By Powers and Hennessey
The West Coast Swing rolls on this week with the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, which also hosts this June’s U.S. Open. No, the South Course (where three of the four rounds will be played this week) won’t be set up like it will be in the summer, but it should still serve as a mini U.S. Open preview.
Sure, there’s no Tiger Woods—who won’t be making his first start as he normally does at Torrey Pines—with his back procedure announced last week. But 13 of the top 25 players in the world are here, and Torrey Pines always demands a players’ complete game, so our experts expect a packed leader board come Sunday.
Our experts seem to be a little torn on one of the tour’s studs: Xander Schauffele. He’s among the favourites at 12-1, and he was born and raised in San Diego, so it’s a home game for him. The only issue is his course history (Schauffele has missed four of five cuts), but it’s not scaring away two of our bettors—including our anonymous PGA Tour caddie reporting this week—who we can say is a caddie for a top-25 player on tour. He’s not buying into the past performance from Xander at Torrey. Two of our experts, though, will use it as reason to fade one of the most consistent players in the world.
Which side do you fall on? Read on to see who our experts like this week at the 2021 Farmers Insurance Open.
Farmers Insurance Open 2021 picks: Our Experts’ Outright Predictions (Odds from William Hill)
Anonymous Caddie Picker of the week: Xander Schauffele (12-1) — I don’t think much explanation is needed here, BUT if you look at the winners in the past, two things jump out: Above average distance off the tee and an ELITE short game. Xander has all of that and more. Good form and some rest doesn’t hurt either.
Pat Mayo, DraftKings/Fantasy National, Mayo Media Network analyst: Rory McIlroy (8-1) — It’s been more than a year since Rory got into the winner’s circle. After slogging through the post-COVID restart, things seemingly have flipped for him. He bookended the fall major season with top-10 finishes at the U.S. Open and the Masters and debuted last week on the European Tour with a T-3 in the Middle East—and fired the lowest score in a round twice during the event. He’s played the Farmers the past two years with a T-3 and T-5. It’s time for Rory.
Brandon Gdula, FanDuel/numberFire managing editor: Xander Schauffele (12-1) — Schauffele has a poor history at the Farmers with four missed cuts in five tries, but that’s not necessarily a predictive way to break down a betting card. What Schauffele does well—everything—is what it takes to succeed at Torrey Pines. Schauffele is in the 85th percentile in distance gained over the past 100 rounds, via FantasyNational, and is a good Poa putter. He’s also admitted to preferring tougher golf courses, and that’s what we should get this week.
Rick Gehman, data scientist and RickRunGood.com founder: Rory McIlroy (8-1) — This pick does not come without reservation—McIlroy hasn’t raised a trophy in more than a year and is making the long trek back from Dubai before teeing it up this week. However, we saw flashes of brilliance from McIlroy last week in Dubai. Even with two even-par rounds of 72, he still finished third. He shot the low round of the day on two different days last week and now heads to Torrey Pines. This will be his third trip to the Farmers Insurance Open, finishing T-5 and T-3 in the past two years. He’s overdue for a victory, and that winless streak is in jeopardy this week.
Stephen Hennessey, Golf Digest dep. managing editor: Tony Finau (20-1) — Finau’s numbers at Torrey Pines are staggering: He has gained more than 27 strokes on the field over the past three years, en route to two sixth-place finishes and a 13th. Sure, this number is too low to recoup most of what you’ve lost on betting Finau outright, but I don’t want to miss out on the Finau coronation. After the AMEX close call, I’m willing to bank on him either this week or at the Waste Management.
Christopher Powers, Golf Digest assistant editor: Matthew Wolff (33-1) — I drank the Wolff kool aid last week and was gutted to see him start four over through six on Thursday. This week, I’m ready to get hurt again, not just because he ended up finishing strong at AMEX (12 under after that brutal start), but because Torrey Pines seems perfectly suited for his game. Bombs away, hack out of the rough when you need to, and Poa greens, Wolff’s best putting surface.
Lee Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Tony Finau (20-1) — The American Express wasn’t supposed to be an event that suited his game, but Finau is playing so well right now, his game will let him contend. Now, enter Torrey, one of his best courses. Finau ranks 15th in FanShare’s course-suitability ranking this week and comes into this event ranked third for Opportunities Gained over the past three months.
Results from last season: Golf Digest's betting panel predicted 14 winners correctly last season, and collectively on outright winners, top-10 bets and matchups won and lost, our panel went up 225.30 units (the equivalent of being up €2,253 if you wagered €10 on all of our bets) last season. Our anonymous tour caddie nailed Viktor Hovland (25-1) to finish 2020 strong. Also at the end of last year, Brandon Gdula of numberFire/FanDuel correctly picked Patrick Cantlay at the Zozo Championship (30-1) and Christopher Powers predicted Bryson DeChambeau (28-1 at the U.S. Open)—picking up the momentum we had in the 2019-’20 season. Be sure to check this column every week for picks from the hottest betting panel in golf!
Rory McIlroy. Photo by Golffile
Farmers Insurance Open 2021 picks: Sleepers/Dark Horses Who Could Win (odds from William Hill unless otherwise listed)
Caddie: Gary Woodland (80-1, PointsBet) — Gary’s playing pain free for the first time in a year, and he played well last week with a top 20. You can tell he seems excited to be competing again. Also, he did happen to win a little tournament down the road at Pebble in 2019, so we know he can handle the Poa greens and cooler weather.
