The PGA Tour returns to the mainland United States this week for the CareerBuilder Challenge. (This event used to be called the Humana Challenge, and before that the Bob Hope Classic). This event has gone through some changes so we'll need to touch on that in a slightly unusual stats thread.
But First a Word About Tim Clark
Tim Clark, one of the most stubborn users of anchored putting, found a new putter that helped him have a good putting week right out of the gate at the Sony Open with a non-anchored stroke, consequently ranking ninth for the week in strokes gained-putting. The takeaway: give professionals time and even those most closely aligned with a now-outlawed part of the game can turn it around, too. He is in the field this week.
Besides the sponsor, the three-course rotation has changed, which is going to bring nostalgia to some and a huge challenge to others. The course that stayed in the rotation is La Quinta Country Club. In are the Pete Dye-designed PGA West TPC Stadium Course as the host venue, meaning it will host the final round, along with the PGA West Nicklaus Tournament Course. Here's where it gets interesting: the latter two have played host to PGA Tour Qualifying School -- and in recent years, Web.com Tour Qualifying School -- for years. Diehard golf fans will know the 17th hole at the PGA West TPC Stadium Course, the island green par-3 (sounds like Pete Dye, right?) known as "Alcatraz" that has seen many dreams of playing on the PGA Tour vanish in a blink of an eye. And that whole finishing 3-hole stretch isn't easy.
What's interesting for our purposes is how it will play under PGA Tour tournament conditions, specifically in an event that's a pro-am that features fairly easy hole locations on the three courses for the first 54 holes before it gets tough on Sunday. Put simply, in a (usual) birdie-fest without players' jobs on the line, will a tough golf course play easier? We shall see.
What this does do is help anyone who has played in PGA Tour Q-School on these venues. They've already seen these venues while others haven't. That list is too long to mention here (and covers a majority of the field), so especially for American players, some familiar (or scary) memories may come rushing back.
Last Year's Winning Stat
Bill Haas is the defending champion, yet obviously he won while the event utilized two other golf courses. So year-to-year comparisons aren't great. But historically the winner needs to make a lot of birdies to win. The birdie average leaders (average number of birdies per round) in the field this week are (minimum two events):
D.J. Trahan - 5.13
Patrick Reed - 5.08
Jason Bohn - 5.06
William McGirt - 5.00
Graham DeLaet - 4.86
Our picks are Reed and Bohn. Reed, a world traveler at the end of 2015 and into 2016 who has seen his game start to come around, finished second at the Tournament of Champions, making 21 birdies for 5.25 per round.
Bohn, meanwhile, sniffed victory multiple times last fall but came up short, going T3-T2-T39-P2 through the 2015 portion of the wrap-around season, with the playoff loss coming at Mayakoba. In that stretch he shot 63, 64 and 65, showing he can go low. He's overdue for a win, and in the usual birdie-fest that is the CareerBuilder, he could be the man to beat this week.
Phil Mickelson makes his 2016 debut and his first start after splitting from Butch Harmon and naming Andrew Getson, a relatively unknown instructor out of Scottsdale, Ariz., as his new swing coach. Also in the field are Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, last week's rising star Zac Blair, DeLaet, Luke Donald, Jason Dufner, Tony Finau, Brian Harman, Russell Henley, Billy Horschel, Anirban Lahiri, Ollie Schniderjans, Webb Simpson and Boo Weekley.
There's an expression you hear on the PGA Tour sometimes: dome golf. That's when the weather is so perfect it's like playing in a dome. It happens a lot at this event, and except for a bit of wind on Saturday it seems like it'll be in play again this week, with sunny skies, fairly light winds and temperatures in the mid-70s. Just watch for 10-15 mph winds that could make things a bit tricky Saturday.