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We leave Hawaii behind us with a 22/1 winner (Patrick Reed) and a frustrating 75/1 sixth place finisher (Jerry Kelly). The highs and lows of golf punting! This week we move to mainland United States for the Humana Challenge at PGA West. A specialised event that's hard to get your head around at first. We came extremely close to our first win here in 2014, with Palmer (40/1) and Leonard (125/1) finishing second and third respectively - another case of what could have been. Let's go one better this week...
A Good Talk Spoiled podcast co-presenter Barry O'Hanrahan delivered the goods last week with an inspired selection of Gary Stal backed up ably by Rory McIlroy to win the weekly free bet prize. The fun continues each and every week through to the DP World Tour Championship so get your entries in for Qatar Masters and Humana Challenge by 3.35am GMT Wedensday via our facebook Group now. Good luck!
If you think the scoring at Waialae last week was low, you've not seen anything yet as a stronger than usual field head for Palm Desert, California for the Humana Challenge. For me the Humana is one of the biggest challenges of any season as winners tend to be unpredictable amidst congested leaderboards. This week's Humana Challenge preview walks you through some interesting angles that have shaped my final selections:
Course Guide: The Humana Challenge is played at 3 courses in La Quinta, California. The PGA West facility hosts 3 of the 4 rounds at the Palmer Private (Host Course) and Nicklaus Private courses. The Palmer Private 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 2 sub-7,000 yard Par 72 courses which feature a number of reachable Par 5s and extremely receptive greens.
Palmer Private, PGA West, Palm Springs, California: Designer: Arnold Palmer, 1986; Course Type: Desert, Resort; Par: 72; Length: 6,950 yards; Fairways: Bermudagrass with Perennial Rye; Rough: Bermudagrass grass 2"; Greens: 5,665 sq.ft TifDwarf Bermudagrass with Poa trivialis; Tournament Stimp: 11ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 69.88 (-2.12), Difficulty Rank 46 of 49 courses. 2013: 68.92 (-3.08), Difficulty Rank 42 of 43 courses. 2014: 68.96 (-3.04), Rank 47 of 48 courses.
Nicklaus Private, PGA West: Designer: Jack Nicklaus, 1986; Par: 72; Length: 6,924 yards; Greens: 6,200 sq.ft TifDwarf Bermudagrass with Poa trivialis; Tournament Stimp: 10.5ft; Course Scoring Average 2012: 69.19 (-2.81), Difficulty Rank 44 of 49 courses. 2013: 68.00 (-4.00), Difficulty Rank 43 of 43 courses. 2014: 68.82 (-3.18), Rank 48 of 48 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.
Course Overview: For the uninitiated, the Humana Challenge follows a pro-am format similar to the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am 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 on Sunday for the top 60 players and ties. A full field of players allied to the Pro-Am nature makes for painfully slow play which some players can't handle. This tournament is a monument 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 and -29/259 have been the winning totals. The host course features 5 Par 5s, so 18 are played in total across the 4 days of competition. Birdie or better conversion rates at 36% (2012), 38% (2013) and an astonishing 44% by Patrick Reed last year compare to a commendable 32% at Kapalua 2 weeks ago.
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: We snared Jimmy Walker in the Top 5 last week and our published Humana Predictor is available here. You can build your own tailor-made model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Key players included in the upper reaches of the Predictor include Matt Kuchar (Rank 1), Kevin Na and Zach Johnson. Seeing rookie Justin Thomas as high as Number 4 highlights what a week the in-form Kentuckian could have at 70/1 with Chris Stroud (125/1) and Tom Gillis (350/1) offering up some huge value within the Top 11.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: Here we list a view of players in the Humana field and respective recent skill stats. These rankings are based on a 10 tournament window that stretches back to the Frys.com Open / Portugal Masters and includes PGA Tour, European Tour and the Hero World Challenge. Players must have played in a minimum of 3 main Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Events like this are notoriously difficult to call. PGA West Palmer and Nicklaus Private courses plus La Quinta CC are set up to play easy. Virtually no rough, lush fairways, receptive Bermudagrass overseeded with Poa Trivialis greens and virtually perfect air conditions make for target golf at its most extreme. Forget about the OWGR - virtually anybody in the field can win this week as the winners prices below highlight.
Winners & Prices: 2014: Reed 135/1; 2013: Gay 80/1; 2012: Wilson 125/1; 2011: Vegas 200/1; 2010: Haas 100/1.
Weather Forecast: The latest PGA Tour weather forecast for PGA West is here. With sub-10 mph breeze forecast for virtually the full 4 days, scoring will be low. One word of warning though as the earliest starters on Thursday may have to play in a little desert wind for the opening couple of hours at the 2 PGA West courses. If that happens it will make a difference in a tournament where a fast start is imperative.
