T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.
2014 Farmers Insurance Open | Five players to watch
Series: Golf Buzz
Published: Wednesday, January 22, 2014 | 9:19 a.m.
One of the most scenic stops on the PGA Tour -- Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif. -- plays host to this week's Farmers Insurance Open.
Tiger Woods is the defending champion at Torrey, a place where the world's No. 1 golfer has won an incredible eight times as a professional, including the 2008 U.S. Open. This marks Tiger's first start of the 2014 season.
There's so much to love about the South Course at Torrey Pines -- the breathtaking views, the paragliders and especially the risk-reward, par-5 18th hole. That was the scene of Tiger's dramatic 72nd-hole birdie in the final round of the U.S. Open, which forced an epic Monday playoff with Rocco Mediate.
Unlike the last couple of weeks on Tour, the Farmers Insurance Open isn't the kind of tournament where you get lapped by the field for making pars.
With that, here are five players to watch:
5. Nick Watney
Best finish in 2013: Second in the BMW Championship
Reason to watch: The bottom line is that Watney is downright comfortable at Torrey Pines. He's finished in the top-10 at Torrey Pines in four of the last five years, highlighted by an impressive win in 2009. Like a lot of players, this will mark Watney's first start of the new calendar year and the first time he tees it up on the PGA Tour since early November. There might be a little rust, but surely he can brush that off at a place that really seems to suit his game.
4. Charles Howell III
Best finish in 2013: Second in a playoff at Humana Challenge
Reason to watch: There are many stops on the PGA Tour where one can say, "The only thing Charles Howell III hasn't done there is win." Torrey Pines is near the top of that list. Howell is such a solid player and it's nearly impossible to believe the truth that is he's only got two PGA Tour wins. Howell's best finish at Torrey was sole second in 2007 and he's sprinkled in a couple of top 10s since. Will he win this week? Who knows? Will he be contending? Probably. Howell -- unlike many -- has played lots of golf in this new season. He's already got seven starts under his belt for the 2014 season and four of those have been top-8 or better.
3. Brandt Snedeker
Best finish in 2013: Winner of AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and RBC Canadian Open
Reason to watch: With a win and two runner-up finishes in his last four starts at Torrey Pines, Snedeker is a force in La Jolla. If the putter is behaving -- and it typically always is for Sneds -- he's going to be in the mix. In three starts this new season, Snedeker has left something to be desired with finishes of T55, T11 and T58. Look for things to turn around this week.
2. Phil Mickelson
Best finish in 2013: Winner of the Waste Management Phoenix Open and The Open Championship
Reason to watch: It could be argued that no player on the PGA Tour has logged more rounds at Torrey Pines than Mickelson. It was his backyard growing up. He loves the place -- though hasn't been in love with some of the changes over the years. The last couple of years (at Torrey) haven't been anything of note for Mickelson -- a missed cut in 2012 and a tie for 51st in 2013. In 2011 though, Mickelson finished second. Over his career, Mickelson has won at Torrey Pines three times, but the most recent of those three was 13 years ago in 2001. Lefty is coming off a tie for second last week in Abu Dhabi. So, he'll have plenty of confidence when he tees it up on Thursday.
1. Tiger Woods
Best finish in 2013: Winner of the Farmers Insurance Open, World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship, Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard, The Players Championship and the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.
Reason to watch: Like I said in the intro, Tiger has won at Torrey eight times as a professional. What many players would consider a great career in terms of wins, Tiger has had just at one venue. Like so many times in the past, we've seen Tiger start out a great year at Torrey Pines. This shouldn't be any different.
Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.
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