CBS Sports golf analyst Ian Baker-Finch discusses the chances of the old guard and the seemingly ever-increasing number of talented young guns at this week’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.
The 1991 British Open champion and 1989 Southwestern Bell Colonial winner also passes along thoughts on the return of superstar Dustin Johnson to the PGA Tour.
Does Tiger Woods’ career success at Torrey Pines (8 wins) spark a quick turnaround, or has what you’ve seen of his game lately mean he’s a long way from being in a last group on a Sunday?
I would say Tiger is a long way from being in a last group on a Sunday, even though he’s at one of his all-time favorite venues. He’s not comfortable with any aspect of his game, specifically or more so, his chipping and pitching aren’t anywhere near his high standard. It’s unusual for him because he used to be the best. Definitely the problem is between the ears. These issues usually start with an injury or a technique flaw, and you only have to duff a few, then it becomes a part of you and is tough to overcome. I believe he will work as hard as anybody can to alleviate and overcome the problem. But I don’t believe he’ll overcome the problem in one week. I wish Tiger would just play more golf. When he is home, I’d like to see him play everyday, shoot a good score, and stay away from the training sessions.
Phil Mickelson’s funk continued at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. What are your thoughts on whether he’ll bounce back and contend at Torrey Pines?
Phil has a lot of things in his favor this week. He’s staying at home, he’s comfortable, he’s with family and he has great memories of winning at Torrey Pines. But at the same time his game is nowhere near the level he would expect. Phil is an emotional player. When he’s up and everything is going well and there is something on the line, he’ll go to a higher level. However, I don’t think he’ll go from missing the cut last week to contending this week. As great a player as he is, it’s hard to contend when you’ve been playing so poorly for so long.
Brooks Koepka: How does Torrey Pines set up for him, and how does he extend his hot streak after victories at the Turkish Airlines Open and last weekend at the Waste Management Phoenix Open?
I’d be surprised to see him go back-to-back. Brooks is so excited about getting his first win on the PGA Tour, and as a 24-year-old, it’s a pretty exciting time. He got his card last year, then made enough money to get into the top 125, and now is playing so well this season — everything has gone well recently. He’s played a lot of golf the last two years. I’m hoping he’ll kick back and enjoy the fruits of his success. He’s a tremendous player, and I believe he’ll continue to contend, play better and better and get stronger and stronger. To go back-to-back after your first PGA Tour victory would be astonishing.
Jimmy Walker and Bill Haas also come into the Farmers Insurance Open with early-season wins in the bank. What do they have to do to contend at Torrey Pines?
They both know the course well. Both are in fantastic form. But they are two of 20 or so players that are in great form and great shape. It’s such a strong field. There are many young players excited about the season, being on tour and playing good golf. While it’s hard to pick any one specific player as the overall favorite, I’d certainly put Jimmy and Bill in my top 10.
Who are the other players to watch for at Torrey Pines?
There’s so many right now. Lots of young guys are putting their hands up week after week. I’m enjoying watching this new young blood, like 21-year-old Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed. Jordan is someone I see doing well at Torrey Pines. Reed is a phenomenal talent — the way he played at the Ryder Cup — and he’s won four times now in a short period of time. However, it’s just so hard now to say who are the up-and-comers. It seems like every week there are five new up-and-comers. It’s amazing to me just how many fresh, young stars are popping up. Last week, we saw five players in the top 10 who are 24 years old or younger. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my fellow Australian Jason Day. His consistently solid play makes him a factor in any event he’s playing in.
What do you expect from Dustin Johnson in his return to the tour after a six-month absence?
I actually think he’ll do well. He’s been playing a lot, and he’s in a great frame of mind. He has a new baby boy and is more settled and comfortable with himself. Dustin has been working out hard and looks even more trim. He won’t be sharp though, and I’d be surprised to see him win. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in one of the last groups on the weekend.