We didn’t snag 40/1 winner Matt Kuchar last week – congratulations if you did – but 80/1 tip Andrew Putnam certainly gave us a run for our money – he was the co-leader up until the 13th on Sunday. Since 2013 I have now backed 3 runners-up at the Sony Open, so I can’t complain, although it’s a tad frustrating! Marc Leishman also returned a share of the each-way place at 20/1 and, all in all, my 4 tips all placed within the top 13.
Before we talk the Desert Classic tips, we always have new visitors to Golf Betting System as the golfing year kicks off. Welcome to you all and let me point you in the direction of our weekly Golf Betting System podcast (published Tuesday) our Golf Betting Show on YouTube and our hugely popular private group on Facebook – you can Join Here.
Low scoring won’t abate this week as the PGA Tour reaches California for our freshly titled The Desert Classic tips at PGA West. It was latterly known as the CareerBuilder Challenge, but I’ll always remember this as the Bob Hope Classic. It used to be played over 4 courses and 5 days, but thankfully 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 and, with light winds forecast, we could well see something similar to Jason Dufner’s 2016 total of -25/263 being needed to grab the increased $1,062,000 first prize and a coveted Masters invite for those who haven’t received a letter through the post recently.
Course Guide: A 3-course rotation always makes the Desert Classic 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. 2017: 71.59 (-0.41), Difficulty Rank 30 of 50 courses. 2018: 71.18 (-0.82), Difficulty Rank 36 of 51 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. 2017: 70.74 (-1.26), Difficulty Rank 39 of 50 courses. 2018: 69.45 (-2.55), Difficulty Rank 50 of 51 courses.
La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta: Designer: Lawrence Hughes, with Pascuzzo 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. 2017: 69.64 (-2.36), Difficulty Rank of 49 of 50 courses. 2018: 68.83 (-3.17), Difficulty Rank of 51 of 51 courses.
Fairway Widths (yards): Below are the fairway widths for TPC Stadium (Host Course) and how they compare to recent courses that we’ve seen on Tour:
- TPC Stadium: 250 yards from the tee: 29 yards wide; 275:28; 300:28; 325:27; 350:25.
- Waialae: 250 yards from the tee: 35 yards wide; 275:32; 300:33; 325:37; 350:34.
- Plantation Course: 250 yards from the tee: 53 yards wide; 275:58; 300:63; 325:58; 350:62.
- Seaside Course: 250 yards from the tee: 39 yards wide; 275:38; 300:33; 325:29; 350:23.
- TPC Summerlin: 250 yards from the tee: 32 yards wide; 275:30; 300:26; 325:25; 350:24.
- CC of Jackson: 250 yards from the tee: 28 yards wide; 275:27; 300:28; 325:28; 350:24.
- Silverado: 250 yards from the tee: 27 yards wide; 275:27; 300:24; 325:25; 350:24.
- East Lake: 250 yards from the tee: 27 yards wide; 275:25; 300:24; 325:23; 350:22.
- Conway Farms: 250 yards from the tee: 33 yards wide; 275:29; 300:29; 325:26; 350:28.
- TPC Boston: 250 yards from the tee: 34 yards wide; 275:34; 300:32; 325:31; 350:32.
Course Designer Links: For research purposes, other Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus designs include:
- Whistling Straits (2010 and 2015 PGA Championship)
- Ocean Course – Kiawah Island (2012 PGA Championship)
- TPC Louisiana – Zurich Classic of New Orleans
- TPC Sawgrass – The Players Championship
- Harbour Town – RBC Heritage
- Crooked Stick (2012 and 2016 BMW Championship).
- Valhalla Golf Club (2014 PGA Championship)
- Glen Abbey (2008, 2009, 2012, 2015 and 2016 RBC Canadian Open)
- Montreaux GCC – Barracuda Championship
- PGA National, Champions Course – Honda Classic
- Muirfield Village Golf Club – The Memorial
- Sherwood Country Club – Thousand Oaks – (World Challenge through 2013)
- Annandale Golf Club – (Sanderson Farms Championship through 2013)
- PGA West – Nicklaus Private (Humana Challenge through 2015)
Course Overview: Since 2012 the CareerBuilder Challenge has played a 3-course rota over 72 holes. 2016 saw the TPC Stadium Course added to the rota as the host course (36 holes including the final round) and the Nicklaus 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.
