The PGA Tour’s wraparound season is more than a quarter in the books, but there’s a large sentiment that the party is about to kick off this week at the Farmers Insurance Open as a decorated field gathers at Torrey Pines. Here are four questions to kick around as the West Coast swing hits a high note, including the return of a certain Masters champ and a pair of former No. 1s looking to get back on track:
What does success look like for Tiger Woods?
Woods expects to win every tournament in which he enters. He’s mentioned as much hundreds of times throughout his career, and his record shows a pretty high conversion rate. But in his first start of the new year, it’s hardly a win-or-bust mentality.
Woods took some (deserved) time to recharge after a thrilling performance as playing captain at the Presidents Cup. But that means he’s far from 100 percent as he returns to San Diego, admitting Tuesday that he only recently got back into the full swing of practice and is still tinkering with his equipment on-site at Torrey Pines.
And yes, while his eight victories on the South Course are the stuff of legend, only one has been since that memorable ’08 U.S. Open and he’s had only marginal success here since 2014 as a burly layout became more and more of a challenge. His eyes are further down the line (or Lane, as in Magnolia), so this week is all about setting himself up for success during a busy spring season – even if that success might not directly translate into leaderboard placement this weekend.
Can a pair of former world No. 1s find a spark?
It wasn’t that long ago that Jordan Spieth and Jason Day were battling each other for major titles and the top spot in the world rankings. But this week both men return to action simply looking for answers.
Spieth’s inconsistency last season received plenty of attention, and efforts to correct course in the fall were decidedly mixed. He hasn’t played since defeating two players at the Hero World Challenge, having skipped an expected start at Sony because of a cold. Now he returns to the site of his 2013 pro debut – and a South Course where he’s cracked the top 20 just once in four appearances.
For Day, it’s his first start since a missed cut at Mayakoba more than two months ago, as a back injury led him to withdraw from the Presidents Cup. Injuries continue to be a concern for the 32-year-old, although his Torrey Pines record is much more decorated with playoff victories in both 2015 and 2018.
Dueling it out at Whistling Straits less than five years ago, Day and Spieth are now linked again in the world rankings – at Nos. 44 and 45, respectively, and a far cry from their former glory. It’s also a position that carries a slight sense of unexpected urgency, since both need to deliver some results soon or risk falling out of the top 50 and failing to qualify for the upcoming WGC-Mexico Championship.
Which European star will shine the brightest?
They’re three of the tournament favorites, and they’re all likely to be thorns in American sides this fall at the Ryder Cup: Justin Rose, Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy. But who will have the biggest week is tough to decipher.
All three cracked the top 5 at this event a year ago, with Rose holding on for his lone worldwide victory of 2019. Rahm earned his breakthrough win at this event in 2017 and was again a factor, while McIlroy tied for fifth in his tournament debut.
This time they’re all heading to California with some momentum, as McIlroy can overtake Brooks Koepka as world No. 1 with a victory while Rahm closed out 2019 with two wins and a pair of runner-ups. Not to be outdone, Rose finished second to Matt Kuchar last week in Singapore.
In the long term the nod likely goes to McIlroy, who appears determined to regain the No. 1 spot after a nearly five-year absence. But this week the edge might go to the Spaniard, as Rahm seems especially well-suited for the demands of the South Course and may not have gotten enough credit for his torrid late-season run.
Is Collin Morikawa ready for the spotlight?
This time last year Morikawa was knee-deep in textbooks at Cal while trying to help guide the Golden Bears to NCAA glory. Now the 22-year-old finds himself in a prime spot on the tee sheet, making his Farmers debut next to Woods and Rahm.
Already a winner on Tour, Morikawa has more than made a name for himself in a few short months as a pro. He’s also done it with consistency, having never missed a cut while inching himself toward a top-50 spot in the world rankings that could translate into a Masters bid in a few months.
But the featured groups position in a decorated event like this one is rarefied air, especially in a slot next to Woods – who turned pro seven months before Morikawa was born. It also speaks to the largely held belief that Morikawa’s potential is sky-high, and this might just be a spot (and venue) where his deft iron play receives some extra attention.