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We leave Hawaii behind us with a pair of frustrating second-place finishes in the shape of Patrick Reed and Brandt Snedeker. This week we move to mainland United States for the CareerBuilder Challenge at the PGA West complex in La Quinta, California - a specialised event that's hard to get your head around, especially as two of the three courses have changed from last year's renewal. We came extremely close to our first win here in 2014 with Ryan Palmer (40/1) and Justin Leonard (125/1) finishing second and third respectively, whereas 2015 saw Justin Thomas go from hero to zero for us at 66s - let's hope for some better fortune this time around!
Before we move onto PGA West and the CareerBuilder Challenge, for the 4th successive year we're running our popular Majors Competition in association with bet365 with an increased £250 free bet prize fund up for grabs. The competition is in the form of a one-and-done, so all you need to do is give us a single player for each of the 4 Majors to enter - full details are here.
The CareerBuilder Challenge organising committee have dispensed with the Nicklaus and Palmer Private courses in 2016, mainly on the basis of providing better corporate facilities. However the incoming Pete Dye-designed TPC Stadium Course will provide an exciting finish with the 17th hole, named Alcatraz, featuring an island green which is sure to offer up plenty of drama.
Over on the European Tour the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship is simply top drawer with McIlroy, Spieth, Fowler, Stenson and Kaymer heading a cracking field. Paul Williams gives you the lowdown in his preview including his selections to follow here.
Course Guide: Not only does this pro-am tournament have a new sponsor, but it also visits 2 new courses as part of its 3 course rota although it's still based in La Quinta, California. The PGA West facility hosts 3 of the 4 rounds at the TPC Stadium Course (Host Course) and Tournament courses. The TPC Stadium course hosts 36 holes including the final round. A 5 mile drive is required to the 3rd course in the tournament rotation, namely La Quinta Country Club. This tournament is the ultimate resort course challenge with 3 short par 72 courses featuring a number of reachable par 5s and extremely receptive greens.
TPC Stadium, PGA West, Palm Springs, California: Designer: Pete Dye, 1986; Course Type: Desert, Resort; Par: 72; Length: 7,113 yards; Fairways Bermudagrass with Ryegrass; Rough: Bermudagrass with Ryegrass, 2"; Greens: TifDwarf Bermudagrass with Poa Trivialis; Stimpmeter: 11ft. 2011 Q-School Scoring Average: 72.68 (+0.68).
Tournament Course, PGA West: Designer: Jack Nicklaus, 1987; Par: 72; Length: 7,204 yards; Greens: TifDwarf Bermudagrass with Poa trivialis; Tournament Stimp: 10.5ft; 2011 Q-School Scoring Average: 71.57 (-0.43). 2012 Q-School Scoring Average: 70.00 (-2.00).
La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta: Designer: Lawrence Hughes, with Pascusso re-design, 1999: Par 72; Length: 7,060 yards; Greens: 4,000 sq.ft Bermudagrass with Ryegrass and Poa Trivialis; Tournament Stimp: 11; Course Scoring Average 2012: 70.68 (-1.32), Difficulty Rank 41 of 49 courses. 2013: 69.49 (-2.51), Difficulty Rank 41 of 43 courses. 2014: 69.77 (-2.23), Rank 45 of 48 courses. 2015: 70.08 (-1.92), Difficulty Rank 47 of 52.
Course Overview: Let's start by highlighting some detail around the new courses namely the TPC Stadium Course which will host 36 holes (including the final round) and the Tournament Course. TPC Stadium hosted a round of the Bob Hope Classic back in 1987 and has been home to the PGA Tour Q-School numerous times including 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008 2011 and 2012. The Nicklaus-designed Tournament course shared hosting duties across these Q-Schools as well. Q-School qualifiers (and their Q-School finishing positions) in this week's field can be seen below:
The TPC Stadium course is a Pete Dye design and is viewed by many as the sequel to the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. The course has 5 sets of tees per hole but this week will officially play as a 7,113 yard par 72. The course features its own island hole which will play as a 165 yard par 3 this week.
The Tournament Course is a Jack Nicklaus design which Harrison Frazar shot -13/59 around in the 2008 Q-School. Naturally the inclusion of two fresh courses to the tournament course rota is hardly ideal and the key question is what impact will it have to overall scoring? Well if you take the winners' scores across both the 2011 and 2012 Q-Schools, Brendon Todd won at -17 in 2011 and D.H. Lee at -25 in 2012. Both tournaments are played over 6 rounds, but conversely feature a weaker field than we have this week. The Tournament Course looks less of a challenge, but the Dye-designed TPC Stadium course played +0.68 to par in 2011 and looks a sterner test than the Palmer Private host course it replaces. However tournament organisers have shortened it by circa 200 yards to ensure that the eagles and birdies will flow.
