Power Rankings: Farmers Insurance Open

January 23, 2012
Rob Bolton, PGATOUR.COM fantasy columnist

The Farmers Insurance Open has served as a stage for some of the game's longest hitters over the last 20 years. Six-time winner Tiger Woods is joined in the annals by three-time champ Phil Mickelson as well as Davis Love III, John Daly, Nick Watney and Bubba Watson, who defends this week.

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Although Torrey Pines South is the longest course on the PGA TOUR at 7,698 yards, distance off the tee is but a secondary component to success there. Several factors line up above it on the list of priorities.

At the top might be experience. Relatively small greens (5,800 square feet) and temperamental Poa annua surfaces add to the learning curve but one fact jumps off the page. The last time a first-time participant emerged victorious at this event, Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the White House.

In 1957, 28-year-old Arnold Palmer defeated Al Balding by one stroke for his seventh of 62 TOUR victories. Only the U.S. Open boasts a longer drought among tournament rookies (Francis Ouimet, 1913).

Naturally, neither of Torrey Pines' courses knows who's walking its fairways and greens, but all in the first 156-man field of the year are likely to capitalize on multiple of the following:

• Go low at Torrey North. All golfers are given one shot at this par 72 that measures just over 7,000 yards. It ranked as the seventh-easiest of 21 par 72s in non-majors last year with an actual scoring average of 70.987. The last five winners of the tournament have averaged 66.00 strokes on this track. Nick Watney's 69 in 2009 is the high-water mark during that span.

• Hit greens in regulation at Torrey South. En route to victory last year, Watson not only led the field in driving distance, he also missed a field-low 13 GIR. Of the top 13 on the final leaderboard, eight ranked inside the top 10 in greens hit. Furthermore, the greens at Torrey South have been among the top 20 most challenging to hit in regulation in four of the last six years; they ranked 13th in 2011.

• To underscore the premium of hitting greens, Torrey South has ranked inside the top 11 in scrambling in five of the last six years. Last year's split was just 51.68 percent, good for eighth lowest all year.

• Until last year, when Torrey South ranked a harmless 25th in putts per GIR, it checked in inside the top seven the previous five years. However, if this is the start of a new trend instead of an anomaly, it further emphasizes the value of loading up on birdie opportunities.

Chamber of commerce weather is on tap for the entire tournament. Sunshine is expected throughout. Daytime highs will top out in the mid-70s to start with a gradual drop every day. Winds are not forecast to be an issue, but that is always subject to change.

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Power Rankings: Farmers Insurance Open
Rank Player   Comment
The 2009 champ has four top 10s in seven appearances here. This includes a T9 in 2010 and a T6 last year when he began his final round with birdies on eight of his first nine holes. Placed T12 at the Hyundai TOC three weeks ago.
Three wins and seven other top 10s in 22 starts in what amounts to a home game. Solo second here last year. Overcame an opening 74 at La Quinta last week to survive the 54-hole cut and finish T49. Always thinking ahead but he fits this week.
So much for wasting concern after he had surgery on his right hip. In his first start since, he shared eighth place at the Humana Challenge and finished fourth in putting. Three top 10s in five starts at the Farmers, including the last two.
Enters on the heels of a season-opening T19 at the Humana Challenge where he shared the 18-hole lead. Also carded just one bogey and one double all week. Finished T13 at Torrey Pines in 2008 and T3 in 2009.
Top 10s in his first two starts of 2012, including a T8 at the Humana Challenge where he co-led the field in eagles (three) and shared the lead at the midpoint. Won here in 2010 and has four other top 25s in seven career appearances.
Making his third appearance. Finished T6 in 2005 and T5 in 2010. Also making the long-distance journey from South Africa after losing in a playoff at the Volvo Golf Champions on Sunday. Ranked seventh in GIR on the PGA TOUR in 2011.
Off to a fast start with a T12 at Kapalua and T6 at Waialae, quickly ending a slump that featured just one top 10 in his final 24 starts of 2011. Has posted top 10s in his last two trips to Torrey Pines, including a solo fifth last year.
The defending champion and latest owner of the original General Lee (of "Dukes of Hazzard" fame) has alternated three top 10s with forgettable finishes here. Led last year's field in distance off the tee, greens hit and proximity to the hole.
Leaner and wielding a long putter. In his first start of 2012, he shared second place at the Humana Challenge where he led the field with 30 birdies and carded a 61 at Nicklaus Private in the third round. His distance won't hurt this week.
He's 9-for-9 at Torrey Pines with six top-15 finishes including a T14 a year ago. Also a two-time runner-up to Tiger Woods (2005, 2007). Coming off a T49 at the Humana Challenge where he circled two eagles but had a field-low 14 birdies.

In 2012, our expert will be publishing his list of players who didn't quite make the top 10 for that particular week. Here are three other players Rob Bolton likes at the Farmers Insurance Open:

Hunter Mahan: Making his 2012 debut. Closed out last year with five top 10s in seven starts. Owns a pair of top 15s in his last three starts at Torrey Pines including a T6 a year ago

Gary Woodland: Broken 70 just once in seven rounds at this event. Co-led the field in bogeys last year but ranked T8 in putting. His inclusion here is a nod to his overall consistency in recent months, his power and his final rank of 12th in greens hit in 2011.

Bill Haas: The reigning FedExCup champion is off to a unusually slow start this year with a solo 20th at Kapalua and a tie for 64th at last week's Humana, but he has four top 20s in seven starts at Torrey Pines including a career-best T9 last year.