LONG ISLAND, New York – History was made last week at the American Express Classic when Nick Dunlap became the first amateur to win a PGA Tour event in 33 years. It was a remarkable performance that won’t be repeated this week since the University of Alabama player withdrew from the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego to take a deep breath and consider his future options.
Torrey Pines promises to be a much rougher test than the three courses where the American Express event was played in the California desert. Everyone plays the 7,258-yard North Course, which offers a much better scoring opportunity one in the first two rounds, but the other three rounds all will be over the 7,765-yard South Course, which produced a scoring average last year of 73.263 that was the highest for any Tour event outside of the four major championships.
The Farmers Classic starts on Wednesday January 24 and ends on Saturday January 27 to avoid a conflict on Sunday with the NFL conference championship games. Given Dunlap’s success a week ago, the temptation is to pick last season’s Rookie of the Year, Eric Cole, to score his first PGA Tour victory. But he will be my fifth pick to win because history doesn’t repeat itself so quickly. However, Cole is a value at 35-1 after six straight top-25 finishes, and he currently ranks 28th in putting.
Putting figures to be the critical factor on the poa annua greens at Torrey Pines, and I am picking the current No. 1 putter in the game, Sungjae Im, to emerge as the winner of the Farmers Insurance Classic. Im has great personal history at Torrey Pines with two top-10 finishes the past two years. He also got off to a hot start this year when he made a PGA Tour record 34 birdies while finishing fifth at the Sentry Tournament of Champions event three weeks ago in Hawaii.
Im figures to have tremendous competition from a trio of veterans who have been hot recently and who have strong track records in California. Tony Finau has eight top-25 finishes in nine appearances at Torrey Pines, including a T7 last season, and he currently ranks third on the Tour in putting.
Keegan Bradley has three top-5 finishes at Torrey, and he is coming off a T2 finish at the Sony event. His record in California makes him my third choice to win. Fourth ahead of Cole is Australian veteran Jason Day, who has won twice previously at Torrey Pines and has been in the midst of a resurgence since the second half of last year. Day has seven top-10 finishes in that time and is ranked sixth in Tour putting stats.
My second tier of players who figure to draw some heavy action includes defending champion Max Homa, who routinely tears up top courses in his native southern California, along with Collin Morikawa, who was third behind Homa last year and recently tied for 5th at the Sentry.
Bettors can get far more attractive odds on 40-1 Sahith Theegala, who was fourth a year ago, 50-1 Harris English, who is 15th in driving accuracy and 12th in putting, and 80-1 Luke List, who has finished in the top-25 in six of his past nine events.
But in the end, I like Im’s hot putting hand for the win just ahead of Finau, Bradley, Day and Cole. Good luck.