The PGA Tour continues its West Coast Swing this week for the official, unofficial start of the season. With Tiger Woods making his 2019 debut, the NFL having a week off and CBS handling the weekend coverage, Torrey Pines always feels like golf’s real kickoff event. No disrespect to the 11 winners so far this 2018-’19 season, but this is the week all eyes are on golf.
Because of that, mostly thanks to Tiger, there are endless betting opportunities that you’d normally only see during a major tournament. This is fitting as the Farmers field has the look of a major championship, featuring the likes of Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Jason Day, Jon Rahm and Jordan Spieth. Incredibly, despite not having played since the Hero, and looking less-than-stellar there, Woods is among the favorites in San Diego, along with Rahm, Day, Rose and McIlroy. Will one of the big names emerge on Sunday, or will we have another Adam Long-type winner that steals the show? If history is any indication at this event, the cream will rise to the top.
Our panel of experts—which includes a PGA Tour caddie providing insight from the front lines every week thanks to our partnership with The Caddie Network—plus expert golf handicappers, correctly predicted Matt Kuchar’s success two weeks ago at the Sony Open, and they had some success in top 10 picks last week at the Desert Classic. In the fall wraparound schedule, we also predicted three of the six champions. Let’s see if we can get back in the winner’s circle this week at the Farmers.
2019 Farmers Insurance Open Picks To Win (Odds from FanDuel Sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie Guest Picker of the Week: Rory McIlroy (15-1) — Rory does well on long, soft courses and is overdue for a breakout year. It feels like Torrey Pines is a perfect place for him to get his year jumpstarted. He’s typically playing on the other side of the world this week, but since he’s committed to focusing more on the PGA Tour this year, I think he’ll be extra motivated in a tournament he hasn’t played before.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National analyst: Marc Leishman (20-1) — Fifth in the field in total strokes gained the past five years at Torrey Pines, the big Aussie is trending towards a win and needs to capitalize before the window shuts. Leishman’s played this event each of the past 10 years and compiled four top 10 finishes, seven top 30s, against only a pair of missed cuts. He clearly likes the course. Then, more importantly, his recent form. Since last season’s playoff finale at East Lake, Leishman won overseas, followed it up with a T-18 the next week, and has reeled off three consecutive top 5’s since. And he’s been achieving those results exactly how you want to see for Torrey Pines. Over his past 24 rounds Leish’s Pieces sits top 10 in the field in par 5s gained, birdies to better gained, and ranks top 25 in par 4s from 450-500 yards and par 3s over 200 yards. There are 10 par 4s measuring between 450-500 yards between the two courses, and they’re among the most difficult on the course. Short term, in his past 12 rounds, sitting top 15 in the field entering the week.
Mayo: Gary Woodland (31-1) — Similarly to Leish’s Pieces, Woodland seems like he’s on the precipice of breaking through. It’s been 51 weeks since his last win and, again like Leishman, loves this track with top 20s the past three years and has the required skill set on the daunting par 4s along with elite ball-striking. Woodland’s top 30 in every key metric sans strokes-gained/around-the-green. And frankly, if he’s relying that much on his short game, he’s not hitting enough greens to avoid bogeys any way.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire editor: Gary Woodland (31-1) — I’m with Pat here. With a loaded field, picking a winner is going to be tough, but Woodland comes in with palatable odds considering the field difficulty. Via FantasyNational.com, Woodland ranks 13th in driving distance, sixth in strokes-gained/approach-the-green, and ninth in greens in regulation gained among the field over the past 50 rounds. He has four top-20 finishes here in the past five years and has a pair of runner-ups in his past six.
Dr. Lou Riccio, Columbia University: Tiger Woods (15-1) — My model shows that this is Tiger Woods’ tournament to win. Not even considering that Torrey Pines is the site of Tiger’s eight PGA Tour titles, one of those being his last major victory in 2008, there are statistical rationale to back up Tiger’s success at Torrey. The 14-time major champ is one of the best long-iron players ever, and Torrey’s South course, in particular, requires spectacular play on approaches from long range. And what else? Stellar scrambling. Advantage: Tiger. If Tiger’s game is as sharp as we saw at East Lake, Bellerive and Carnoustie, Tiger will hang around come Sunday.
Golf Digest editors: Alex Noren (48-1) — These are some JUICY odds for a guy that probably should have won if not for a final-round 73 at Torrey Pines last year. Even with the Sunday stumble, he still got into a playoff with Jason Day that stretched into Monday morning, ultimately ending in anticlimactic fashion. Perhaps the fact that the 10-time European Tour winner is still searching for his first PGA Tour victory is playing a role in these too good to be true odds. Sooner or later though, the Swede will get it done, and he often saves his best for big tournaments. No, the Farmers is not a marquee event, but with all the big names in the field, it certainly has the feel of one. Look for Noren to rise to the occasion and be in the mix late on Sunday once again this week.
