounds (when play was held on both courses) the North averaged 70.67 strokes and the South came in at 72.42 strokes. The South was a little harder on the weekend, averaging 72.87 strokes over the final two days.

If you haven’t already done so, please follow me on Twitter at @johnantoninigc.

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”