The CareerBuilder Challenge follows a pro-am format similar to the AT&T Pebble Beach but with the pro-am being played across the first 3 days of competition as opposed to all 72 holes. A cut is then made for the final round at its new TPC Stadium Course venue on Sunday. If more than 78 golfers survive the scheduled cut only the top 60 players and ties will play. A 156 player field allied to the pro-am nature makes for painfully slow play which some players can't handle.
This tournament is a testament to US resort-style golf - go low or go home, it's that simple. Since 2012 when the tournament moved to a conventional 72-hole format, -24/264, -25/263, -29/259 and -22/266 have been the winning totals. Birdie or better conversion rates at 36% (2012), 38% (2013), an astonishing 44% (2014 by Patrick Reed) and 32% (2015) to this point have been some of the highest we see all year.
Winners: 2015: Bill Haas (-22); 2014: Patrick Reed (-29); 2013: Brian Gay (-25); 2012: Mark Wilson (-24).
Tournament Stats: We've published some key player statistics for this week's event that are well worth a look. Naturally they'll help to shape a view on players who could go well this week: Current Form | Tournament Form | First Round Leader | Top 20 Finishes.
Published Predictor Model: Our published CareerBuilder Challenge predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 5 of the predictor are Matt Kuchar (Predictor Number 1), Zach Johnson, Patton Kizzire, Jason Bohn and Patrick Reed.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10 tournament window that stretches back to the Fry's.com Open / Portugal Masters and includes both PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Winners & Prices: 2015: Haas 30/1; 2014: Reed 135/1; 2013: Gay 80/1; 2012: Wilson 125/1; 2011: Vegas 200/1; 2010: Haas 100/1; Average: 112/1. For a summary of winners' odds on the PGA Tour for the past 5 years based on the 2015 schedule click here.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for La Quinta is here. The CareerBuilder will be played under blue skies typical of this part of California. Breezes will be light throughout the tournament, but will pick up a little (max 15 km/h) across the weekend. Where there could be a difference to previous years will be underfoot. La Quinta is famous for receiving no precipitation in the winter, put 2016 has started with 49mm of rain (19mm last Wednesday) so it will be interesting to see how soft the courses play on the fairways and green complexes.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of the 6 winners of the CareerBuilder since 2010 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this desert resort test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
So let's take a view from players to ascertain some key information about local conditions and why they perform well in the Californian desert:
Bill Haas: "Also the way my game is, maybe the lack of wind, which is usually the case here, the type of grass which is overseeded rye and the greens are always perfect, that must have all catered to my game, because, like you said, I certainly have enjoyed playing here and enjoyed some success. That doesn't take anything away from this year. I'd really love to play well again this year."
Patrick Reed: "The only difference in 2015 to last year is the rough. They allowed it to go dormant and before it was lush, thick and green, which actually I like it when they have that dormant because it's a little easier to notice difference in fairways compared to rough as well as with having that it just out of that dead Bermuda, it's more challenging, I feel like, than the nice stuff. Last year I was still in the rough. The thing is that I got a hot streak with that putter last year and hopefully I can continue the same. Really when it comes down to it, that's what it seems like for me keeping the ball in play and make some putts."
Matt Kuchar: "This course here, La Quinta, is fantastic, fun course, challenging, tight off the tees and in great shape. The greens are just spectacular. If you're inside of 10 feet you're looking at making these putts."
Ryan Palmer: "I love being here, I love playing these golf courses. The weather's always perfect and when I get it going I can shoot low. I can make a lot of birdies. And I take that, when I come here each week. I'm comfortable with the house, the people I stay with at Indian Wells, we have a great time all week and it keeps me relaxed. And I'm able to come out here and just enjoy the week."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the winners since the tournament went to a standard 4-round format:
Recent champions here include Vegas (a Tour Rookie); Haas (2 times), Perez, Hoffman (all 1st time PGA Tour winners); Trahan and Reed (1 Win at the time); Campbell (2 Wins); with Gay (3 Wins) plus Wilson (4 wins). Pick the bones from that! Back in 2006, Bermudagrass specialist Chad Campbell finished 2nd at Waialae and went onto win the Bob Hope Classic (as it was formerly titled) the following week. The renowned ball-striker putted sensationally well in Honolulu and took that form on the plane to California when he beat Parnevik and Verplank in a play-off.
Since Campbell's victory, no player has won at PGA West coming off anything better than a 16th place finish - that being Patrick Reed 24 months ago who broke the trend of winners playing Waialae / PGA West which had lasted since 2007. Bill Haas went one better last year, when he won at PGA West for the second time on his seasonal debut. His previous appearance had been at Sheshan in the autumn where, by his own admission, he played abysmally to finish 48th.
For the record, here's the breakdown of Bermudagrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
So what's the right recipe for success this week? Well if previous renewals are anything to go by then all types of player can thrive here, both the long bomber and the accurate ball-striker. However the winner will need to hit 80% of Greens in Regulation and that's quite a challenge as the greens at Palmer Private and La Quinta are substantially smaller in size to Waialae last week. It goes without saying that a warm putter is essential, but as well as making birdies it's absolutely imperative to keep your scorecard clean. The perfect game looks to be a good Bermudagrass putter who has a particularly strong week from tee-to-green.
