Torrey Pines North and South are ready for the Tour this week in La Jolla, California. History gives us an impressive list of champions for the tournament formerly known as the Buick Invitational. Six-time champ Tiger Woods will not be making an appearance in his native southern California as he is chasing the appearance fee in Abu Dhabi this week instead. Three-time champion Phil Mickelson and the past 3 champions of the event (Bubba Watson in 2011, Ben Crane in 2010 and Nick Watney in 2009) all make their way into the 2012 field.
Historically, players who find success at Torrey Pines, and win, are long hitters. This is a golf course that many players on Tour would consider “gettable” under the right conditions, despite its ridiculous length. Torrey Pines South is the longest course the players see on Tour at a gaudy 7,698 yards. Last year, Bubba Watson posted a score of -16, a number that hadn’t been eclipsed since Phil’s -19 in 2001, which was before was lengthened to that absurdly long yardage.
If we remember last year, Mickelson gave us thrills again at this event. He came down the par 5 18th hole two strokes behind Watson who was safely in the clubhouse. Mickelson found himself 72 yards away hitting his 3rd shot, that he had to hole out to force a playoff. The subsequent shot was near perfect (see video highlight below).
There are plenty of big time sluggers in this week’s field. Initially, I had an inkling that Dustin Johnson would find a way into the winner’s circle. However, he withdrew from last week’s Humana Challenge with an injury, so Johnson is not my pick. Another player in this week’s field getting his fair share of notoriety from experts is Rickie Fowler. Torrey Pines is a ‘home event,’ and he said in his pre-tournament interview that the Farmers Insurance is one of his favorite stops on Tour. Fowler, having yet to play this year, is not my pick. He will win an event this year, just not this week and not at this event.
My pick to take home the $1,044,000 1st place check is Gary Woodland. His length will give him the advantage he needs at Torrey. Although he didn’t play well in last year’s event (he finished +1, T58), the mere fact that he played is critical. The last time a champion emerged in his first appearance at the event was in 1957. That player – Arnold Palmer. Only the U.S. Open owns a longer rookie champion drought (Francis Ouimet, 1913).
Woodland – a player I chose to breakout in 2012, with multiple victories – will win this week. His breakout campaign begins.
Prediction: Champion –
Score – 274 (-15)