Inside the Ropes
The Humana Challenge will use three courses this week:
PGA West-Palmer Course (Host Course)
Par 72 (36-36)
Bermudagrass greens, over-seeded with perennial rye grass (all courses)
Rough: 2 inches
5,700 square foot (on average) greens
Stimpmeter rolling 10 feet
Five water hazards
Course Architect: Arnold Palmer (1986)
Notes: Final round will be held here. Course has five par-5 and five par-3 holes.
Second-easiest course on Tour in 2011 (Kapalua).
PGA WEST-Nicklaus Course
Par 72 (36-36)
6,200 square foot (on average) greens
Stimpmeter rolling 10 feet
Four water hazards
Course Architect: Jack Nicklaus (1986)
Notes: Third-easiest course on Tour in 2011.
La Quinta Country Club
Par 72 (36-36)
5,000 square foot greens (on average
Stimpmeter rolling 10.5 feet
Five water hazards
Course Architect: Lawrence Hughes 1959
Notes: Ninth-easiest course on Tour in 2011.
FedExCup Points: 500 (winner’s share)
Winner’s Share: $1,080,000
Defending Champion: Jhonattan Vegas defeated Gary Woodland and Bill Haas on the second hole of a playoff.
Notes: The first three rounds will be played as a Pro-Am only. The final round will not have amateurs.
Date: Jan. 19-22, 2012
In the Bag
The three courses in play in the desert all rank within the 10 easiest courses on Tour from 2011. The average winning score in the last 10 years was pushing 28-under-par. Now, with only four rounds of play instead of five, the winning number will still be in the neighborhood of 25-under.
The Winning Formula
Experience Matters: Jhonattan Vegas is the only rookie to win this tournament in its 52-year history. Look for guys who have been around the block who understand when to step on it and when to play for the middle of the green.
Distance and Power: The three players in last year’s playoff all ranked within the top 50 in driving distance Vegas (sixth), Gary Woodland (eighth) and Bill Haas (48th).
Short and Accurate: Brian Gay, Justin Leonard and Brian Davis all ranked worse than 150th in Driving Distance last year. What they lost in distance, they made up for in iron play, putting and scrambling on top of hitting fairways.
So What? So Let’s Dance!
These courses are not very long and all play at par-72 so I’m looking at guys who make birdies and can get after the par-5’s this week. The Palmer Private Course, which everyone must play once in the first three rounds, serves as the only course in the final round and has five par-5’s in play. That’s how the scores get into the mid 20-under range.
Not the week to pick the defending champion. Only Johnny Miller, a/k/a “The Desert Fox,” in 1976 has successfully defended his championship. Only six of the last 33 winners have cracked the top 10 the following season.
Both short and long hitters have prospered here. Previous champions and runners-up have featured on both the long and short end of the fairways so this makes the field here even harder to dissect.
Corey Pavin, Phil Mickelson and Johnny Miller are the only multiple champions besides “The King,” Arnold Palmer, in the tournament’s 52 years.
My top five projected finish for the Humana Challenge, in order:
Martin Laird: Doesn’t have the greatest track record here, but was in the thick of the action last year before a closing round 2-over 74 knocked him back to 22nd. His 12-under on the weekend in Kapalua has my attention. I’m jumping on this week.
Bill Haas: Finished P2, WIN in his last two. Never worse that 34th in six tries, including five top-25 finishes. Will be anxious to get back on these tracks after a slow start in Hawaii where he only broke 70 once. Rust should be gone.
Johnson Wagner: T9 at Kapalua and a WIN at Waialae is plenty of evidence for me. When guys get hot, it’s not time to “wait it out and see what happens.” I prefer a guy playing well over a guy making his first start of the year, especially the way Wagner has been putting. I dig the moustache. Is it too early for a FedExCup Playoff beard?
Harrison Frazar: A T5 at Kapalua and T2 at Waialae show me he’s on fire right now. He’s healthy, he’s positive and he’s playing great golf. His history here is trumped by current form. I’m not going to wait for him to win before jumping on board. Wagner and Frazar are the only two players to play Kapalua and Waialae and hit the top 10.
Phil Mickelson: Late addition to this field but has won here twice (2002, 2004). Tends to play well early in the season in the build up to Augusta, especially on the West Coast. Remember, he chose to add this event to his schedule. That tells me he likes what’s going on here. It will be interesting to see how his putter starts the year. Last appearance was 2007.
Guys to hit the board in the top 25
Matt Kuchar: Coming off a season where he made 22 of 24 cuts, Kuchar jumps into his first event of 2012. Has no problems making birdies and going low, especially here, where he’s finished T7 and T2 in his last two starts. Was 4th at Chevron in December. Fantastic all-around game. Constant threat.
Charles Howell III: T2 at Sony shows that he’s poised and ready for another great start in January. Was T13 last year and has no problem rolling the rock. Must keep the driver under control.
Brian Gay: Three consecutive top-19 finishes in the desert including T5 last year. Coming off a T6 at Waialae where he only made two bogeys in the final three rounds. His new swing and old caddy made for a solid combo, playing the weekend in a tournament low 8-under.
Bryce Molder: Off to an excellent start with T7 at Kapalua. One of the best putters around and has had four top 11’s in his last four starts on Tour. Was 21-under last year if you throw out his 76 at Silver Rock (not being played this year).
Carl Pettersson: Steadily went about his business last week at Waialae with a T2. Has no problem making birdies but his history here isn’t encouraging. Seems to have found peace with his game and it showed in Hawaii. Form play this week.
Chris Kirk: Already with two starts under his belt in 2012, including a T7 at Kapalua, “The Captain” is looking to build on his T7 here last year. It’s too bad they don’t have Captain Kirk head covers. If anybody finds one of these, please let me know and we’ll send it to Chris as a gift from his loyal followers.