The TPC Stadium host 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 17th 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 has plenty of water in play. With a scoring average of 71.18 in 2018 it had a difficulty rank of 36 of 51 courses on the PGA Tour last season, in comparison to 50th for the Tournament Course and 51st for La Quinta.
Statistically TPC Stadium is an interesting course where flagrant power is seemingly negated a little. The par-5s played tough – 13th hardest on Tour for Birdie or Better Conversion – 12 months ago, especially compared to both the par-3s and par-4s which still yielded plenty of birdies, despite strong wind on Saturday. That comes across in the Going for the Green statistics where TPC Stadium ranked in the lowest 16 courses on Tour where players were aggressive. Those that went for the green saw little success – Hit Green %: 4th lowest – Birdie or Better: 11th lowest. Brute power alone doesn’t work here – instead crisp wedge play from within 125 yards is critical. Scrambling on the course is easy for these PGA Tour pros and the TifDwarf Bermudagrass overseeded with Poa Trivialis greens are pure enough that One-Putt Percentages have been the best, 6th best and 2nd best on the PGA Tour over the course of its opening 3 appearances in the Desert Classic.
With warm and calm conditions forecast, both the Tournament Course (look for Nicklaus course experts) and La Quinta Country Club are there to be taken apart. Both of these courses ranked as the easiest and 2nd easiest courses on the whole of the PGA Tour in 2018. And as we know, the PGA Tour likes low scoring.
The Desert Classic 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 then 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, -25/263, -20/268 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), 32% (2015), 42%, 36% and 38% (Jon Rahm 12 months ago) are traditionally some of the highest we see all year.
Winners: 2018: Jon Rahm (-22); 2017: Hudson Swafford (-20); 2016: Jason Dufner (-25); 2015: Bill Haas (-22); 2014: Patrick Reed (-29); 2013: Brian Gay (-25); 2012: Mark Wilson (-24).
Published Predictor Model: Our published predictor is available here. You can build your own model using the variables listed on the left hand side. Top 10 of my published predictor are Charles Howell III, Corey Conners, Scott Piercy, Chez Reavie, Jon Rahm, Ryan Palmer, Abraham Ancer, Andrew Putnam, Patton Kizzire and Zach Johnson.
Recent Player Skill Rankings: These rankings are based on an 8-tournament window that stretches back to the WGC-HSBC Champions and Sanderson Farms Championship, which includes PGA Tour and European Tour events. Players must have played in a minimum of 2 Tour events to be included and rankings are based on performance relative to the rest of the field:
- Driving Accuracy: 1) Chez Reavie; 2) Abraham Ancer / Justin Rose / Ben Silverman; 5) Roberto Diaz; 6) Scott Piercy; 7) Ryan Armour / Jon Rahm; 9) Dylan Frittelli / Jason Kokrak; 11) Kramer Hickok; 12) Roberto Castro / C.T. Pan; 14) Fabian Gomez; 15) Bronson Burgoon / Adam Hadwin; 17) Wes Roach; 18) Russell Henley / Andrew Landry; 20) Patrick Cantlay.
- Greens in Regulation: 1) Patrick Cantlay; 2) J.J. Spaun; 3) Jon Rahm; 4) Justin Rose; 5) Nick Watney; 6) Charles Howell III / Andrew Putnam; 8) Lucas Glover; 9) Dylan Frittelli; 10) Ryan Palmer; 11) Scott Piercy; 12) Corey Conners / Danny Willett; 14) Anders Albertson; 15) Talor Gooch / Peter Uihlein; 17) Fabian Gomez / Chez Reavie; 19) Adam Hadwin; 20) Rory Sabbatini.
- Putting Average (Putts per GIR): 1) Justin Rose; 2) Danny Willett; 3) Aaron Wise; 4) Chesson Hadley / Andrew Putnam; 6) Beau Hossler / Patton Kizzire; 8) Pat Perez; 9) Brian Gay / Jon Rahm; 11) Patrick Cantlay; 12) Martin Piller; 13) Aaron Baddeley / Bud Cauley / Nate Lashley; 16) Roberto Castro; 17) Jonathan Byrd / Wyndham Clark / Ben Silverman / Scott Piercy.
Winners & Prices: 2018: Rahm 10/1; 2017: Swafford 66/1; 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. Past 5 Renewals Average: 56/1; Overall Average: 87/1.
