Niall has four tips for this week's PGA Tour event.
Farmers Insurance Open
Social media is currently purring over the Tiger swing recorded from the range this evening and there's no doubting the anticipation in the air for the return of the big Cat to full field event. There's no better place for Woods to return than to his second home of Torrey Pines. Played over two courses (North and South) Tiger has dominated this event down the years but a new man is in town awaiting his arrival. The Giant, John Rahm goes down to post as jolly and as defending champion. He swept onto the scene last year with that monster putt on the 72nd to win. Everything about this lad is monstrous. I've a big soft spot for Spieth in the game, but this is the most ruthless competitor I have seen since the Golden Child entered stage left. Quotes between 7/1 and 8/1 are about right for the Spaniard who has every chance of defending his title giving the golf he is playing. Back to back victories after last weeks win and a defence of his title is a lot to ask of the young man. He can do it, but I'd rather invest elsewhere.
Long, straight driving is required at Torrey Pines but with tight enough fairways you'll need to be accurate. The rough is always tricky around here and scrambling usually becomes a part of the winning formula. Fowler slots in behind Rahm in the betting but is very short for my money. He has two top 6 finishes here but has also missed 3 of the last 4 weekends around here so I'd be steering clear especially as he doesn't find it easy to win very often. Rose has the game for this place as he showed last year when finishing 4th but previous to that he too had missed the last two weekends. Matsuyama is another with a modest record around here so there's enough to make me want to look further down the betting market. Woods is another all to short, but we expected that as the bookmakers will see a lot of money for him regardless of his price.
At the top of my betting slip this week is Brian Harman. Harman has become a big time player in the last 12-18 months and looks set to have an even more successful 2018. Having just climbed to 20th in the world his name has not been out of the top 20 in his last 7 appearances on tour with four of them being a top5 finish. For someone who you would have thought had limitations to his game he is firing on all cylinders right now. Having made the last four cuts here on the trot he posted his best finish in 2017 finishing just inside the top ten. He proved just how tenacious he was when he holed that tramliner on the 72nd at Eagle Point last Summer. That was a not too dissimilar test to this week and his ten under par total that week may just be the mark he needs this week again. This year so far he ranks 7th in Scrambling, 11th in Strokes Gained putting and 14th in Greens In Reg. The GIR stat is important as last year he was outside the top 100 in that stat. That part of his game seems to be improving and with many at the top with sketchy enough records here I think Harman screams out as being the best bet.
Francesco Molinari may not be the most popular across bookies shop floors this week but I think his chances are underrated. Molinari is a very experienced sort who at 35 years old will be looking to tuck away one of these Championships before he hits 40. We all know Molinari's strengths and that is tee to green. He doesn't hit an awful long way nor has he ever been considered a good putter, but his long game makes up for these ailments. He is an accurate type who can play these tough courses well and with a top 15 finish here last year must be relishing this years task. His jaunt to these parts at this time last year resulted in top 20s in the CareerBuilder, this event, the Honda, the WGC In Mexico before notching a 7th placed finish at the Arnold Palmer. He continued 2017 with top 25s in the RBC and Wells Fargo before a top ten at Sawgrass and a runner up at Wentworth. He has far from embarrassed himself these last twelve months and what is interesting is that he finished inside the top 30 in Scrambling last year. That's a mean stat for the Italian and with four under par rounds shot here last year I think he is a lively outsider.
Hunter Mahan may seem a hail mary bet, and in some ways it is, but I can't help but think he is worthy of a few pounds this week. Mahan's luck began to turn at the back end of last year with three top20 finishes in the Wyndham, Safeway and Sanderson events. Tied 45th in the RSM last year was backed up with a 42nd placed finish last week in the CareerBuilder. He was lying just outside the top 20 last week heading into day four having posted rounds of 68,67,69. He finished poorly on the Stadium Course on day 4 but nevertheless there were positives. He has made 11 cuts on the trot at this venue including the 2008 US Open so with signs that his game is coming back to some sort of normality, Torrey Pines might just spark him into gear. May be one to play in extras markets.