Recent champions include Vegas (a Tour Rookie); Haas, 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 monster 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 the form on the plane to California when he beat Parnevik and Verplank in a play-off. Since then no player has won at PGA West coming off anything better than a 16th place finish - that being Patrick Reed 12 months ago who broke the trend of winners playing Waialae / PGA West which had lasted since 2007.
So what's the right recipe for success this week? Well all types of player can thrive here, both the long bomber and the 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.
Key Bookmaker Offer: Paddy Power are going 6 Places each-way at the Humana Challenge. Full details here: Paddy Power Humana 6 EW.
My selections are as follows:
I'm staying patient for the second week in a row with Brendon Todd who finished 6th here 12 months ago. Yes Todd disappointed with a misfiring putter last week, but patience can be a virtue in this game and the Atlanta 29 year-old played very neatly last week at Waialae after a double bogey on the 1st derailed his overall chances. 5 Bogeys thereafter across 71 holes was excellent and I like the balance of his game for PGA West. I also like the results of Todd in the desert where he has a trio of top 13 finishes across Montreux, TPC Summerlin and here. 26th (Humana 2012), 9th (AT&T Pro-Am 2012) and the aforementioned 6th here show an aptitude for the Pro-Am format, and Todd was the medallist at the 2011 PGA Tour Q-School held at the PGA West venue so has great memories of the resort which houses 6 tournament courses.
Luke Donald is the best Bermudagrass Poa Trivialis putter in the field and I'm amazed that I can get 66/1 when Stan James are at 40/1. It's noticeable that the former World Number 1 is going back to his old schedule pattern which traditionally started with a number of PGA Tour west coast swing tournaments and that's to be applauded, especially when he's making his debut at PGA West - a course that should be perfect for the Chicago-based 37 year-old. 4 of Donald's 5 Tour wins have been on Bermudagrass greens and his record in California is exceptional: Torrey Pines: 7th (03), 2nd (04 & 05); Pebble AT&T: 7th (06); Riviera: 3rd (08), 6th (09), 2nd (10). Throw in his Dove Mountain (Arizona desert) Accenture World Matchplay win in 2011 and I think his traditionally poor season debut last week could be a great thing for his backers this.
I highlighted Justin Thomas last week on the A Good Talk Spoiled podcast and his performance at Waialae back up my thoughts that the 21 year-old is too talented not to win in his rookie season. 4th at GC of Jackson (Bermuda), 23rd at El Camaleon, a Top 30 at the non Tour Callaway Invitational at Pebble Beach and 6th at Waialae (Bermuda) last week highlight a player in great nick. Last Friday's second-round 61 at Waialae tied the course record and Thomas never collapsed when in the white heat of contention. 18th in Total Birdies, 60th in Stokes Gained Putting and 35th in 5-15ft putt conversion in the embryonic Tour season stats shows what Justin is about and he only made 6 Bogeys in Waialae last week.
I'm happy to support Kevin Streelman this week who ticks plenty of boxes. A streaky putter, Streelman is renowned for finding form from nowhere - often between rounds - and there's no doubt in my mind that the Scottsdale, Arizona-based 2-time Tour winner is not a million miles away from contending. 3rd in Greens in Regulation at Waialae last week is the green light for me to get involved at PGA West this week - a course where Kevin has a couple of T10s (2010 & 2013) in 5 appearances. 2nd in the desert as recently as TPC Summerlin in mid-October, Streelman is Bermudagrass green positive and both his 2015 appearances have been particularly clean in terms of Bogey avoidance (only 8 conceded).
Veterans can compete well at PGA West as we discovered 12 months ago with Justin Leonard. 43 year-old Stuart Appleby showed at The Barclays in August that he can compete with the world's best on occasion and the Australian has made a habit of winning at low-scoring tournaments at TPC Summerlin (-31 2003), Kapalua (-22 2004, -21 2005), GC of Houston (-19 2006) and Old White TPC (-22 2010), where he shot a record closing round 59 to win. Traditionally a player with an awesome short game, Appleby played neatly at Sea Island pre Christmas (22nd) and at Waialae (17th with only 7 Bogeys) last week and his desert record across TPC Scottsdale, TPC Summerlin, Montreux and here at PGA West is decent enough for a 200/1 'rag'. Shot a closing -7/65 here 12 months ago to grab a Top 10.
Andres Gonzales is a slow developer, but was an exceptional player of linkable web.com Tour golf courses in California and Utah. 2011: 2nd CC at Soboba Springs; 2012: 1st CC at Soboba Springs, 9th Willow Creek CC, Utah; 2014: 1st Willow Creek CC, Utah. 16th at CordeValle, California in 2014 on the main Tour, Gonzales also jumped into punters minds when he fired 66 and led after Round 1 at Silverado in October. Andres can putt well on Bermudagrass and is enjoying a far stronger 3rd crack at PGA Tour, especially after he finished like a train in El Camaleon in November as he captured his best Tour finish of 3rd behind Charley Hoffman.
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