- 2018: Thursday: Mostly sunny. High of 78. Wind variable 4-8 mph. Friday: Mostly sunny. High of 78. Wind variable 5-10 mph. Saturday: Mostly sunny. High of 65. Wind NW 20-30 mph, with gusts to 40 mph. Sunday: Mostly sunny. High of 66. Wind variable 4-8 mph.
- 2017: Thursday: Overcast, with light morning rain. Mostly sunny in the afternoon, with a high of 64. Wind W 8-15 mph. Friday: Overcast, with intermittent rain throughout the day. High of 61. Wind NE to SSE 8-15 mph. Saturday: Sunny, with a high of 63. Wind NW 10-15 mph, with gusts of 25 mph. Sunday: Cloudy, with intermittent rain throughout the day. High of 61. Wind SSE 8-15 mph.
- 2016: Thursday: Clear skies with an afternoon high of 74 degrees. Wind SE 4-8 mph. Friday: Mostly sunny, with a high of 73 degrees. Wind SE 5-10 mph. Saturday: Partly cloudy, with a high of 71 degrees. Wind SE 5-10 mph. Sunday: Sunny, with an afternoon high of 82 degrees. Wind NW 7-15 mph.
Weather Forecast: The latest weather forecast for La Quinta, California is here. Weather in the main looks okay for the Desert Classic. Rain on Saturday, Sunday and potentially in tournament week may well leave some cut in the fairways for Thursday. Greens are always watered and responsive here. Showers on Thursday itself cannot be ruled out. From Friday onwards, expect little breeze, plenty of sunshine and comfortable temperatures of 20 degrees Celsius. Scoring should be low enough.
Tournament Trends & Key Factors: Analysing the final stats of winners since 2016 gives us a little more insight into the requirements for this test:
- 2018, Jon Rahm (-22). 310 yards (5th), 64.3% fairways (28th), 72.2% greens in regulation (20th), 328″ proximity to hole (31st), 75.0 % scrambling (21st), 1.56 putts per GIR (8th).
- 2017, Hudson Swafford (-20). 307 yards (5th), 55.4% fairways (61st), 80.6% greens in regulation (1st), 30’2″ proximity to hole (27th), 71.4 % scrambling (30th), 1.66 putts per GIR (24th).
- 2016, Jason Dufner (-25). 290 yards (49th), 75.0% fairways (5th), 75.0% greens in regulation (15th), 30’6″ proximity to hole (20th), 72.2 % scrambling (40th), 1.54 putts per GIR (5th).
Tournament Skill Averages:
- Driving Distance: 20th, Driving Accuracy: 31st, Greens in Regulation:12th, Proximity to Hole: 26th, Scrambling: 30th, Putting Average 12th.
Strokes Gained Tournament Trends:
- 2018, Jon Rahm (-22). SG Off the Tee: 4th, SG Approach: 7th, SG Around the Green: 60th, SG Tee to Green: 12th, SG Putting: 28th.
- 2017, Hudson Swafford (-20). SG Off the Tee: 1st, SG Approach: 5th, SG Around the Green: 71st, SG Tee to Green: 7th, SG Putting: 44th.
- 2016, Jason Dufner (-25). SG Off the Tee: 26th, SG Approach: 42nd, SG Around the Green: 8th, SG Tee to Green: 23rd, SG Putting: 14th.
Strokes Gained Tournament Skill Averages:
- SG Off the Tee: 10th, SG Approach: 18th, SG Around the Green: 46th, SG Tee to Green: 14th, SG Putting: 29th.
So let’s take a view from players as to how the Desert Classic sets up with the 3-course rotation and what skill sets the course favours:
Jon Rahm: “This area, the courses are always in really, really good shape, so it’s tough to pick one. But just because I’m familiar with it I would say the Nicklaus, just because I played it, I mean, this would be about my ninth round on this golf course, so I know it pretty good. But again, I feel like any other person, when you have a good day, any course is fit for you. It’s about making good shots. Well, yeah, I mean I’ve been living in this area for five years and most of the college tournaments we played was around here, so exactly, we played here – we played the Norman course as well – I’m just familiar with this type of golf course.
