Brian Gay: A creamy-smooth 63 on Sunday landed him in the playoff at the Humana Challenge, and Gay added two quick overtime birdies to secure the trophy. His fantasy owners just received a much-welcome shot of adrenaline: Gay now is in line to play in a couple majors (Masters, PGA Championship) in addition to the Bridgestone Invitational. Gay is one of the shortest drivers on tour, but that hasn't stopped him from putting up red numbers: he's 23rd in birdie average and ninth in scoring average through the young season. Unlike other sports, pro golfers often can throw us a surprise career season in their early 40s - perhaps Gay, who recently turned 41, is going to surprise us this year.
Phil Mickelson: He was in solid form on the weekend at the Humana Challenge (not that 67s and 66s distinguish anyone at that event; more on that below), and he's now back at the Torrey Pines track he knows and loves so well. I wasn't confident Mickelson was in position to have a strong push off to 2013 given his age and uneven past season, but I'm feeling a little better about his chances now. Confidence and momentum are powerful things.
Charles Howell: He has a long-running trend of playing well in the first segment of the year, and that's carried through in 2013. Howell nearly won at the Sony Open (grabbing a third-place check), and he was in the playoff at the Humana Challenge last week. We still worry about his driver going all over the place (he's 181st in tee accuracy), but a strong putter and the best scrambling numbers on tour have carried him to this point. Ride it while you can.
Farmers Insurance Open: No matter how you stand with Tiger Woods these days, loving or hating him, the new season really doesn't begin until we see a glimpse of the biggest draw in all of golf (no offense, Rory). And it will be fun to watch Tiger prancing up and down a Torrey Pines course that's been good to him - he's won this event an astounding six times, in addition to his classic 2008 U.S. Open victory over Rocco Mediate. With no playoff football to steal the spotlight, sports fans can give golf a welcome-back weekend with this premium event.
Nike Golf: It's not easy to make the sport look hip and cool in a commercial, but the new spot with McIlroy and Woods hits mostly high notes.
Humana Challenge: With all due respect to the lasting legacy of Bob Hope, this has always been one of my least favorite stops on tour. They finally did away with the silly five-round concept, but watching the players throw darts at the green and storm to scores of minus-25 doesn't thrill me. Without the threat of a player potentially coming back to the pack, golf becomes an awfully boring watch. I look forward to seeing the best players in the world challenged again soon; it never happens in the desert.
Tommy Gainey: The T6 check at the short-field Tournament of Champions might have been a false positive for Two Gloves; he hasn't done much right since. His Sony Open crashed on Sunday with a disappointing 72, and he was unable to break 70 in any of his three rounds during the Humana Challenge. This feels like a trunk slam coming on in Southern California.
Patrick Reed: He was on everyone's list for possible breakout player of the year, but it's been a swing and miss through the opening two events. Reed not only is 0-for-2 in cuts made to open 2013, he hasn't even cracked the Top 110 in either event. He's in the field at the Farmers Insurance Open but maybe that's not the best idea - a week off to reflect (and to practice) might make more sense. The key stats reflect the wideness of the problems: Reed stands 151st in driving accuracy, 145th in greens in regulation and 160th in putting strokes gained. Clear your head, rookie.
Kyle Stanley: His first three events were a big washout: T30 at the Tournament of Champions (that's dead last, kids), followed by a T67 at the Sony and a missed cut (67-75-70) at the Humana Challenge birdie invitational. And now Stanley has to deal with his personal Torrey Pines demons - you'll recall he choked away last year's event with a shocking triple bogey on the last hole. I'll be flabbergasted if Stanley is a factor this week.