Mayo: Ryan Palmer (80-1, PointsBet) — I bet him 250-1 to win at the U.S. Open here in a few months, so I might as well take a shot on him in easier conditions. In his 14 weighted rounds at Torrey Pines South, Palmer is averaging a stroke gained on the field per round on approach. That’s the most of any player in the field who has played at least 10 rounds on the South outside of Marc Leishman. Now up to No. 28 in the OWGR, Palmer has shockingly gained strokes putting in four straight events and finally gets to tackle a course where his distance can be a real factor.
Gdula: Bubba Watson (40-1) — I can’t see myself digging too deep with outrights this week because big names generally win here. It makes sense. It’s a tough test of golf that requires being viable in every area. Watson doesn’t really have a spotless profile but is a plus putter on Poa, the only surface on which he can make that claim. Watson also has the distance and has a win under his belt at Torrey Pines.
Gehman: Will Zalatoris (70-1, DraftKings) — Zalatoris makes his 2021 debut with the distinction of being one of the bright young stars on the PGA Tour. Zalatoris dominated the Korn Ferry Tour last season, boasting a stretch of 11 consecutive top-20 finishes. He’s continued that play into this season, earning top-10s at the U.S. Open, Corales Puntacana Championship and Shriners Hospitals For Children Open. There are some circles of the golfing world that already believe Zalatoris has the talent of a top-25 player in the world, and he has the opportunity to prove that starting here.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Dylan Frittelli (140-1, DraftKings) — I gotta give a nod to my guy Fried Egg Paulie, who we had on the “Be Right” podcast last week (shameless plug, go subscribe here). Paulie makes a great case this week for Frittelli—he’s an absolute bomber now who is a top-10 scrambler in this elite field. Frittelli also prominently hits a fade off the tee, which suits Torrey Pines. Frittelli's top-five finish at the Masters gives me more confidence … I think Frittelli at these deep odds is definitely worth a look. Thank Paulie if this hits.
Powers, Golf Digest: Alex Noren (100-1) — Since the end of July, Noren has six top 20s in 11 starts, two of those coming at the PGA and U.S. Open. While it won’t be set up like it will be in June, Torrey still plays like a U.S. Open/PGA every year, with four of the past six Farmers Insurance Opens featuring a winning total of 10 under or less. One of those years (2018), Noren finished runner-up, and may have won in regulation if he didn’t get freezed out by J.B. Holmes.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Marc Leishman (41-1, DraftKings) — Last year’s winner is just starting to come into form again. He enters this week ranked sixth for SG/tee-to-green over the past three months and 13th for Opportunities Gained. Leishman performs very well at Torrey Pines and should be in the mix once again this week.
Farmers Insurance Open 2021 picks: Players to Fade This Week (who will disappoint)
Caddie: Rory McIlroy (8-1) — That’s the thing about Rors, he could win by five or struggle each day to score. It’s a big time difference from Abu Dhabi, and that’ll always affect rest. I’d imagine he will also be feeling a little letdown after losing the lead on the last day last week. He will make the cut as he’s just too talented, but I don’t see him contending.
Mayo: Viktor Hovland (30-1) — Three things matter this week: Driving distance, long irons and short game. The hit-fairway percentage is low, then combine that with a smallish greens at the South Course, and you’re going to have to get it up and down consistently to stay atop the leaderboard. While he’s been improving his short game, Hovland’s chipping flubs on a weekly basis will take him out of contention at Torrey Pines.
Kevin C. Cox
Gdula: Viktor Hovland (30-1) — Hovland’s recent win at El Camaleon shouldn’t transfer over both from a field strength and course structure standpoint. Torrey Pines requires distance, which he has to a degree (63rd percentile in this field), but he’s not a strong putter, particularly in a small sample on Poa, and he’s not a great wedge player, both of which are vital based on the data.
Gehman: Xander Schauffele (12-1) — It’s certainly terrifying to fade a golfer who is in the midst of 13 consecutive top-25 finishes, but here we are! According to the RunRunGood.com course model, Torrey Pines is one of the most “consistent” golfers on tour. In short, the course is always set up in a similar fashion, and the field is generally the same strength in each edition. With that, player results have been very stable over the years. Unfortunately for Schauffele, something doesn’t click for him at Torrey Pines, which is only minutes from where he grew up. In five trips, he has one T-25 finish and four missed cuts. He will need to overcome that course adversity to keep his top-25 streak alive this week.
Hennessey, Golf Digest: Marc Leishman (33-1) — It’s so hard to find a reason to fade any of the guys 40-1 or lower. I’ll look at the longer-term form with Leishman and bank on him regressing a little more back to that. These are just low odds for someone who was so bad for so long. I do think he really likes Torrey, so I’m not confident in this one.
Powers, Golf Digest: Jon Rahm (7-1) — Fading Jon Rahm at Torrey is like betting against Brady in the playoffs, but the W/D last week and the new clubs are two very large question marks. You can’t bet on two big question marks at 7-1, no matter how good the course history is.
Alldrick, FanShare Sports: Xander Schauffele (12-1) — Historically, Schaufelle struggles around Torrey, especially the South Course. He ranks just 73rd in the field this week for total strokes gained/total on Torrey’s South Course. Not something you want to see at these odds.