Greg Chalmers: First tournament stateside after torching Australia in the Spring. Tried to win the Aussie Slam but fell short in the third and final tournament, yet was still T11. Was T11 here last year. Via Twitter, his coach believes the best putter will win this week and that gives him a big chance.
Michael Thompson: Three of his last four starts worldwide have been T3, T3 and T6. Second last week at Sony with 20 birdies holed. His current form trumps his lack of experience in the desert. Two-time All-American at Alabama.
Camilo Villegas: Finished 2011 on an upswing with six consecutive top-25 postings. First event out of the gate in 2012. First time in the desert.
Zach Johnson: Didn’t get off to the start he wanted at Sony finishing T54. First appearance here since 2004 but too much class to omit.
Rory Sabbatini: Two top-30’s kicked off his 2012 in Hawaii. Almost kicked off with Vijay Singh on the course during round three after some words were exchanged between Singh and his caddy. Has finished second at Humana twice.
John Senden: Made nine straight cuts before faltering in 2011. Has three career top-10 finishes. Excellent ball striking numbers cannot hurt here. Will need to get the putter going to move up the board this week.
Jhonattan Vegas: History is not on his side being the defending champ, yet past champs Bill Haas (2010), Pat Perez (2009) and D.J. Trahan (2008) have all recently defended with strong performances. Made plenty of birdies last week and plenty of bogeys for T46. Course should bring good vibes.
Trevor Immelman: First time at the Humana. Cashed fifth alone and T6 in his final two events of 2011. Let’s see if it Transitions over to 2012.
John Rollins: Finished with 64 on Sunday at Sony to complete a seven-under weekend. Has a second place finish here from 2007. Heat check.
Dustin Johnson: Coming off a knee injury, Johnson was originally thought, via his Twitter feed, that his first tournament would be the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego. Now, it’s the Humana this week. The injury and recovery was reported to be “routine” but I’m always nervous taking a guy the first week back, especially with the power he generates with his swing. I’ll wait and see.
Brandt Snedeker: First start back from hip surgery in November. Having to go low in the first start back might be too much to ask. When healthy, he’s a must-follow. Keeping an eye on his progress this week.
Kevin Na: Only one round in the 60’s this year in six played. Last year, had four straight rounds in the 60’s entering this tournament before finishing T5. Form play.
David Toms: Struggled in Hawaii with only one round in the 60’s in six played. I’ll jump back on when I see some signs of life over four consecutive days and LSU is not playing football.
Chris DiMarco: Per twitter, DiMarco impressed on the range last week smashing ball after ball. After four rounds of 70 or better he was rewarded with a T13.
Robert Garrigus: Per his twitter feed, Garrigus feels great and is in the best shape of his life. We’ll see if his new “long” putter can make him a contender this week. Can’t call it a belly putter if he lost 15 lbs. I’ll take a look.
Anthony Kim: Fantastic talent still trying to put it all together on a consistent basis. Had two solid finishes overseas this fall. Grew up in the area and local knowledge never hurts.
D. J. Trahan: Winner here in 2008. Backed it up with T14 in 2009, seventh in 2010 before slipping to T61 last year. The Clemson grad is hoping he’s the next Tiger in line to win after Lucas Glover and Jonathan Byrd both did last year.
Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge: Humana Challenge
Team Name: Mike Glasscott
Group 1: Martin Laird
Group 2: Harrison Frazar
Group 3: Brian Gay
Group 4: Chris DiMarco
Ned Said, “…
Ned Brown is a long-time contributor for Rotoworld Golf. He's had documented success in Yahoo!'s game for years. Even if you're confident in your selections for that game, give his insight a read.
Matt Kuchar: Followed a missed cut at the Australian Open with a T4 at the Chevron. His recent record here is very good with a T2 in ‘10 and T7 last year.
Phil Mickelson: Returns to the Humana after skipping the last four years. His record is very good with four top 10s in 11 starts, including wins in '02 and '04.
Kevin Na, Charles Howell III, Zach Johnson
Bill Haas: Haas has a great recent record at the Humana with a Championship in '10 and a playoff loss for second place last year. He probably is the no-brainer pick in this week's field.
Dustin Johnson: He is coming back to the Tour earlier than expected after having arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. Some players might want to wait a week before playing him, but I'm willing to roll the dice now.
Anthony Kim: He looked good in the offseason, with T3s at the CJ Invitational and the Barclays Singapore Open. He has only played in the Humana twice and the last time he was in T3 in ‘08.
Bo Van Pelt: I was thinking of Ryan Moore in this spot, but I would like to see how his shoulder reacts after he was forced to with draw from the CIMB Asia Pacific Classic. Instead, I'll roll with Van Pelt, who doesn't have as strong of a record that I would like in the Humana, but he played well at the end of the '11 PGA TOUR season and into the offseason events.
Vaughn Taylor, Harrison Frazar, Bryce Molder, Chris Kirk, Ryan Moore, John Rollins
Martin Laird: He looked good at the Chevron so I wasn't surprised by his second place at Kapalua. I would prefer if he had a stronger record at the Humana but he is hot right now.
Brian Gay: It's a tough call between John Senden and Gay. I'm going with Gay because he finished T5 at last year's Humana and he looked good last week at the Sony, where he was T6.
John Senden, Ben Crane, D.J. Trahan, Greg Chalmers, Carl Pettersson.
“And Another Thing”
The analysis doesn't end here. Rotoworld's Rob Bolton will be co-hosting a one-hour live chat with GolfChannel.com's Ryan Ballengee on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. ET. PLEASE NOTE THE TIME CHANGE! They will be breaking down the field at the Humana and answering your questions. Simply return to the golf home page to join in on the chatter.