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Thursday, 17 January, 2019

Focused Rickie Fowler can rediscover his old Farmers fire

Tiger Woods unlikely to be title contender

Rickie Fowler is competing in his home state this week
1 of 1

Starts 5pm Thursday
Live on Sky Sports Golf from 5pm

Tiger Woods fans have been backing their hero with hard cash this week, all the 25-1 quickly disappearing, and the 14-time Major champion clearly impressed the betting public with his Hero World Challenge performance.

Ninth place in the 18-runner Hero, though, is a long way from contending in a Farmers Insurance Open field of 156 on a much tougher course this week. Woods has won at Torrey Pines eight times, including his last Major triumph, but it is highly unlikely he can contend there this time with so little recent competition under his belt.

Another former world number one, Jason Day, joins Woods in a decent field, which includes Jon Rahm, defending Farmers champion and winner of the CareerBuilder Challenge on Sunday. Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Hideki Matsuyama and Phil Mickelson also line up.

Palmer's top tip
Rickie Fowler 12-1

Tiger Woods and 8-1 favourite Jon Rahm are most popular with Farmers Insurance Open punters, but Woods has almost certainly got a lot of work to do before becoming a US Tour champion again, while Rahm looks poor value in the immediate aftermath of his four-hole playoff victory over Andrew Landry.

Rahm was in contention for 76 holes of the CareerBuilder Challenge and may have expended too much mental energy at La Quinta to successfully defend his title at the much more difficult Torrey Pines.

Preference at the prices is for Rickie Fowler, who tweaked his schedule this year to keep himself fresh for the fight at Torrey.

Fowler finished fifth in the Farmers in his US Tour rookie campaign in 2010, and Torrey Pines looked like a potential place for the young Californian to make his breakthrough. He followed up with 20th spot in 2011, then was 13th and sixth the next two years.

In 2015, though, Fowler made the Abu Dhabi Championship his first tournament of the year, returning there in 2016 and 2017, and the exertions of a trek to the Middle East took their toll at Torrey.

He has missed the last two Farmers cuts in the week immediately following Abu Dhabi, even after winning the high-class Gulf event in 2016.

Fowler is clearly keen to regain the swagger he used to have in the most prestigious event in his home state, and ditching Abu Dhabi could be the answer. It is too demanding to go from the Middle East, full of jet lag, to the rigours of Torrey Pines. Dustin Johnson, second in Abu Dhabi last year before missing the Farmers cut, kept Abu Dhabi in his plans this season, but axed Torrey.

The only time Fowler has started his year staying Stateside and failed to finish in the top 20 at Torrey Pines is when he was badly out of form in his opening four events of 2014. Punters are advised to ignore recent Farmers failures and support a player who is at the peak of his powers.

Fowler was hugely impressive throughout last year, comfortably winning the Honda Classic in February, making the each-way places on seven other occasions, including two Majors, then he started the new season with a runner-up spot in the OHL Classic. This complete player signed off for 2017 with a spectacular final-round 61 to win the Hero World Challenge by four shots.

Rahm is the clear Farmers favourite after winning a low-grade event on Sunday, but less than eight weeks ago Fowler destroyed the best players in the world with an absolute masterclass in the Hero. His only outing since has yielded a respectable fourth place at Kapalua.

Next best
Patrick Cantlay 33-1

Rahm and Fowler are high on the list of potential Major champions, but the name of Patrick Cantlay belongs there, too, after the young Californian's magnificent 2017.

Cantlay qualified for the Tour Championship despite playing in only 11 events, such was his relentless consistency, and the former amateur superstar is finally making waves among the big boys after an injury-hampered start to his professional career.

Cantlay started last year with second place in the Valspar Championship, then third spot in the Heritage, and his last seven tournaments have all yielded a top-20 finish. That streak included his maiden US Tour triumph – the Shriners Open in November – and this supreme ball-striker has the world at his feet at the age of 25.

Cantlay missed the Farmers cut in his early forays as a pro in 2013, but he returns five years later with more experience and self-belief. Torrey South plays to his tee-to-green strengths and the former UCLA hero should feel extremely comfortable in his home state.

Other selection
Cheng-Tsung Pan 125-1

Another former world number one amateur can join Cantlay in the thick of things. Cheng-Tsung Pan is a few months older and still awaiting his US Tour breakthrough, but the closest he has come was at Torrey Pines 12 months ago. Pan finished tied second in the Farmers, beaten by only Rahm, chalking four solid rounds on the board.

