2021 Farmers Insurance Open: First Round Leader Picks

Sam Eaton brings us his predictions for First Round Leader at this week's PGA Tour event, the Farmers Insurance Open.
Sam Eaton
Wed, January 27, 11:40 AM EST

First Round Leader specialist Sam Eaton is back previewing this week's PGA tour event.

All of Sam's picks are based on statistics and models built on the course requirements and he's picked out six selections for the Farmers Insurance Open, three on the North Course, three on the South Course.

Once again the PGA Tour is messing with us by picking a venue where the field will be split on the opening couple of days. They did this last week and I flopped rather spectacularly with my first round leader picks. However, we’ve still had a winner and a second in the last few weeks.

The Farmers Insurance Open is being played at Torrey Pines (California) this week, on the South and North course. The South course is particularly tricky to master, not only is the course considerably longer than the North course, but it played the 7th toughest course on the Tour last season.

The par-5s on the South Course are pretty much the only birdie holes, and could be the only holes that play under par this week. For this course, it’s important to focus on players who play well on difficult course, are long off the tee and gain shots in approach, especially from 200+. The Poa greens are also pretty hard to handle, which not only makes approach shots more important, but you need someone with previous on this sort of surface.

As for the North course, expect every player at the top of the leaderboard on day one to be playing this course. It features five reachable par-5’s, and the players will be putting on bentgrass. Skills around the green come a lot more into play on the North course. Distance off the tee and approach are important stats still, but less crucial compared to the South course.

South Course

Rory McIlroy @ +1400 

Hardly the most inspiring of selections to begin with, and Rory McIlroy would have been a pick regardless of his performance in the opening round on the European Tour last week.

There are plenty of players in this field who make a reputation due their bullying of easier courses, however, McIlroy doesn’t fit that bracket. He’s got a solid record at this course, and in terms of shots gained on the south course, there’s only few that better him.

Rory will always gain shots of the tee, which is just one reason why he’s successful here. His approach play has faltered in a few more recent events (CJ Cup & Tour Championship), but is normally pretty reliable. He’s been gaining shots with the putter in his last few PGA Tour events, if he can continue doing this he’s got every chance.

Hideki Matsuyama @ +2000

Hideki Matsuyama usually stands-out when the PGA Tour visits the tougher courses, and now he’s off Bermuda greens he’s got a much better chance of tasting success.

His overall game is trending in the right direction, but has been let down by dropping shots with the putter. Obviously that is a concern here, but he should enjoy these greens.

Like Rory, he’s also got a decent record here, with three top 20 finishes including a T3 in 2018/19.

Louis Oosthuizen @ +4300

Louis Oosthuizen was pretty poor at the RSM, however, his putting, and especially on these surfaces brings him into contention.

The South African can get a very hot putter which was shown at the US Open and Northern Trust. He also gains more shots on the field when the course is ranked difficult.

If he can be positive in terms of shots gained off the tee and approach, his putting could quite easily pull him away on this tricky course.

Farmers Insurance Open - First Round Leader (NorthCourse)

North Course

Sam Burns @ +4000

Sam Burns was very disappointing at The American Express, a 77 on the opening day gave him no chance of making it through to the weekend. An opening 77 in the last event probably isn’t what you want to read when it comes to the first rounder leader market…

However, other than a few holes last week, Burns’ game is heading in the right direction. He regularly gains shots of the tee and approach, and in recent months has improved his performance around the green.

He registered a couple of places in the first round in 2020, but at 40/1 on this side of the field I’m willing to take a risk.

Bubba Watson @ +2800

Bubba Watson is another player whose game around the greens has really improved. He’s in a positive for shots gained around the green in his last five events, which was unheard off back in September.

Everyone knows Bubba’s strength of the tee, and the performances he can put in with his irons. He placed on three occasions in the first round in 2020.

Si-Woo Kim @ +3000

Si-Woo Kim obviously had a cracking week, but regardless of that he would still be a bet for the opening round on this course.

Woo Kim’s approach play and shots gained around the green have been putting him in contention in the last few months. This also his preferred putting surface.

Since August, Si-Woo Kim has finished in the top 10 after the opening day on four occasions.

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