Tournament: Farmers Insurance Open, January 28-31
Course: Torrey Pines GC (South), 7,698 yards, par 72. For several reasons including pace of play, the pros will play one of the first two rounds on Torrey Pines’ North course (7,052/72).
Defending Champion: Jason Day. Before this win last year, Jason was considered one with great upside but few wins to establish him as truly great. This really started his season as he survived in a 4 man playoff (including over UGA product Harris English), and it ended with 4 more Tour wins including the PGA Championship.
Television: Thursday-Friday, 3-7 p.m. ET (Golf Channel). Saturday, 1-2:30 p.m. (GC), 3-6 p.m. (CBS). Sunday, 1-2:30 p.m. (GC), 3-6:30 p.m. (CBS).
Fun Fact: This tournament has its own theme song. I will try to find a link to it. Just the fact it has one is enough for me to want to listen to it. But if Kenny Loggins doesn't perform it, I will be severely disappointed.
Former 'Dawgs in the Field (Four): Erik Compton, Harris English, Brian Harman, Hudson Swafford
We're in the middle of the "West Coast Swing" which is sometimes marketing by the PGA Tour as a mini-season. So far in 2016, there's been 2 tourneys in Hawaii, 1 in southern California, and there are three more scheduled in CA and AZ before the Tour moves eastward to Florida as a ramp up to the first weekend in April. So the tour pros hang their hats in San Diego this week, and try to attack the extremely long Torrey Pines layout.
As mentioned above, pros will alternate playing the shorter and easier North course and the longer, more difficult South course the first two days before the cut is made. Weather usually isn't too big a concern (insert San Diego weatherman jokes), so the pros hope to scratch out 1 or 2 under on their South course round, and go really low on the North course in order to make the cut and position themselves for the weekend. Both Saturday and Sunday rounds are played on the South course. The South course meanders along the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and this is a favorite area for hang gliders. It is still the longest course played in major championship history, and isn't tricky so much as it just requires middle of the fairway and middle of the greens. Out of position off the tee almost guarantees missing the green, and there are enough ponds and trees and rough to make getting up and down a big challenge. The 18th is a wonderful par 5 finishing hole - it's possible to hit it in two from the fairway, but a small pond fronting the green makes it a gamble. And the slope on the green makes it near impossible to get up and down from behind the putting surface and above the hole. A perfect risk/reward scenario to decide the champion.
It's a very strong field with 10 of the world's top 30 in attendance, including defending champ Day (#2) and newly placed #4 Rickie Fowler. Spieth (not playing) is still #1, and Rory (not playing) is #3 (he's closed the gap on Day at #2), and Rickie's win this weekend in Abu Dhabi on the European Tour moved him past our own Bubba Watson (not playing) for #4 in the world. Phil Mickelson debuted his season in a strong way last week, and is from this area and has played this course thousands of times. Still no Tiger Woods as he continues micro-fracture surgery rehab, but Tiger has won on this course 8 times. 8 freakin' times. The last being the US Open in 2008 on a broken leg. Hate him or love him, that was impressive and incredible TV theater.
But enough of this fool's gold, let's get down to who you want to root for:
Erik Compton. Has fallen 11 spots in the last 2 weeks to 237th in the world. Same poo poo, different week. He's falling down the rankings hard, and is missing cuts. Not a good recipe. I don't believe he has playing privileges past this year if he doesn't get into the top 100 in the world, wins a tournament, or finishes in the top 70 in FedEx Cup points. This is a tough week to work on your game.
Harris English. 108th in the world, he has not had a stellar campaign thus far. But he tied for 3rd here last year (was in a sudden death playoff), so maybe a return to the Classy City and a Tim Robbins cameo will help him with a high finish.
Brian Harman. Jumped 9 spots to 92nd in the world and 31st in FedEx Cup points, Brian is probably playing the best of all UGA alums outside of Bubba and Kevin Kisner. A lefty, he's crafty as ice is cold. But he's playing solid and coming off a good showing in the desert last week.
Hudson Swafford. A few made cuts recently, and Swafford has jumped 33 spots in the world golf rankings. To #236. So there's still work to do. No matter, he's doing what he needs to and might be healthier than he's been in a couple of years. If he keeps making cuts, he'll move inside the top 200 right quick, but he needs a win to make The Masters.
The undergraduate UGA golfers are still off for a couple of weeks. Bubba likely returns next week in Phoenix, and I think we'll see Henley, Kirk, Kisner and Todd too. I'm surprised some of them aren't playing here, but Todd, Kirk and Henley have all had sketchy seasons so hopefully they're working on their game. Still, 4 Dawgs is plenty to give a rooting interest in, so tune in and....