Whenever Tiger Woods is in the field at a PGA Tour event, the hype inevitably increases.
Combine that with the fact that this week's Farmers Insurance Open is a tournament Woods has won a record seven times and is held at the venue of his major triumph—the 2008 U.S. Open—and it becomes all the more captivating.
Plus, this marks Woods' first start in the 2013-14 season other than the tournament he hosts, the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge.
Woods will take on an elite field at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, Calif. Given his competitive streak and penchant for dominance, it's likely Woods will see anything less than defending his title as a disappointment.
Tiger Woods playing this week at Farmers Insurance Open. He's won 8 times at Torrey Pines. No player has won 9 PGA TOUR events at a course.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 21, 2014
Even with the rust the early portion of a season can bring on, the veteran champion has the instincts to navigate this course and be in prominent contention on the weekend.
As big as Woods is for golf, though, there are plenty of other big names to follow who should also get themselves in the hunt for a victory.
Let's take a look at when and where to catch the latest action the highest level of professional golf has to offer, along with some notable groups to watch during the first two rounds of play.
Note: Statistics and information are courtesy of PGATour.com unless otherwise indicated.
When: Thursday, Jan. 23 through Sunday, Jan. 26
Where: Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, Calif.
Tee Times: First group is off at 9 a.m. PST. For a complete list of tee times for the first two rounds, visit PGATour.com.
|Thursday, Jan. 23||3-7 pm||Golf Channel|
|Friday, Jan. 24||3-7 pm||Golf Channel|
|Saturday, Jan. 25||1-2:30 pm; 3-6 pm||Golf Channel; CBS|
|Sunday, Jan. 26||1-2:30 pm; 3-6 pm||Golf Channel; CBS|
Marquee Groups to Watch
No. 10: Billy Horschel, Ian Poulter and Rickie Fowler
This trio is not at all short on swagger. Between Horschel's animated on-course antics, Poulter's passion and wardrobe and Fowler's own flair for style both in dress and in game, galleries should be gathering to watch all these unique individuals.
Coming off a final-round 64 at the Humana Challenge that featured two eagles and finishing joint-sixth at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions prior to that, Horschel is beginning to find his groove in 2014.
His cause was harmed immensely by a quadruple bogey last week, which led Horschel to tweet his surprise at making the weekend:
Surprised to be playing tomorrow. See if we can get the putts to fall tomorrow and get some mojo leading into next week! #findthedark— Billy Horschel (@BillyHo_Golf) January 19, 2014
But that last round gave him the boost he needed ahead of Torrey Pines. Precision from tee to green and a consistent putter make Horschel a threat to be a legitimate superstar in the coming years.
The last time Poulter hit the links aside from a seventh-place effort at the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge was the 2013 European Tour finale at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai. Poulter finished runner-up by five strokes to an incredibly hot Henrik Stenson.
Those results shot the Englishman to a current 12th spot in the world rankings, and perhaps he can carry that momentum over to the West Coast.
As explosive as Fowler can be in terms of making birdies, he didn't have quite enough firepower last week to contend and wound up tying for 33rd.
However, the young American at least flashed some promising signs in his first event since beginning work with renowned swing coach Butch Harmon. Perhaps the payoff from that practice will reveal itself more in La Jolla.
No. 11: Jimmy Walker, Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth
The leader of the FedEx Cup standings is not Woods—at least, not yet—or perhaps the brightest rising star in Spieth; but it's Walker.
A late bloomer of sorts at age 35, Walker has already notched two wins in 2013-14 at the Frys.com Open in California and the Sony Open in Hawaii.
Despite that impressive start, there's no question that Walker will be the so-called third wheel. Jason Sobel of Golf Channel alluded to that, even including Spieth as playing second fiddle:
Welcome to the world of big boy tee times for Jimmy Walker and Jordan Spieth. They get Tiger for two rounds at Torrey this week.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) January 21, 2014
Which younger star will record the best finish this week?
Woods' track record here has been outlined rather thoroughly already, but it's difficult to know what to expect from him as he gets his competitive sea legs back, so to speak. Whenever he tees it up, though, his lone goal is to win. No moral victories here, so Woods should be somewhere near his best.
Even when Spieth doesn't have his soundest game, he still tends to hang around for the weekend. That's why his missed cut at the Sony Open was rather surprising.
The good news for the 20-year-old is that he seems to rise to the occasion the bigger the moment. Having dealt with Presidents and FedEx Cup pressure after having no tour status before last season, chances are he'll handle the limelight just fine this time around, too.
No. 42: Brandt Snedeker, Keegan Bradley and Hunter Mahan
Having won this event in 2012, Snedeker has some positive previous experience to draw on as he tries to right the ship after a few uninspiring performances to kick off the 2013-14 campaign.
As long as Snedeker's swing is in sync, his putting should keep him in the hunt. This is a venue he loves, having finished as a runner-up twice and in ninth in his other most recent three starts.
Bradley made plenty of headlines at the Humana Challenge. While his four rounds in the 60s weren't enough to get inside the top 15, his hole-in-one certainly got the golfing world's attention:
To his credit, Mahan took some big strides in 2013, playing in 25 tour events and playing in the final group at both the U.S. Open and the British Open. He fell short in both majors, yet still managed to close out with one more encouraging finish at the BMW Championship with a tie for fourth.
With how well he strikes his irons, Mahan could ride a hot putter and become a big factor.
No. 43: Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Jason Day
A crushing loss at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship last week saw Mickelson give away a triple bogey in the final round, only to fall one shot short of winner Pablo Larrazabal.
Beyond that blemish, "Lefty" had an otherwise flawless scorecard in the final 18 holes at a difficult venue. The double-hit that led to the triple was yet another difficult sequence to watch, but it's also what makes Mickelson so likable. Golf Digest reported what he had to say afterward:
"That was not a smart decision. But I don't know, that's just what I do."--Phil Mickelson http://t.co/VaJKeutWHW— Golf Digest (@GolfDigestMag) January 19, 2014
Although confidence is never a big issue for Mickelson, the great result makes him a favorite at Torrey Pines.
Watson won this event in 2011 and has the massive arsenal of shots and power to pull it off again. Between him and Mickelson, there might not be a better duo to watch just because of their unpredictable course management and desire to pull off the impossible shot time and time again.
Contending in majors has been commonplace for Day—he's logged four top-eight finishes in the past three seasons. It's the other tournaments that give him the most trouble.
We'll see this season if Day can put his game together on a more consistent basis, not suffer letdowns in comparatively lesser events and rack up more wins than the lone victory on his resume.