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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Humana Challenge - Preview

The Humana Challenge is next up on the PGA TOUR schedule, and here is a little preview to get you off and running in your research.

One important note to remember is that this tournament is a pro-am format. Meaning, amateurs will be playing alongside the professionals in each of the first three rounds. Think Pebble Beach, but with fewer celebrities. Obviously some professionals respond better to that than others. Along with the added distraction of double-digit handicaps, there are the lengthy rounds that come with the format.

That also means the first three rounds of the tournament are spread across three venues. Arnold Palmer Private Course at PGA West serves as the host course, and also hosts the finale, with Jack Nicklaus Private Course at PGA West and La Quinta Country Club rounding out the rotation.

As a general rule, the courses are very short by PGA TOUR standards, the weather is generally perfect and there are plenty of par 5s that are essentially par 4s for the TOUR pros. That means, expect the scoring to go deep. With amateurs in the field the first three days, pins are generally set up on the easy side by TOUR standards.

The current three courses have all been in the rotations since 2010. Actually, in 2010 and 2011, Silver Rock was also in the rotation because it was a 90-hole tournament with four venues. Palmer, Nicklaus and La Quinta have all switched in and out of the rotation over the years, but if you see that a guy really lit it up in 2009, it's worth investigating which courses he performed well on.

Because of that, here are the winners and runners-up since 2010.

  • 2010 - Winner: Bill Haas (-30 / 330) over Tim Clark, Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson (329)
  • 2011 - Winner: Jhonattan Vegas (-27 / 327) over Bill Haas and Gary Woodland (playoff)
  • 2012 - Winner: Mark Wilson (-24 / 264) over Robert Garrigus, John Mallinger and Johnson Wagner (-22 / 262)
  • 2013 - Winner: Brian Gay (-25 / 263) over Charles Howell III and David Lingmerth (playoff)
  • 2014 - Winner: Patrick Reed (-28 / 260) over Ryan Palmer (-26 / 262)
Several things stand out from that short list of players.
  • For starters, success in the Sony Open seems to carry over. Palmer went T8 Sony / 2 Humana in '14. CH3 went T3 Sony / P2 Humana in '13. While Mark Wilson missed the cut in 2012 Sony before his Humana win, he is a past champ at Sony in 2011 Johnson Wagner won the 2012 Sony before his T2 at Humana. 
  • I think there are several reasons for the Sony / Humana correlation.
    • For starters, both require a fairly low score on pretty short courses to win.
    • Players entering the Humana are both fresh and in form at the same time. Many are making just their second start of the season, so they successfully knocked the rust off in Hawaii but are still fresh.
  • Needless to say, you could do a lot worse than to take those with top 10s at Sony and just roll with it. 
  • Looking at the list above, the class of those players is probably a little better than what you would expect from a tournament that is a "go low" and a bit of a crapshoot. 
  • In terms of stats, it's important to understand that these guys will see 18 par 5s (Palmer Private has 5 and they play that course twice). Of those 18, 14 measure under 550 yards. That means almost everyone can reach them in two. 
  • That's probably a big reason as to why the list above is also a mix of long and short players. The par 5s are so short that the short players can actually reach them, but the long players are playing irons into half of them and hitting them close. 
  • The birdies are going to happen, so avoiding bogeys would seem to be a good thing this week. 
  • The winner will probably be an above-average ball-striker who has a hot week with the putter. Good luck and guessing that one.
We will return on Tuesday with a look at the power ranking and various other fantasy information. Until then, happy research!

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