(Results on the season: Pat Mayo correctly picked Bryson DeChambeau (12-1, Shriners) and Matt Kuchar (60-1 at the OHL Classic) earlier this season. Golf Digest editor Christopher Powers correctly picked Kevin Tway (55-1) to start the season at the Safeway Open. And Brandon Gdula had two runners-up out of his picks to win.)
Sleepers/Dark Horses That Could Win (odds from Fanduel sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Scott Stallings (190-1) — He’s won here before. Ball-striking is at a premium this week, which suits him well. It’s a great chance for him to turn around what has been a slow start to his year.
Mayo: Aaron Wise (55-1) — Wise was horrible following his win at the Bryon Nelson last season, but slowly rounded back into form as the year closed. He’s started the year pretty awful, but, hopefully, as he showcased in 2018, any time you get him at a course where you MUST hit driver, he could flirt with the Sunday leaderboard.
Gdula: Luke List (70-1) — List has both the distance and around-the-green play required to contend at Torrey Pines if things go his way. He finished 12th here while posting a neutral approach game last year.
Riccio: Chesson Hadley (160-1)
Golf Digest editors: Patrick Rodgers (120-1) — Rodgers, a once highly-touted amateur from Stanford, is now already in his fifth full year on the PGA Tour. While he possesses the talent to be mentioned among the game’s young, elite names, he hasn’t been able to break through. He’s come close, but consistency has been his biggest issue. Take his last four starts for example: T-41, CUT, solo second, CUT. If he can reel it all in one of these weeks, he might finally explode for a few wins like many expected him to. We’ll take a small taste on him at 120-1 at Torrey, where he was in contention late on the back nine on Sunday in 2017, finishing T-4.
Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
PGA Tour Caddie: Jordan Spieth (31-1) — He’s just been struggling by his standards. Couple that with the fact that these golf courses aren’t really suited to his game and I think that spells big trouble for Jordan. That said, expect Jordan to be back to being Jordan by April… but just not this week.
Mayo: Justin Rose (15-1) — It’s never fun fading Rose, but he was brutal in the desert in both aspects of ball striking. His putter was fire a week ago and he could only muster a T-34 in the weakest field of the year. Pass.
Gdula: Justin Rose (15-1) — Rose finds himself near the top in odds but has changed his clubs recently, and it’s had an adverse impact on his ball-striking based on the small-sample stats. The asking price is too steep to back Rose with so many other options.
Riccio: Xander Schauffele (21-1) — Surprisingly, Schauffele has missed the cut in two appearances at the Farmers Insurance. The Tournament of Champions winner is long enough off the tee, but often too far from the fairway. With the thick rough at Torrey, it’s not a surprise the California native has struggled here. With so many good options in this range, it’s likely to be profitable to fade Xander here.
Golf Digest editors: Tiger Woods (15-1) — As blasphemous as it seems, we’re not high on Tiger this week. He had to battle hard to make the cut here last year, and then fought some more just to finish T-23. His short game will keep him around for the weekend again, but unless he magically figured out how to hit fairways with the driver over the holidays, he’s not winning for a ninth time at Torrey. This will serve as nothing more than a tune-up week for Woods.
PGA Tour Caddie: Cameron Champ (-135) over Patrick Reed — That’s a lot of juice to lay, but Champ has a massive advantage around these tracks over a guy who hits low draws.
Mayo: Jon Rahm (-115) over Justin Rose
Mayo: Tony Finau (-115) over Rickie Fowler
Gdula: Kevin Tway over Hudson Swafford (-125) — Tway has an edge in driving distance, approach play and wedge play over recent rounds and has a 35th and 41st the past two years here. Swafford missed the cut in 2017.
Riccio: J.J. Spaun (-130) over Alex Noren. Noren rates out 80th in my model, whereas Spaun is in the 20s. That’s too big of a difference and warrants a bet at these odds.
Golf Digest editors: Jason Day (+110) over Justin Rose — Rose has been very good at Torrey of late, finishing T-8 and T-4 in his last two appearances. But +110 for a two-time Farmers champion? We’ll take Day, especially with Rose still getting acclimated to his new sticks and feeling the pressure of remaining World No. 1.
(Matchup results last week: Mayo: 0 for 1; GD Editors: 1 for 1 (Brendan Steele over Danny Willett); PGA Tour Caddie: 0 for 1; Riccio: 1 for 1 (J.J. Spaun over Richy Werenski); Gdula: 0 for 1)
(Matchup results for the year: Riccio: 3 for 3; PGA Tour Caddie: 2 for 3; Mayo: 1 for 2; GD Editors: 2 for 3; Gdula: 0-1-1)
Top 10 (odds from Fanduel sportsbook)
PGA Tour Caddie: Keith Mitchell (+1200) — He played well a couple weeks ago at Sony. Again, with the soft conditions, the longer hitters have an even bigger advantage than usual. Keith is long and straight. Look for him to be a factor on the weekend.
