1. Tiger Woods
With the US networks’ share-price already on the march with one Donald J Trump, the sports departments will welcome the return of another alpha-male to the arena. And there’ll be no bigger story this weekend than Tiger Woods being in contention on the back nine come Sunday.
Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, and while a red Nike top and arrogant stare use to turn grown men’s game to jelly, he’ll need his ‘AAA’ game to get back to that type of intimidation level now.
In typical Californian style, the course has had quite a few nips and tucks since we last saw it – and especially since Tiger was owning the venue with his previous eight course wins.
With some major reconstructive surgery of his own and a couple dozen marital infidelities later now in his rear-view mirror, Woods finally returns for his first Tour start in 17 months with a definite plan to ‘stay’ back.
This week’s Farmers Insurance Open is part of his four-tournament road map to see if his back – and his luck – holds out. While any talk of beating Jack Nicklaus’ Major record has been muted, the World No 650 really, really wants to get to Augusta. And he wants to win a fifth Masters next April.
2. Martin Laird
The Scot turned American didn’t indulge on the mice pies over Christmas and has four tournaments under his perfectly-fitting belt since mid -October and some solid recent form at Torrey Pines.
He’s posted two Top 10 finishes in his two starts here at a track where his tee-box booming is a big asset.
Three rounds in the 60s on the way to a T9 in California last weekend will have oiled him up nicely for another push into place territory here at a tasty 50/1.
And while past performance is no guarantee of future success, a golfer with his eye in at a track is always worth having on your side before the big beats on Tour start to hit their stride.
— Shane Lowry (@ShaneLowryGolf) January 25, 2017
3. Shane Lowry
The lesser-spotted Irish pro makes his seasonal bow after some serious time off. Lowry’s campaign last year tapered off after his US Open near miss and failing to nail down a Ryder Cup spot can’t have helped his humour as the season wound down.
But New Year, new you, and the Irish pro has finished 7th & 13th on his last two visits here and clearly enjoys this place as his tweet shows.
Now 50th in the world rankings, Lowry needs to make sure his form starts to trend upwards this year, if he’s to keep getting the free passes to the big tournaments.
4. Justin Rose
An infrequent visitor to this event, having dodged it in 2013 and 2014, he must have wished he’d done the same for the next two years as he failed to make the cut both times.
Rose has been tipping away since early January, on past from at this venue, it doesn’t look like the week the English pro will be adding an over-sized cheque to his recently awarded MBE.
5. Gary Woodland
A top 10 finish three years back is the high point for Woodland who has being about to ‘make the breakthrough’ from journeyman to A-lister for about five years now.
Four rounds in the 60s in Hawaii saw him finish T6 behind the latest ‘next big thing’ Justin Thomas (who has actually arrived by going back-to-back on Tour already this season)
Woodland has the length off the tee but needs a twin-track strategy on both the North & South courses to stay in contention until Sunday.
6. Dustin Johnson
A solid start to the year for DJ. He teed off 2017 in Kapalua where he finished sixth to dual winner Justin Thomas and nearly made the long trip to Abu Dhabi pay off last weekend when just failing to haul back Tommy Fleetwood on the final day.
With his Major duck a distant memory, a winning show at the Ryder Cup in the bag and his game in good order, DJ will be on many people’s short-list already to try and figure out what Danny Willett is saying at the Green Jacket handover at Augusta.
His best-placed finish here by a distance was when third in 2011 and he’ll need to show the same spark this week.
7. Patrick Reed
Underlined what a good player he is as the catalyst for Team USA’s Ryder Cup win last year.
But for all unlikely his attributes as a team player, Reed needs to land another few title to justify some of the hyperbole about his game – most of it generated by him.
He’s struggled here in the past, but if he wants to make that breakthrough to Major winner this season, he’s going to have to start running with the big dogs more often on the final day.