The First Tee – Farmers Insurance Open by Adam Daly

Fantasy Golf Insider Staff
By Fantasy Golf Insider Staff January 22, 2018 21:53

The First Tee – Farmers Insurance Open by Adam Daly

With the return of Tiger to an actual PGA event – with a cut and everything – the GPPs this week are very, very lucrative. The Farmer’s Insurance Open (F.I.O.) takes place at Torrey Pines (on two courses), which has been very kind to Tiger in his career with seven wins since ’99 in addition to the major win which just came on the South course, but more on that below.

The F.I.O. as mentioned takes place at two courses, the North and South courses at Torrey Pines in San Diego. Only one round is played on the North which is nice as there’s no ShotLink data at that course, with the two rounds after the cut both coming at the South. It’s a nice reprieve from the birdie-fests of the past couple weeks, with last year’s cut coming at +1 and the winner (Rahm) shooting a -13.

THE COURSE – Torrey Pines (North)

The North course was renovated between the 2016 and ’17 tournaments, lengthening the course to a total of 7,258 yards as a par-72. The four par-5s on this course all play between 520-556 yards and beyond a few very short par-4s, it’s imperative to score on the -5s when playing North. Last year, the 11 eagles made on the North came on the par-5s, which played to a combined average of -0.4775. Given that the only other two holes that played under par were the short par-4s (322/339), that should give an idea of what a tough test the North course will be. On the whole, scoring here should be very, very light.

There’s no data on the width of the fairways, but the fairways were widened during the renovations, and bunkers were moved more strategically into expected landing areas. Being that the course is directly off the ocean, wind will be an obvious factor so checking weather is crucial. One of the best parts about Torrey Pines is that the grass in the fairways isn’t used at many courses, and it offers a much different surface to hit approach shots from; the kikuyu grass found in the fairway and rough is short but much thicker than bent or Bermuda, which lessens control on iron shots. Hitting the fairways is thus key, as it’s tough enough to hit off kikuyu on the closely-mown fairways, but hitting out of the rough will be a much tougher task.

There are a few hazards to watch for off the tee – canyons, sparse trees, and well-placed bunkers – but in general getting wild will only hurt for hitting out of the rough.

Beyond the lengthening of the course, the other big change at the North was changing the greens: the greens were made bigger by ~40% and more importantly, changed from Poa Annua to Bentgrass. From the incredibly small data set of last year’s rounds – ignoring everything pre-2017 thanks to the renovations – scrambling and putting are big here.

THE COURSE – Torrey Pines (South)

The South course at Torrey Pines is one of the clear bomber’s tracks on Tour, even allowing for Brandt Snedeker’s two wins and two runner-ups here. At almost 7,700 yards as a par-72, golfers will have to be long and as straight as possible off the tee. Eight of the par-4s sit above 437 yards, and last year all eight played above par.

The fairways are tight with a few trees littered around, but there isn’t much in the way of hazards off the tee – the kikuyu rough is almost hazard enough. Accuracy doesn’t project as a large corollary this week but it is more important than the average PGA Tour course, so targeting the golfers that tend to keep it in the fairway and gain strokes off the tee is incredibly important.

On approach, golfers will have basically the same experience as the North course, but they’ll be hitting into smaller, slightly faster greens. With the distances as they are on this course, looking at players that can hit the longer irons well is obviously helpful (on both courses), because stuffing balls onto the speedy greens is no picnic.

Unlike the North course, the greens on the South are bumpy Poa Annua; the common theory is that Poa should neutralize putting skill to a degree, but data suggests that is inaccurate (look for more on that at Twitter in the near future). Looking for the guys with proven putting skill (the Jason Days of the world) is never a great answer because of how highly variable putting is, but it’s good to have a baseline of strong putting in larger sample.

STATS

Put a larger focus on the SG stats this week and less on the counting stats.

The Strokes Gained stats to focus on in order (not including Tee to Green):

  • Approach
  • Off-the-Tee
  • Putting
  • Around the Green

Counting stats to focus on in order:

  • Approach Shots: 175+ Yards
  • Birdie or Better %
  • Driving Distance
  • Par-5 Scoring
  • Bogey Avoidance

The Golfers

Jon Rahm ($11800): How hard is it to pass up on Jon Rahm after last week? Too hard for this writer. Last year’s F.I.O. winner is cruising after beating Andrew Landry in a playoff at CareerBuilder, where Rahm gained 1.153 strokes off the tee and 0.964 strokes on approach, a microcosm of his game as a whole. Looking at last year’s statistics and Rahm’s almost-historic jump to #2 in the world paints a picture of a golfer that’s clicking in every facet from tee to green:

  • 2nd SG:OTT
  • 17th SG:Approach
  • 3rd SG: Tee to Green
  • -50 relative to par outside 175 yards
  • 5th in Driving Distance (all drives)

Given the form, statistical merit, and how Rahm decimated Torrey Pines last year – including dropping a long eagle putt on 18 to finish his day – it’s worth paying up for the most expensive golfer in the field yet again.

Alternate top-tier option:

Tony Finau ($8700): Finau grades out very well for Farmers, with his long game obviously a great fit on both courses. From a course history perspective, Finau’s got three finishes of T24, T18, T4 from 2015-17 (in that order), and enters the week off five straight made cuts in the 2018 season – with a 2nd at the Safeway and more recently a T32 at the Sony Open. In 2017, he gained the 4th-most strokes off the tee (0.826) and the 35th most on approach (0.390) while dominating with the long irons: a combined -82 relative to par from outside 175 yards.

Value:

Emiliano Grillo ($7000) – Emiliano Grillo isn’t the longest off the tee, with an average driving distance of only 293.3 (91st), but he consistently finds fairways (65.44%, 39th) which helped him gain the 38th-most strokes off the tee last season. He’s carried that through into this year, currently ranked 9th in SG:OTT through his five straight made cuts. His best finish through the fall came at Mayakoba where he grabbed a T9, but he made the cut at the Sony and picked up a T33 finish at the Farmers last year after missing the cut in 2016. The difference between Grillo’s ’16 and ’17 was a blow-up round (77) on the North course, so it’s a strong possibility that the course changes worked out in his favour.

One statistic that went un-mentioned in the stats to look at is a better way of looking at driving accuracy, which is distance from the edge of the fairway. In 2017, Grillo ranked 10th in that record, sitting an average of 20’ off the rough. Grillo is also great with the long irons, ranking T19th from 175-200 and T38th from 200-225.

What to do with Tiger?

At $9700, it’s tough to stomach playing Tiger Woods on DraftKings, full stop. Although the course history is obviously immaculate, it’ll be hard to trust that he can enter the week with no form – given the T9 at the Hero came on a birdie-fest course in an 18-man field, it can be safely ignored. From an “eye test” perspective, his driving looked on point for most of the four rounds and his irons were pretty dialled in, but his play around the greens left a lot to be desired. At a Torrey Pines that has a completely different grass in the fairways/rough, Tiger will be hard-pressed to hit greens if the driving reverts anywhere close to where it was last year when he missed the cut.

That being said, DFS isn’t just about making money, it’s also one of the most fun things about sports. For one-lineup players, stay away, but for MME players, going above the field (say ~25%) won’t crush all your lineups and gets you to cheer for the GOAT with money on the line. And isn’t Tiger in Sunday Red what it’s all about?

Good luck this week! You can follow me on Twitter @adalyfrey if you have any questions, and my DMs are always open.

Fantasy Golf Insider Staff
By Fantasy Golf Insider Staff January 22, 2018 21:53

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