Mayo: Keith Mitchell (+1200) and Trey Mullinax (+2900) — Fresh off a Sunday meltdown at Sony, Mitchell is basically low-rent Woodland, except he’s slightly better on longer par 3s. Distance matters at Torrey Pines with nine of the past 13 winners finishing top 25 in driving distance for the season, and KILLAH KEITH has got the distance. If you’re feeling risky, Trey Mullinax is a long shot for a top 10, and he’s the low-rent Mitchell, which I suppose makes him Hobo Woodland. You can grab Mullinax at +1200 for a top 20 if you like.
Gdula: Joaquin Niemann (+1000) — Niemann has two wins at Torrey Pines as an amateur and ranks 3rd in strokes gained: approach over the past 50 rounds. He’s knocking on the door, and the elite ball-striker could finally put it together here if he can putt decently well.
Riccio: Gary Woodland (+340) — Woodland excels with his long irons and contended at the TOC. If it weren’t for Schauffele’s final-round 61, Woodland would’ve likely earned the TOC title and these odds would be closer to +200. That makes this a really nice value.
Golf Digest editors: Brandt Snedeker (+430) — We know past history at a course doesn’t always indicate success for the current week, but Snedeker’s record at Torrey cannot be ignored, especially when all you need him to do is finish top 10. How about this run for Sneds since 2010 at the Farmers: T-2, T-9, Win, T-2, CUT, T-19, Win, T-9, T-45. Is that good? Now that he’s fully healthy and began rounding into form late last summer, we expect a strong week from Snedeker.
(Top-10 results last week: Mayo: 0 for 1; Gdula: 0 for 1; GD Editors: 1 for 1 (Patrick Cantlay, +275); Riccio: 0 for 1; PGA Tour Caddie: 1 for 1 (Adam Hadwin, +250)
(Top-10 results for the year: Mayo: 1 for 2; PGA Tour Caddie: 2 for 3; GD Editors: 2 for 3; Gdula: 1 for 4; Riccio: 1 for 3)
Mayo: My DraftKings lineups will revolve around this core this week:
Rory McIlroy ($11,100); Marc Leishman ($9,700); Emiliano Grillo ($8,100); Aaron Wise ($7,800); CT Pan ($7,500)
As mentioned in my complete DraftKings Picks breakdown, Rory is likely to be overlooked because it’s his first time at the Farmers. I’ll take that break in ownership among the elite and gamble that his skill set matches these courses perfectly. There’s downside, yes; but Rory’s upside is always the highest in any field. Despite distance concerns, both Grillo and Pan still gain a ton of strokes off the tee, and can crush long-irons at an elite level. Hence, why both pop up as leaders in the key Par 4 range this week. Great Torrey track records to boot, too!
Riccio: Sepp Straka is a player you might not have heard of, but his stats on long par 4s make him a nice value on the low end for DFS lineups.
Hideki Matsuyama ($8,000)
Rickie Fowler ($9,300)
Joaquin Niemann ($7,300)
Jordan Spieth ($8,900)
Sepp Straka ($6,000)
Tiger Woods ($10,500)
Golf Digest editors: Top-10 machine Tony Finau will lead the way for our lineup, and then we took some advice from the real experts in this column by throwing in Keith Mitchell and Aaron Wise on the cheap.
Tony Finau ($9,900)
Alex Noren ($8,600)
Adam Scott ($7,500)
Keith Mitchell ($7,000)
Cameron Smith ($8,800)
Aaron Wise ($7,800)
Gdula: With such a loaded field and tough course, balance is possible and probably recommended. These golfers fit a balanced build this week:
Marc Leishman ($10,800), Tony Finau ($10,700), Gary Woodland ($10,600), Xander Schauffele ($10,000), Luke List ($9,700) and Joaquin Niemann ($9,500).
Rickie Fowler ($10,900)
Chesson Hadley ($8,900)
Joaquin Niemann ($9,500)
Jordan Spieth ($11,200)
Sepp Straka ($7,000)
Tiger Woods ($11,500)
About our experts
Dr. Lou Riccio, a PhD senior lecturer, teaches rational decision making at Columbia’s Graduate School of Business and has served on the USGA’s handicap research team for three decades. His predictive analysis and modeling helps him make expert picks for our column.
Pat Mayo is known as one of the pre-eminent experts in daily-fantasy sports and golf handicapping specifically. Mayo is a 14-time fantasy sports-writers association finalist, and he’s on the board of governors at www.fantasynational.com. Here’s a link to watch his complete DraftKings preview of the Desert Classic.
Brandon Gdula, a senior editor and analyst for NumberFire, a FanDuel daily-fantasy analysis company, was recently nominated as one of three finalists for the 2018 fantasy sports-writers association of Golf Writer of the Year. Gdula also co-hosts the DFS Heat Check podcast.