Billy Horschel leads the Farmers Insurance Open, but Jon Rahm in pole position after round one

The American carded a 63 on the easier North Course while the Spanish World No. 1 claimed the low-score honours on the tougher South Course.

You think maybe Jon Rahm likes Torrey Pines?!

At first glance, the Spaniard is not leading the Farmers Insurance Open after 18 holes, but don't be fooled - the actual leaders played the easier North Course on Thursday, while Rahm went lower than anyone else at the South Course.

In point of fact, the last three champions of this event got their week off to a simple start, with the encouragement of playing the North first, but the weight of Rahm's affection for these San Diego makes him hot favourite ahead of the final 54 holes.

Bill Horschel sits top after 18 holes. He carded a fine 63 to end the day one clear of Michael Thompson and two ahead of Stephan Jaeger and Kevin Tway.

Rickie Fowler, Doug Ghim and Francesco Molinari all signed for 66 but they, and the top four, were on the North. Rahm's 66 on the South was one better than Luke List and Peter Malnati could manage there, and two clear of Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson.

By the end of Friday's action we will have a truer picture of the state of play, then the final 36 holes are played on the South Course.

Rahm's love Torrey

The Spaniard closed his round with an eagle-3 at the 18th hole, a repeat of his winning blow in the 2017 tournament, his professional debut at Torrey Pines, but far from the first time he had ventured to the San Diego cliff tops.

He was a regular visitor as a college student, he and wife Kelly love the area, he proposed overlooking the seas and they even had a second wedding ceremony there.

When he won the US Open at the course he referenced karma, partly because he had been dealt a cruel blow, testing positive for Covid when leading his previous start by six and having to withdraw, but also because the site means so much to him.

He also just adores the ball-striking test. He likes that long, straight driving is rewarded, that the small greens are hard to hit, that the putting surfaces have tricky Poa Annua grass on them.

The numbers are persuasive: he's won this event at the US Open at Torrey Pines, he has another three top seven finishes, and the one time he didn't end the week that high up the leaderboard (T29th in 2018), he was second at halfway.

He's now played 25 rounds of golf at Torrey Pines and at the end of 21 of them he has been T13th or better on the leaderboard. On 15 occasions he was tied sixth or better at the end of a lap.

With the North Course to come on Friday, there's a good chance he can add to both tallies.

That said, he's no fool, saying of his second round: "On paper, it's a little bit easier, but nobody's going to give you the round, right? You've still got to go out there and play. But I feel if I hit it tee to green as good as I did today, I'm going to give myself chances to post a score."

Of his first round he said: "The conditions were relatively easy. I mean, there's not much wind, but you've still got to play this golf course. I think it all started off the tee. I hit it great off the tee, put myself in really good positions, and the few times I was off, for the most part, I was able to give myself a chance to save the hole so I think that was the key. Nothing was really bad, I feel like everything was feeling good."

He was also tickled by his approach shot to the 18th. "It was probably one of the best swings I'll make all year," he said. "That 3-wood was absolutely perfect."

Horschel's big test

With two tied eighths in his locker at Torrey Pines, the pace-setter is not without hope for the rest of the week, but there have to be concerns about him winning.

On the one hand, he missed the cut on both his starts at the course last year. There's also a worrying weekend tournament average of 73.27. And worst of all, his last six laps f the North Course read 80-69-76-74-75.

He's also fighting a stiff shoulder. "I was still a little worried when I woke up this morning," he said. "Thankfully, after all the work we've done, it never got any tighter.

"Hopefully we're on the downhill side and I don't have to worry about it any more. I didn't know if I was even going to tee it up today when I woke up. Even when I was hitting balls I still wasn't sure."

He remembers that 80 on the South Course, but is not over-concerned. Asked what it says about him and the test he said: "It says I hit the ball like crap.

"It's the highest I ever shot there. I usually play it pretty well. I love the South course, it's one of my favourite courses on Tour, but unfortunately, when you're not hitting it very good and you're not making any putts, we can look like an average golfer."

Sneaky Molinari

Last year the Italian Francesco Molinari was quietly one of the better performers at Torrey Pines. He finished T10th at this event and T13th in the US Open. He was also T14th back in 2017.

He's also now a resident in Los Angeles and a member at Riviera CC, which gives him opportunity to play lots of Poa Annua.

Then he also finished tied sixth last week, a first top 10 anywhere since he played the Genesis Invitational at his home club nearly 12 months ago.

It feels a long time since Molinari's glorious 2018.
It feels a long time since Molinari's glorious 2018.

He carded a bogey-free 66 on the North Course and said: "Pretty much continuing the same stuff as last week. Played pretty solid, obviously a good finish.

"Made a great putt on eight, my 17th hole, and then a good up-and-down on nine to finish with another birdie. Very happy. I think we've got probably as good conditions as you can get around here, so it was nice to make the most of it today."

READ MORE: Collin Morikawa presses a well-thumbed reset button at the Dubai Desert Classic

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