Farmers Insurance Open: Expert picks and best bets

Harris English, Eric Larson
Want to bet on a longshot this week at Torrey Pines? Our expert prognosticator thinks you could do a whole lot worse than Harris English. Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

EDITOR’S NOTE: Brian Mull is a former caddie who spent several years walking alongside the world’s best players inside the ropes on the PGA Tour. Throughout the 2019-20 season, he will be filing a gambling picks piece — as well as a weekly fantasy golf picks piece — applying the expert knowledge he’s acquired over the years by following the players and courses on Tour so closely.

Now, things start getting serious on the PGA Tour in 2020.

Nothing against the last three weeks. They were fun, provided two playoffs, some wild finishes and confirmed for the 893rd time that winning a golf tournament is not an easy task. The appeal of prime time golf will never fade.

RELATED: Farmers Insurance fantasy picks, power rankings and analysis

But the stars are out now, convening at Torrey Pines South and North in a 156-man field battling for a $7.5 million purse with the winning caddie likely to make in excess of $130,000 for four days of smart work.

A CADDIE’S TAKE ON TORREY: “As for Torrey Pines, these are grown-man golf courses, long and fairly narrow with penalizing rough. Accuracy and rough-scrambling are important skill sets to have to play well here this week. The caddies’ responsibilities on a week like this with two courses is to take as much stress as possible off of your player, who already will have to use so much mental energy to grind out good scores. That entails just doing good coursework to have center lines and targets for every tee shot and to know where the easiest up and downs are to each pin if you happen to get out of position from the tee.”

Ball-striking reigns at Torrey South and players must go low on the North. The winning caddie will spend the week handing his pro the putter for long walks up the lush fairways. He’ll retrieve juicy divots but probably not rake many bunkers. Pitching out of long mean greenside rough or blasting out of deep bunkers is not conducive to remaining on the leaderboard.

On to the picks. As always, enjoy.

Odds on the favorites (via golfodds.com):

Over / under is 271.5 – par is 72 on both courses

Rory McIlroy +700
Jon Rahm +900
Tiger Woods +1600
Xander Schauffele +1600
Justin Rose +1600
Hideki Matsuyama +2000
Rickie Fowler +2000
Gary Woodland +2500
Tony Finau +2500
Patrick Reed +3000
Collin Morikawa +3000
Sungjae Im +3000
Jason Day +4000
Brandt Snedeker +4000
Scottie Scheffler +4000
Cameron Smith +4000
Joaquin Niemann +4000

Expert picks and best bets

The Pick

Tiger Woods (+1600). Not really sure why I need to write any sentences. Perhaps you’re not sold, but I’m sold. Tiger. Is. Back. Woods sputtered last summer and folks lost hope. But the knee “cleanup” procedure he underwent last fall enables him to start swinging how he wants to again. He can drive the ball in the fairway and work it both ways off the tee, perhaps better than he ever has. As he proved at Royal Melbourne, he’s the best iron player in the game and probably ever. He’s returning to Torrey Pines where he’s made history before and has a chance to do it again. Nobody knows or plays the course better. Nothing he can do – short of tying or breaking Jack Nicklaus’ major record – can top last year’s Masters victory. That capped a decade long comeback from injury, scandal and despair. But becoming the PGA Tour’s all-time wins leader and holding off some combination of Rose, Rahm and Rory on Sunday would create yet another unforgettable moment in his unparalleled career. And with the purchase of one ticket you can have a piece of the historic action.

Last week: Scottie Scheffler (+4000) finished 3rd, three shots back.

The Longshot

Harris English (+10000) Once projected as a rising superstar, English plummeted to 369th in the world last season and finished outside the top 125. Having to return to the Korn Ferry Tour finals to regain exempt status was an experience the 30-year-old Georgia Bulldog obviously does not want to repeat. With four top 10s in seven starts, he’s earned enough FedEx Cup points to ensure playing privileges for 2020-21. The next step is hoisting a trophy on the 18th green late on a Sunday afternoon, something he’s experienced twice but not since 2014. English fits all of the ball-striking requirements to contend at Torrey Pines – top 10 SG: total, including top 20 SG: off the tee and SG: approach the green. He’s putted well this year. Relieved of the ultimate pressure endured while trying to keep his job and possessing the power and accuracy to handle this fierce test there’s a ton of value in taking a chance on English this week.

Last week: Brian Gay (+15000) missed the cut.

The Fade

Rickie Fowler (+2000). A disappointing final 36 faded Fowler to a T-10 last week at the American Express. Recent performances make me wonder if Fowler would skip the Farmers if not for it being played in his native Southern California and the threat of missing out on those commercials. Like a golf cart rolling downhill, Fowler has been unpredictable at Torrey, missing four of the last six cuts. He had a stretch of four top-20 finishes beforehand but the course keeps getting longer and more difficult and his ball-striking strokes gained stats aren’t terrible. But ranking outside the top 100 in putting and approaching the green is enough for us to fade him. Trust me, it was not easy, on this website, to turn against a pro who recently turned in a terrific performance as undercover caddie Richard Flower. We applaud any pro willing to step into a caddie’s shoes even if the experience occurs under lights, in front of cameras and in their contract.

Last week: Tony Finau (+2500) tied for 14th.

Head-to-Head

Jon Rahm (+110) vs. Rory McIlroy. No. 3 vs. No. 2 in the world. This matchup from golfodds.com is about as juicy as they come in a regular, full-field PGA Tour event. It’s  always difficult to bet against McIlroy, who tied for fifth in his Farmers Insurance Open debut last year and played better more consistently than anyone in the world in 2019. But we’re not here to run and hide, no sir. We’re concerned that McIlroy hasn’t played a tournament since late November. Even with his immeasurable talent, two months is a lengthy break. What’s more appealing is Jon Rahm as an underdog, a rare option and to have it happen at a place where he’s won before makes it too attractive to resist.

Last week: Brendon Todd def. Jason Kokrak; Season: 1-2.

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