The nature of resort-style golf often dictates packed leaderboards and close finishes often with left-field winners. Bill Haas was an unfancied 6th favourite when he won here 12 months ago at 30/1 but that price goes against the grain of recent times. Reed 135/1, Gay 80/1, Wilson 125/1, Vegas 200/1 and Haas again at 100/1 make up the prices of winners since 2010. That averages out at 112/1 so it's never a bad plan to look deep into the field here. Yes 2014 champion Patrick Reed is a both a worthy and a stand-out favourite, but his 10/1 best price does not sit favourably in recent times with the pattern of winners here.
My final CareerBuilder Challenge tips are as follows:
In an event with such unknown factors, I'm going to keep my interest fairly low-key this week - however a few players have nevertheless caught my eye. I'll start with Oklahoma-based Robert Streb who's a strong all-round player and also a recent enough winner on TifDwarf Bermuda at Sea Island in 2014. At 44th in the OWGR and a recent Tour Championship participant, Streb finds himself in a new situation where he can select a schedule that includes the very best global tournaments. So the 28 year-old has chosen PGA West as his 2016 debut course - potentially on the basis he finished a crisp 16th with a closing -8/64 as a Tour rookie in 2013. Streb can shoot low numbers on Bermudagrass with -16/276 (Kapalua), -20/268 (here) and -17/271 (TPC Louisiana) jumping off the page, as does improving desert form that reads 10(TPC Scottsdale)-10(TPC Summerlin)-14(Montreux)-20(PGA West). 2nd at the Dye-designed TPC Louisiana and 10th at another Dye design in Whistling Straits at the PGA Championship last August will hold him in good stead, especially as Robert impressed in his last outing at the Nedbank Challenge in December where he finished 4th.
It's rare to see a Tour rookie in the Top 3 of a published predictor model, but Patton Kizzire is an absolute must-back at these kind of prices. The web.com Player of the Year last season is undoubtedly a power-packed performer whose consistency was out of this world in 2015. 12 Top-10 finishes which included 6 Top-5s and 2 victories is undoubtedly the work of a special talent, as is the fact that like the very best players he can compete on both Bentgrass and Bermudagrass putting surfaces. His win at Thanksgiving Point Golf Club (previously Willow Creek) in the Utah Championship relates well for this week as does 9th at Hillcrest Country Club (Idaho) and 5th at Dye's Valley Course in the season closing web.com Tour Championship. Promotion to the main Tour was taken fully in the 29 year old's stride as he ended up a shot off the lead at TPC Summerlin (Las Vegas) to finish 2nd and backed that up with 4th at the Country Club of Jackson (TifDwarf Champion mix Bermudagrass greens). Topped the web.com season long statistics for Birdie Average, Par Breakers, Scoring Average, Putting Average and was 3rd in Bogey Avoidance.
William McGirt is another who I like the look of at PGA West as the 36 year-old who lives in Boiling Springs, South Carolina is playing the very best golf of his career. Undoubtedly a late bloomer, McGirt is yet to triumph on the PGA Tour but his play both prior to and after the birth of his second child has been top drawer. 12th at TPC Boston was excellent in a near Major-strength field and signalled the start of a run which has seen the World Number 123 post 10 sub-70 rounds in the last 12 played. 8th at TPC Summerlin featured an explosive closing round of -9/62 which was then followed by rounds of 71-66-66-68 at the Country Club of Jackson where McGirt came within a single shot of victory. 30th at PGA West in 2012 has been his best finish to date in 5 appearances, but the change in courses looks to be a positive as William finished 13th here at PGA Tour Q-School back in 2011.
World Number 86 Ben Martin is one of those players who can pop up at any time with a cracking result from the very poorest immediate form and the move to the TPC Stadium course could be just the spark that he needs this week. Current form of 50(Waialae)-47(Kuala Lumpur)-25(TPC Summerlin) hardly inspires, but in Martin we have a definite desert specialist who loves to play on short Pete Dye designs. You may remember Ben finishing 4th at The Players Championship last May, but other eye-catching Dye results include 3rd at Harbour Town (2014), 15th at TPC Louisiana (2014 - too long a course in reality) plus 3rd at Dye's Valley Course (2012) again at TPC Sawgrass. His desert results include his maiden PGA Tour win at TPC Summerlin in 2014 which came at a point when Martin was even more out of form - his price pre-event was an eye-watering 225/1! 3rd at Thanksgiving Point Golf Club in 2013 and 6th at Montreux in 2012 also stand out.
Our predictions for the 2017 CareerBuilder Challenge will be published here on the Tuesday before the event.
Watch these tips on YouTube with Steve Bamford: Golf Betting System YouTube Channel