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Justin Thomas is having a well deserved week off after 2 stunning weeks of golf. The phenomenon of the back-to-back win seems to be a growing trend amongst the world's elite golfers. Think Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day (a feat he managed in 2015 and 2016) and Adam Scott since the start of 2016 on the PGA Tour. A pretty select group and that highlights the talent we're dealing with when it comes to Thomas, who simply thrives on leading from the front.
For the 5th successive year we're also running our popular Majors Competition in association with bet365 who've put a total of £250 in free bets up for grabs to the winners. 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 low scoring will not abate this week as the PGA Tour reaches California for the CareerBuilder Challenge at PGA West. Formerly the Bob Hope Classic played over 4 courses and 5 days, this Pro-Am now takes in 3 resort courses over a traditional 4 day format. Low scoring yet again will be the order of the day, although we might not see the standard desert conditions we are used to in what is the leading golf resort destination in the United States.
Over on the European Tour, Paul Williams previews the Abu Dhabi Championship - you can read his thoughts on that event here.
With the interest in Fantasy Golf growing, I've also written a dedicated preview for DraftKings for the CareerBuilder - click here to read it.
Course Guide: A 3-course rotation always makes the CareerBuilder Challenge a unique proposition on the PGA Tour. 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 extremely receptive and pure TifDwarf Bermudagrass overseeded with Poa Trivialis green complexes.
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; Course Scoring Average 2016: 70.82 (-1.18), Difficulty Rank 41 of 50 courses.
Tournament Course, PGA West: Designer: Jack Nicklaus, 1987; Par: 72; Length: 7,159 yards; Greens: TifDwarf Bermudagrass with Poa trivialis; Tournament Stimp: 10.5ft; Course Scoring Average 2016: 68.94 (-3.06), Difficulty Rank 49 of 50 courses.
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. 2016: 69.15 (-2.85), Rank 48 of 50 courses.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for TPC Stadium (Host Course) and how they compare to recent courses on Tour:
Course Overview: The CareerBuilder Challenge since 2012 has played a 3-course rota over 72 holes. Last year saw the TPC Stadium Course added to the rota as the host course (36 holes including the final round) and the Tournament Course was also added for the very first time. 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 features its own island hole which will play as a 165 yard par 3 this week. As per last year, TPC Stadium will play as a 7,113 yard, Par 72 and with plenty of water in play, it was significantly tougher than the other 2 courses in the rota 12 months ago and the Palmer Private it replaced as host course.
Statistically TPC Stadium is an interesting course where power is seemingly negated a little. The par-5s played fairly tough 12 months ago, especially compared to the par-4s which yielded plenty of birdies. That comes across in the Going for the Green statistics where TPC Stadium ranked in the lowest 20 courses on Tour where players were aggressive. Those that went for the green saw little success - Hit Green %: 2nd lowest - Birdie or Better: 7th lowest. Brute power alone doesn't work here - instead crisp wedge play from within 125 yards was critical. Scrambling on the course is easy for these PGA Tour pros and the greens were pure enough that Putting Average across the field was sub 1.7 putts per Green in Regulation.
Both the Tournament Course (look for Nicklaus course experts) and La Quinta Country Club were taken apart in 2016. Both ranked in the 3 easiest courses across the whole of the PGA Tour, only beaten by the Plantation Course at Kapalua.
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 the 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, -22/266 and -25/263 have been the winning totals. Birdie or better conversion rates at 36% (2012), 38% (2013), an astonishing 44% (2014 by Patrick Reed), 32% (2015) and 42% (Dufner 12 months ago) to this point are traditionally some of the highest we see all year.
Winners: 2016: Jason Dufner (-25); 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 Zach Johnson (No.1), Phil Mickelson, Brendan Steele, Charley Hoffman and Charles Howell III.