The heroics of Pan as a rookie at Torrey bode well for his chances of contending at a massive price again this week. He missed his two cuts before the Farmers last year, and his two cuts immediately afterwards, but something about Torrey Pines fitted his eye.

Pan's form picked up in the second half of last year and missing the three-round cut by a shot in the CareerBuilder last week is nothing to be concerned about. The Taiwanese was 13th in the RSM Classic prior to that and is settling well on the US Tour.

Others to note
Xander Schauffele
The Tour Championship winner is a born-and-bred San Diego man who will be relishing this assignment. He has been slow out the blocks this term, though, as he adjusts to new equipment.

Emiliano Grillo
The Argentinian won the 2009 Junior World Championship by four shots at Torrey when he was 16 and his maiden US Tour victory came in California at the end of 2015 ( Open).

Patrick Rodgers
The American slugger was a star at Stanford University and knows Torrey well from his college days. Contended last year, sharing fourth. Like Grillo, lacking form to match course credentials.

Cameron Smith
The young Australian is in the form of his life, with figures of 12-5-3-4-1-17-18 from his last seven events, and is a good enough ball-striker to handle Torrey South.

Charles Howell
The US Tour's great underachiever has finished Torrey runner-up three times, including last year. Playing well enough to place again.

Kyle Stanley
The Quicken Loans National champion had this title at his mercy in 2012, before a final-hole meltdown. Capable of revenge, but remains a poor putter.

Staking plan
R Fowler
3pts each-way 12-1 general
P Cantlay
2pts each-way 33-1 BoyleSports, Coral
C-T Pan
0.5pt each-way 125-1 BoyleSports, Coral


Courses Torrey Pines South and North, La Jolla, San Diego, California

Prize money $6.9m ($1.206m to the winner)

Lengths South 7,698 yards, North 7,258 yards

Par Both 72

Field 156

Course records – 72 holes 266 George Burns (1987), Tiger Woods (1999); 18 holes - South 62 Tiger Woods (1999); North 61 Mark Brooks (1990), Brandt Snedeker (2007)

Course winners taking part Phil Mickelson (three times), Tiger Woods (eight times), Nick Watney, Ben Crane, Brandt Snedeker (twice), Scott Stallings, Jason Day, Jon Rahm

When to bet By 3pm Thursday

Where to watch Live on Sky Sports Golf from 5pm Thursday

Time difference California is eight hours behind the UK and Ireland

Last week – CareerBuilder Challenge 1 J Rahm (10-1), 2 A Landry (200-1), T3 A Hadwin (66-1), J Huh (300-1), M Piller (300-1), T6 K Chappell (50-1), S Piercy (80-1)

Course overview Formerly the Buick Invitational, this tournament has been played at Torrey Pines since 1968. The South, opened in 1957, was redesigned and toughened up by Rees Jones in 2001 to make it worthy of staging the 2008 US Open, which was won by Tiger Woods in a Monday play-off against Rocco Mediate. It is a severe test, especially when the wind blows in from the Pacific Ocean, and has traditionally been at least two shots harder than the North in this event. The North was 646 yards shorter, but Tom Weiskopf conducted a $12m redesign at the end of 2016 and increased the North by 206 yards. The fairways were slightly widened, the greens enlarged and the nines reversed. The greens are bentgrass at the North and Poa annua at the South. The North is used for only one round (the final 36 holes are played at the South once the cut has been made). The small greens on the South are undulating, tricky, and not usually in the best of shape at this time of year. Both tracks finish with a par-five. Of the eight fives played during the week, the ninth at the South, at 613 yards, is the longest and most challenging

Story of last year The leaderboard was congested in the final round, until Jon Rahm asserted himself on proceedings, the Spanish youngster draining a long putt for eagle at the 18th hole to complete a three-shot success and a US Tour breakthrough

Weather forecast Sunny for the most part, with light breezes

Type of player suited to challenge The honours board at Torrey Pines indicates this venue is a big-hitters' paradise, with Tiger Woods having won eight times, Phil Mickelson three times, along with John Daly, Davis Love, Nick Watney, Bubba Watson, Scott Stallings and Jason Day. Kyle Stanley should have joined the club in 2012 before his final-hole horrors. The South, on which 54 holes will be played, is a long, brutal track which can overwhelm powder-puff drivers. Ben Crane and Brandt Snedeker have shown in recent years that exceptional putters can overcome length deficiencies at Torrey, but it is a brave punter who goes to war this week without a few powerhouses on their side

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