10 Players to Watch: Farmers Insurance Open

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[January 27, 2016]  By Tom LaMarre, The Sports Xchange
 1. Jason Day, Australia -- Day opens the first of his five title defenses of 2016. He beat J.B. Holmes with a par on the second playoff hole last year at Torrey Pines, where Harris English and Scott Stalling dropped out with pars on the first extra hole. The victory almost could be seen coming, as he tied for second the year before in the Farmers, one shot behind Stallings, after tying for ninth in 2013. The Aussie, No. 2 in the World Golf Rankings, showed he didn't lose much by staying at home after winning four of his last six events of 2015, as he opened the new year with a tie for 10th in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. Day finished no worse than a tie for 12th in his past 10 events.

2. Phil Mickelson, United States -- Lefty showed that the work he is putting in with new swing coach Andrew Getson paid off when he tied for third in the CareerBuilder Challenge last week to kick off 2016. He posted four rounds in the 60s and was sharp in all phases of the game, especially his remarkable short game, holing out several times from off the green. The San Diego native is playing in his hometown event at Torrey Pines, where he won in 2000 and 2001 for two of his 19 victories on the West Coast swing. Mickelson is playing the tournament for the 20th consecutive year, and he also finished second in 2011 in addition to tying for fourth in both 2003 and 2007.

3. Rickie Fowler, United States -- If he can overcome jet lag after flying back from the Middle East following his victory in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, Fowler figures to be in the mix again at Torrey Pines. He claimed his fourth victory since the Players Championship last May by holding off Thomas Pieters of Belgium by one stroke in Abu Dhabi. Fowler started the year by finishing solo fifth in the Hyundai Tournaments of Champions. Now No. 4 in the World Golf Rankings, Fowler is playing the Farmers for the seventh consecutive year but hasn't fared as well the last two years after finishing in the top 20 four consecutive times -- missing the cut in 2014 and tying for 61st last year. He tied for fifth in 2010 and tied for sixth in 2013.

4. Brandt Snedeker, United States -- Following a series of injuries, Snedeker got his game and career back on track by claiming his seventh PGA Tour victory in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am last year, and he started 2016 in Hawaii like a man on a mission. He tied for third in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and lost in a playoff to Fabian Gomez of Argentina at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Based on his record, Snedeker also should be in the chase at Torrey Pines, where he won the 2012 Farmers by coming from seven strokes behind Kyle Stanley with a 67 in the final round before winning with a par on the second playoff hole. Snedeker tied for second in his title defense and also tied for second at Torrey in 2010.

5. Justin Rose, England -- The highest-ranked Englishman in the World Golf Rankings at No. 7 makes his first start of 2016 this week and hopes to pick up right where he left off late last year, when he posted six finishes in the top 10. He captured the UBS Hong Kong Open at the end of October before tying for seventh in the BMW Masters and tying for 22nd in the DP World Tour Championship-Dubai in the European Tour's Race to Dubai. This will be Rose's seventh start in the Farmers, and he has not fared all that well at Torrey Pines, with a tie for 22nd in 2010 his best result. He missed the cut at Torrey last year and also when the U.S. Open was played there in 2008.

6. Dustin Johnson, United States -- After tying for 10th in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions three weeks ago, Johnson hopes to keep his year rolling this week in the Farmers Insurance Open. Last year at this time, he was just returning from a six-month leave of absence from the PGA Tour to take care of personal issues, and he missed the cut in the Farmers. This will be his eighth start in the regular season at Torrey Pines, and the only time he really played well was when he tied for third in 2011, finishing three strokes behind winner Bubba Watson. Johnson played well after returning last year, winning the WGC-Cadillac Championship and finishing in the top 10 on 10 other occasions. He is No. 8 in the World Golf Rankings.

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7. Patrick Reed, United States -- The No. 10 player in the World Golf Rankings will try to bounce back from an off week, a tie for 56th in the CareerBuilder Challenge, when he makes only his second start in the Farmers Insurance Open. He finished in a tie for 39th in 2013, when he broke 70 only with a 69 in the second round, but he is a far different player, having earned all four of his PGA Tour victories since then. Even though he has not won, Reed has had a terrific start to the 2015-16 season with a runner-up finish in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions three weeks ago after he tied for seventh in the WGC-HSBC Champions in China and tied for 10th in the CIMB Classic in Malaysia late last year.

8. Hideki Matsuyama, Japan -- Even though he did not win last season after claiming his first PGA Tour victory in the 2014 Memorial Tournament, Matsuyama is coming off a big season in which he recorded nine finishes in the top 10 and 19 in the top 25. He followed that up at the start of the 2015-16 season with a tie for 17th in the Frys.com Open and a solo fifth in the CIMB Classic in Malaysia. He will play for the first time this year in the Farmers at No. 17 in the World Golf Rankings. This will be his third start at Torrey Pines, and after starting with a solid tie for 16th in 2014, he shot 73-71--144 last year to miss the cut by a single stroke.

9. Jamie Lovemark, United States -- The 2007 NCAA champion as a sophomore at USC, Lovemark was considered a can't-miss star, especially when he was leading money winner and player of the year in 2010 on the Nationwide Tour, now the Web.com Tour. However, injuries threatened his career, especially when he needed back surgery in 2012. Lovemark seems to be on his way back now, having posted three consecutive top-10 finishes early in the 2015-16 PGA Tour season, a tie for ninth in the RSM Classic, a tie for seventh in the Sony Open in Hawaii and a tie for sixth last week in the CareerBuilder Challenge. He is playing in the Farmers for the sixth time, with his best result a tie for 28th in 2014, but he is healthy now.

10. Scott Stallings, United States -- Stallings withdrew during the second round of the CareerBuilder Challenge last week because of an illness, but if there is any place for him to get better fast, it is Torrey Pines. Two years ago, he came from three strokes down in the final round, hitting a brilliant 4-iron approach shot from 222 yards to set up a two-putt birdie from 40 feet that give him a one-stroke victory -- his third on the PGA Tour -- over five players. Last year, he played the weekend in 68-69 to come from 50th place and got into another playoff with three players, only to bow out with a par on the first extra hole as Jason Day went on to win one hole later.

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