DraftKings Predictor Model: For those of you who play DraftKings there's now a dedicated predictor model available here.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on a 10-tournament window that stretches back to the British Masters / Safeway Open and includes 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: 2016: Dufner 40/1; 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: 101/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for La Quinta is here. Conditions for this event are often perfect with sunshine, 30 degrees Celsius and the hint of a breeze. 2017 will see colder temperatures, stronger breezes and what look's like some significant rain during play on Friday. Yes rain in the Californian desert.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the winner and runner-up from 12 months ago gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this 3-course rota test:
Tournament Skill Averages:
So let's take a view from players as to how the CareerBuilder sets up with the new course rotation and what skill sets the course favours:
Jason Dufner: "I came out before I went to Sony and played these golf courses, both of them, twice. Spent some time out here practicing and playing. So I felt good. We have had some great weather, obviously that helps. The courses are in great shape. So I'm pretty comfortable right now.
The Stadium Course, it's a difficult golf course. There's a little bit of room to play off the tee, in my opinion, but if you get off the path a little bit, you can get into some trouble. He's got some water out there, he's got some tricky bunkers, you get some uneven lies here and there. The greens kind are difficult. They run on some angles and there's some slope. So it's definitely the most difficult of the courses we have played here in the desert area. But today it just was one of those days, I got off to a really hot start, and I played okay on the back nine."
Jamie Lovemark (TPC Stadium): "It's hard visually off the tee. There's a lot of water out there. So I'll do it as much as possible. That hole in particular, I hit driver on 18, probably not the best play in the world, but I had a wedge in my hand. So just be aggressive. I know that, if I miss, it's a soft fade to the right, so I can manage that."
Kevin Na: "It's quite a bit of a change. The Nicklaus, no. But the Stadium, yes. We get to play these courses every year and you get comfortable. You don't even have to have play a practice round, you just want to go out and - we're playing holes just to see how the course is playing, how it's bouncing, the firmness or the wetness, whatever the rough might be. But it's a big change. I think the Stadium's going to play a lot more difficult than the Palmer Course, in my opinion. But the Nicklaus Course will be about the same."
Path to Victory: Below are the end of round positions for the last 7 winners:
Incoming form of winners since 2010:
Course Designer Links: For research purposes other Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus designs include:
Recent champions here include Vegas (a Tour Rookie); Haas (twice), Perez, Hoffman (all 1st time PGA Tour winners); Trahan and Reed (1 Win at the time); Campbell (2 Wins); with Dufner, 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 9th place finish - that being defending champion Jason Dufner. Patrick Reed 36 months ago broke the trend of winners playing Waialae / PGA West which had lasted since 2007. Bill Haas went one better in 2015, when he won at PGA West for the second time on his seasonal debut. His previous appearance had been at Sheshan at the HSBC Champions in the autumn where, by his own admission, he played abysmally to finish 48th.
The last 5 winners namely Jason Dufner, Bill Haas (2015), Patrick Reed, Brian Gay and Mark Wilson had all won PGA Tour titles on Bermudagrass greens prior to capturing the title here in La Quinta. 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 75% of Greens in Regulation and that's quite a challenge as the greens at the Stadium and La Quinta are substantially smaller in size than 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.
Bookmaker Offers: Latest offers and extended each-way places are detailed below. New customers can also get a free £10 no deposit required bet with Sky Bet - perfect for covering off one of the favourites this week:
My selections are as follows:
Zach Johnson will be taking this week seriously as it's clearly a fantastic opportunity to grab a PGA Tour victory at a set of courses that should really suit. Neatness and tidiness personified, Johnson played his typically efficient game last week at Waialae, finishing an eventual 6th. Approach work was tight (6th for Proximity to the Hole), Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green was consistent (11th) and Johnson's putter also fired as he finished 8th for Putting Average. That kind of well-balanced performance hasn't been seen from Zach since Bay Hill last April and as we know when the St Simons Island, Georgia resident starts to get confident with his approach play in tandem with the putter, he's definitely one to follow.
A 4-time winner on Bermudagrass greens, Johnson hasn't won a golf tournament since his amazing victory at the St Andrews-hosted 2015 Open Championship. Much of that was probably down to his switch to PXG clubs which certainly took time to bed in. But with Zach now finding the putting surface regularly, he must be looking forward to a tournament where he finished 8th in 2012 and 3rd in 2014. Other top 10 finishes across TPC Scottsdale and TPC Summerlin highlight a player comfortable in the desert. Allied to that he also has a great Pete Dye record across Harbour Town (2nd 2012), TPC Sawgrass (8th 2005, 2nd 2012) and Whistling Straits (3rd 2010 PGA Championship); plus he's a Nicklaus design winner (2013 World Challenge at Sherwood).
