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The 2013 PGA Tour season officially started two weeks ago at Kapalua, but for many players in the field, the Humana Challenge will serve as the starting gate for the year. Formerly the 90-hole Bob Hope Classic, this event is the first back on the mainland where players will have full access to equipment trailers and swing coaches. Now 72 holes, the tournament will be spread out over three courses:
PGA West (Palmer Private) - 6,930 yard par 72
PGA West (Nicklaus Private) - 6,951 yard par 72
La Quinta Country Club - 7,060 par 72
Now, you are probably thinking those yardages have to be a typo right? I mean come on, your local muni course plays just as long from the back tees. Well, no typo, those are the actual yardages and that is why the professionals always put on a show in the California dessert. The winning score in 2012, -24 by Mark Wilson, could be in serious jeopardy this week with a strong early season field and better weather than the wind that delayed play at points in 2012. With that, expect plenty of low scores and anybody making pars will be losing ground to the rest of the field. Birdie percentage will be an important stat to look at this week, and in order to make birdies, one must put the ball in the hole… so putting will also be key. An unseasonable and record setting cold spell had Palm Springs feeling more like the frozen tundra the past few days, but the weather forecast looks perfect for the tournament.
This event has a history of producing crowd favorites as winners: Phil Mickelson (2002 and 2004), Freddy Couples (1998), Mike Weir (2003) and Pat Perez (2009). Most casual golf fans know this event for the movie stars and famous musicians that participate in the Pro-Am, but the more avid golf fans will remember this event for David Duval’s infamous final round 59 in route to his victory in 1999.
1. Robert Garrigus. Making his 2013 debut, Garrigus should still be feeling good after finishing the 2012 season with a 2nd place finish at Disney. While he did not post a win last season, he finished in the top 25 in more than half of his events, which also included four second-place finishes, including to Wilson here last season. Garrigus will attempt to bomb and wedge this course to death. He as three top-20’s in the past here and was 11th in total birdie average in 2012. If Bob can get his putter going at all, he will be a tough man to beat this week. I picked him to win at Disney at the end of last season, so why not let him try to make it up to me?
2. Tim Clark. The head honcho of Golfmanna, CA Schmidt aka @fantasygolfguy, almost struck early season gold with his selection of Clark last week, falling just short with a second-place finish behind Russ Henley. He shot a final round 63, and posted 21 birdies and an eagle for the week at Sony. He finally looked fully healthy and recovered from that elbow injury that nagged him the past couple of seasons. Another player with a good track record at the Humana; in only four appearances he has racked up three top-10’s including a pair of runner-ups. Clark’s lack of length doesn’t hurt him at this event so look for him to be in contention on Sunday and post another high finish.
3. Brandt Snedeker. 2012 FedEx Cup Champion, hottest player on Tour since last August, 1st in putting, 3rd in birdie average… not sure why he isn’t the pick to win this week. With a T3 at Kapalua and two past top-10s in this event, signs point that Sneds should be in position for another large paycheck and maybe even another victory.
4. Chris Kirk. The former UGA grad posted four very solid rounds last week in Hawaii en route to a T5 to open his 2013 campaign. He was 29th in birdie average in 2012 and had a T7 at Humana last year, so Captain Kirk comes into this week with good vibes. He needs to improve his driving accuracy (129th) and putting (124th) from last season but he is off to a great start so far.
5. Matt Kuchar. Two events in 2013, two top-10s. The sky is still blue. Kuchar has posted four straight top-25’s here, including a runner-up finish in 2010. He got up and down from everywhere at the Sony, where he was 2nd in scrambling and 8th in strokes gained-putting. Though he wasn’t a threat to win either of the Hawaiian events, he has a good history as this venue and his game is in its normal top-10 form.
- Pat Perez. The former champion captured his lone PGA Tour win here back in 2009 and also had a good finish last year with a T14. Perez isn’t the most consistent player, so predicting when he is going to have a good week is basically throwing a dart blind. Apparently I fancy myself pretty good at that as I feel a good week from him here. A top 10 in Hawaii last week with 19 birdies, look for him to keep some mojo going in the desert this week.
- Bill Haas. Never missed a cut at the Humana Challenge, five top-25s and a W in 2010… but played poorly after his early win in 2012 and didn’t show many positive signs at the Tournament of Champions a couple weeks ago. Until he can string together four good rounds, Haas can’t be counted on in any fantasy formats.
- Harris English. Another Tour player by way of the University of Georgia, had a top 10 last week to start his 2013. He hits it miles and has a smooth putting stroke, good candidate to capture his first Tour win. T19 in 2012 here.
- Phil Mickelson. The big name and top draw this week, but your guess is as good as mine as to how he starts the season. He's won this tournament twice but the last time was back in 2004. He played very well at the end of last season and finished the season 6th in birdie average. I would prefer to save him for one of the bigger events that he focuses more on and let him shake off the early season rust.
- Charles Howell III. A name that used to be very familiar with fantasy players, he all but disappeared in 2012. A couple of positive finishes at the very end of last season and a T3 last week could mean that Chucky 3 Sticks has rediscovered his game.
- Jeff Overton. Similar to Howell, Overton didn’t have the best 2012 but comes into PGA West with his game showing signs of life.
Guys Coming in Hot: Available as the season progress
Guys Coming In Not: Available as the season progress
Photo: USA Today Sports Images