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Jon Rahm is the Torrey Pine favourite


This week's Farmer Insurance Open at famed Torry Pines in La Jolla, Califonia, brings together two of golf's most talked about players right now.

One of them is seasoned Tiger Woods, 42, the standout figure of 21st Century golf who, this week, will be bringing with him to his first official tournament in something like a year, 14 major and 79 US PGA Tour titles, seven of which he won in this very event and an 8th in the 2009 US Open played on the unforgiving Torrey Pines South course.

The other is Spanish young gun Jon Rahm, 23, this week's defending champion, last week's playoff winner of the CareerBuilder Challenge and a former World No 1 amateur who, in the brief year and a bit he has been a professional, has already rocketed past the likes of Jordan Spieth and Jason Thomas into the No 2 spot on the World Rankings list.

He can only claim to have won four professional titles so far, but the great potential of this burly young Spanish Basque is such that he is the clear favourite of just about everyone this week to go back-to-back and win again.

This may not have been the case in the early 2000s when Tiger bestrode the world of golf like a Colossus, but there has been a lot of water under the bridge since 2008 when he won his last major, not the least of it being a string of injuries and surgical procedures.

Not too long ago there was a widespread feeling that his salad days were over and he would never win again, but when recent reports circulating that he had fully recovered from his back injury and was hitting his driver longer and straighter than ever before were then given credence by his excellent comeback performance at the unofficial Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas in December, the golfing world had to sit up and take notice.

The jury is still out, but now we all wait to see if there really is a chance of a later-life, second-chance surge from him that could earn him more majors - and quite wisely he has waited to make his return in an official PGA Tour event on course where he's always felt comfortable and where he has been massively successful.

And I say courses because players will alternate this week between the Torrey Pines North and South courses before the cut and then play the weekend's two final rounds on the tougher South Course.

Torrey Pines, like Pebble Beach and many other Californian courses, has greens turfed with poa annua, the unpredictability of which is best understood by golfers reared on them, so yes, Californians like Tiger and Phil Mickelson do tend to have an advantage here, just as do the sport's big bangers on a South Course that now stretches to almost 7,700 yards and includes six par fours that are 450 yards and longer and three par fives that are all more than 570 yards.

If only three of the last 15 winners have not been big hitters, Brandt Sneddeker (twice) and Bern Crane, it's hardly a surprise.

But outside of Woods, how do some of this week's other contenders feel about Torrey Pines and California courses in general.

Says Rahm: "I do love California, all those golf courses play very similar to what they do back home, which is soft, humid, sea level, cold type of weather. So that's why I love Pebble, I love Torrey, and I'm sure I will love Riviera as well."

Snedeker: "I think poa is my favourite surface to be on. To love poa, you’ve got to love days when you hit good putts and they don’t go in and that’s just part of it."

Marc Leishman: "I mean, I love that golf course. It’s one of my favourites in the world. I spoke about it before, it’s in my top-5 in the world. I guess when you enjoy playing a course, it’s easy to play well. It’s the same grass as I grew up on. I grew up on poa greens and Kikuyu fairways so that’s probably got something to do with it. Along the ocean, it’s a great spot."

Pat Perez: "The wind always blows the same off the ocean. I’ve hit thousands of balls out there with that wind, so I’ve always hit the same shots and it doesn’t really vary for me, but I just kind of know what I’m getting on every hole."

Gary Woodland: "You know the South Course is a big boy golf course. The South Course is one of my favourite golf courses we'll play this year. Most holes go left-to-right, so I’m excited about playing well and excited about the weekend."

The weather? isn't forecasting any rain and sees a mix of cool, sunny and cloudy days ahead with light to moderate winds that are not expected to get up much above the mid-teens except on Thursday when they could stiffen to 23 km/h in the late afternoon.

In short the weather should not have a major influence on the game and it is current form, power off the tee and street-wise knowledge of the course and especially its poa annua greens, that should matter most to favoured contenders like bookie favourites Rahm at 8/1, Rickie Fowler (12/1), Hideki Matsuyama (14/1), Justin Rose (16/1), Jason Day (18/1) Marc Leishman (22/1) and Tiger (25/1).

But whatever happens, we can expect the talented field to whip up a good bit of high drama - and, along the way, for some intriguing questions to be answered, not the least being "Has a rejuvenated Tiger still have what it takes to make it back into the winner's circle".

(Tuesday a.m. January 23, 2008)

Jon Rahm 8/1
Rickie Fowler 12/1
Hideki Matsuyama 14/1
Justin Rose 16/1
Jason Day 18/1
Marc Leishman 22/1
Tiger Woods 25/1
Brian Harman 28/1
Tony Finau 35/1
Patrick Cantlay 35/1
Gary Woodland 40/1
Brandt Snedeker 40/1
Phil Mickelson 45/1
Charles Howell III 50/1
Ollie Schniederjans 50/1
Shane Lowry 50/1
Kyle Stanley 60/1
Jhonattan Vegas 60/1
Xander Schauffele 60/1
Charley Hoffman 66/1.

For betting odds visit BetWay

Neville Leck

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