Asked about his positive feelings for the tournament in 2014, Johnson explained, "I like the greens here. For the West Coast I don't really putt well on poa annua and these are rye over seed for the most part. I like the format now with two amateurs, two pros, three golf courses instead of four. The weather. I think it's great for my family too. We spent six weeks out here two years ago. So I mean the positives are huge."
Kevin Kisner was magnificent at Waialae last week. Remember he needed an eagle on the par-5 9th hole on Friday just to make the cut, which he miraculously delivered. From there a Saturday -10/60 featured 10 birdies and no bogeys and once in the mix for a decent finish he produced yet another solid Sunday performance reeling off 5 birdies and no bogeys for a -5/65, good enough for 4th. So I was surprised to see him at 40/1 this week (50/1 was snapped up Monday night), although his form here is relatively weak. However I think it's a value price on the basis that the change of host course to a Pete Dye design will be perfect for Kisner (he never played here last year) who won his maiden Tour title 14 months ago on the TifDwarf Bermudagrass greens at Sea Island. Kisner is undoubtedly a Pete Dye fan as 2nd at both Harbour Town and TPC Sawgrass highlight. Kevin is also the sort who carries form forwards. His breakout 2015 featured 5 top 10 finishes in 8 appearances and he strung 4 top-9 finishes together at the turn of last year which included scores of -18/270, -22/258, -16/276 and -15/265. Accurate off the tee with a tight approach and a fantastic short game, if the rain arrives on Friday, Kisner also thrives on soft golf courses.
Charley Hoffman seems to be rounding into some form and we all know he's a real danger in the desert. 17th at Kapalua last time out featured a closing round -4/69 and 21 Birdies, but the course demands a razor-sharp scrambling game and an eye for pure Bermudagrass greens. So to see that Hoffman was 10th in Putting Average on Maui was an eye-opener, especially as he now arrives at one of his favourite haunts. 1st (2007), 8th (2008), 19th (2009), 10th (2013), 9th (2014) and 2nd (2015). I remember a similar course form line at TPC San Antonio prior to Hoffman capturing his 4th PGA Tour title (yes I was also surprised!). It's also worth remembering that Charley finished 2nd at TPC Scottsdale in 2009 and his record in his home town of Las Vegas is not too shabby either: 5th (2006), 15th (2008), 6th (2009) 4th (2014). I think we can summarise with the term 'desert rat'. 3rd at the Franklin Templeton Shootout in December when he partnered Billy Horschel, Hoffman is clearly firing birdies right now and I'm not overly concerned by the switch of host course as Hoffman has a strong enough record on Pete Dye designs delivering strong performances across Harbour Town, TPC Louisiana and even TPC Sawgrass. If rain does arrive then a soft course can only strengthen his case.
3 eagles, 60 birdies plus recent rounds of 61 and 60 would suggest to anybody that a player is in good touch. Chez Reavie is playing some magnificent stuff right now and if history tells us anything, he's one to watch when his confidence is high. The Scottsdale, Arizona resident won the 2008 Canadian Open at the Nicklaus-designed Glen Abbey and when in form is one to follow. Take 2011 when he finished 9th at Sedgefield, 2nd at TPC Boston (losing in a play-off to Webb Simpson) and 8th at Cog Hill. But PGA Tour golf is a harsh environment, especially for short hitters and Reavie went on to see his confidence erode and his results fall away right through till 2015. However, like many, a drop into the web.com Playoffs was the catalyst for an improvement in his game with a win at River Run Country Club and 2nd at the web.com Tour Championship (Pete Dye designed Dye's Valley Course) behind Emiliano Grillo, ensuring a full PGA Tour card for 2015/16. Last year saw Chez re-build his confidence with good contending performances at Pebble Beach (Pro-Am), Riviera, GC of Houston and Glen Abbey ensuring a safe passage into the top 125. But his run this season has seen 24th at TPC Summerlin which included a -10/61 in Round 2, 4th (-17/267) at Mayakoba in soft conditions and last week's 8th which was driven by a closing round -10/60. 5th here on debut in 2008 and qualified at PGA Tour Q-School on these courses back in 2012.
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