The Stadium Course, it’s a Pete Dye design, where I played four years of my life, it’s a Pete Dye design. Very, very similar type of golf. You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important. With the small greens, you have water in play, you need to be more precise, clearly the hardest golf course. If you can have 5- or 6-under there you’re going to pick up a lot of shots. So hopefully have an organized round like I did yesterday, not have to fight too much to shoot under par.“
Hudson Swafford (TPC Stadium): “Absolutely, yeah, no, this is a tough golf course. When you come to the desert, all you think is birdies, usually the scores yield birdies. But this Stadium Course has kind of changed that. I know there is a lot of good rounds out here, but one errant shot, it’s very penalizing. So you got to be super patient on this golf course.“
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, 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 since the tournament moved to a 72 hole format:
- 2018 – Jon Rahm: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 4th.
- 2017 – Hudson Swafford: Round 1: 2nd, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 3rd.
- 2016 – Jason Dufner: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
- 2015 – Bill Haas: Round 1: 16th, Round 2: 2nd, Round 3: 1st.
- 2014 – Patrick Reed: Round 1: 1st, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
- 2013 – Brian Gay: Round 1: 29th, Round 2: 15th, Round 3: 7th.
- 2012 – Mark Wilson: Round 1: 14th, Round 2: 1st, Round 3: 1st.
Form of winners since 2012:
- Jon Rahm: 2nd ToC/1st DPWTC/36th HSBC/MC Valderrama.
- Hudson Swafford: 13th Sony/36th RSM/46th OHL/23rd HSBC/29th CIMB.
- Jason Dufner: 9th Sony/1st Shark Shoot/9th RSM/40th OHL.
- Bill Haas: 48th Sheshan/22nd McGladrey/16th Tour/16th BMW.
- Patrick Reed: 16th ToC/40th CIMB/WD Shriners/MC Fry’s.com.
- Brian Gay: 32nd Sony/5th Disney/43rd McGladrey/29th Fry’s.com.
- Mark Wilson: MC Sony/18th ToC/56th HSBC/4th CIMB.
Course Rotation since 2016:
- 2018 – Jon Rahm: Round 1: La Quinta; Round 2: Tournament; Round 3: Stadium.
- 2017 – Hudson Swafford: Round 1: La Quinta; Round 2: Tournament; Round 3: Stadium.
- 2016 – Jason Dufner Round 1: Tournament; Round 2: Stadium; Round 3: La Quinta.
5 of the last 7 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. Defending champ Jon Rahm extends that trend slightly, on the basis he’d won the DP Tour Championship on the European Tour at the Earth Course in November 2017, prior to winning this in January last year.
For the record, here’s the breakdown of Bermudagrass PGA Tour victors in the field since 2008:
- 4 – Bill Haas, Zach Johnson.
- 3 – Brian Gay.
- 2 – Daniel Berger, Ben Crane, Jason Dufner, Fabian Gomez, Russell Henley, Si Woo Kim, Chris Kirk, Phil Mickelson, Ryan Palmer, Scott Piercy, Justin Rose, Mark Wilson.
- 1 – Ryan Armour, Aaron Baddeley, Jonathan Byrd, Harris English, Robert Garrigus, Cody Gribble, Adam Hadwin, James Hahn, Charles Howell III, Mackenzie Hughes, Kevin Kisner, Patton Kizzire, Martin Laird, Will MacKenzie, Peter Malnati, Graeme McDowell, Grayson Murray, Sean O’Hair, Pat Perez, Jon Rahm, Rory Sabbatini, Charl Schwartzel, John Senden, Scott Stallings, Robert Streb, Kevin Streelman, Brian Stuard, Hudson Swafford, Nick Taylor, Michael Thompson, Jhonattan Vegas, Johnson Wagner, Nick Watney, Aaron Wise.
Recent champions here include Vegas (a Tour Rookie); Swafford, 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). Bill Haas has won this title in both 2010 and 2015, being his 1st and 6th PGA Tour titles. The very elite Jon Rahm won this 12 months ago – he had won 3 main Tour victories in 2017, one of which was a PGA Tour victory at Torrey Pines. Pick the bones from that!
Rahm last year finished 2nd at Kapalua 2 weeks before winning this tournament. Hudson Swafford in 2017 finished 13th the week before at Waialae – he had been T3 after 54 holes. 2016 saw Jason Dufner win this after another showing the week before at Waialae. He ultimately finished 9th at the Sony Open, and had been 6th after 54 holes.
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 a minimum of 72% 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 and much smaller than Kapalua a fortnight ago. 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 ball-striker who’s feeling confident in his ability with the putter and to make plenty of birdies right now.