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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Humana Challenge - Preview

With the Sony Open winding down and the attention of the PGA TOUR for the coming weeks focused on the West Coast of the United States, let's begin to dig into the Humana Challenge with our preview.

There are several tournaments every year that can be best labeled as a crapshoot, and this one may be the biggest. Consider the variables. That is, some of the variables.

  • The tournament is being played on a three-course rotation over the course of four rounds with amateurs playing alongside them. It used to be a four-course, 90-hole tournament. The courses have also changed some over the years. That means you have to be very careful when you look at course history to make sure you are evaluating courses apples-to-apples.
  • It's still very early in the season, with many players in the field making their 2014 debut. It's hard to gauge form if a player hasn't played since Mayakoba.
  • The winner is going to essentially have to average seven birdies per round. That means a bomber/ball-striker is going to have to putt out of his mind or an elite putter is going to have to have one of his best ball-striking tournaments.
  • If we look back at the last four competitions, played largely on the current venues, the type of players with success are completely across the board.
So, about the courses...
  • Palmer Private (PGA West) is the host. It plays to a par of 72 at 6,930. (Are you kidding me?)
  • La Quinta Country Club is a par 72 at 7,060. That's like Sony with two of the par 4s becoming par 5s.
  • Nicklaus Private at PGA West. Par 72....6,951. These are like the tees I play from. And by that, I mean not the championship tees at my home course.

There are three types of players I like this week; not necessarily in a particular order. Okay, four.
  1. Players who are excellent putters but lack length off the tee. Remember, there are par 5s that will be in play in two this week that normally aren't. If they have a solid par-4 birdie or better and a solid wedge game to boot, then they should be a good fit.
  2. Players who can absolutely dominate par 5s. You're going to need to shoot around 25-under to win. A player will see 18 par 5s (Palmer Private has five; they play it twice). So, if a player plays the par 5s in 15-under, they need to play the rest of the course in 10-under.
  3. Players in good form coming out of Sony. Look specifically at players making a lot of birdies. A guy shooting 3-under with six birdies and three bogeys is more appealing than a guy with four birdies and one bogey because you have to try to make bogeys at PGA West.
  4. A guy who's been knocking on the door a lot lately. Chris Stroud, Brendon de Jonge, Kevin Chappell, etc, etc, etc. 
In addition to those four, don't be afraid to give a hard look at a guy that typically plays resort-style courses well. Scott Stallings is an excellent example. Perhaps a Web.com grad who dominated on mini tours before that?

I might run two different statistical metrics this week. One to fit a bomber / par 5 killer and another to fit a shorter player with a strong putter. While I'm not a huge proponent of blind faith and gut instinct, absent other metrics, this is a week that I would consider a possible exception. 

Welcome to the desert. Shake your lucky dice. Blow on them. Take a long swig and a deep breath and let it ride!

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